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Article

Social Media and Elections in Africa  

Iginio Gagliardone

The analysis of the diffusion of social media in Africa and its relevance for politics has been caught in a paradox. On the one hand, social media have been saluted for their newness and for their ability, especially in connection with increasingly accessible portable tools such as mobile phones, to offer a level playing field for individuals to participate in politics and speak to power. On the other hand, this very enthusiasm has evoked relatively tired tropes used to frame the advent of other “new” technologies in the past, stressing what they could do to Africa, rather than exploring what they are doing in Africa. Early research on the relationship between social media and elections in Africa has tended to adopt normative frameworks adapted from the analysis of electoral contests in the Global North, presupposing unfettered citizens using social media to root for their leaders or demand accountability. A more recent wave of empirically grounded studies has embraced a greater conceptual and methodological pluralism, offering more space to analyze the contradictions in how social media are used and abused: how humor can be turned into a powerful tool to contest a type of power that appears overwhelming; or how armies of professional users have exploited people’s credulity of new media as “freer” from power to actually support partisan agenda. Interestingly, this latter approach has brought to light phenomena that have only recently caught global attention, such as the role of “fake news” and misinformation in electoral contests, but have played a determinant role in African politics for at least a decade.

Article

Sovereignty as a Resource and Curse in Africa  

Pierre Englebert

The sovereignty of postcolonial African states is largely derived from their recognition by other states and by the United Nations, irrespective of their actual effectiveness. Such international legal sovereignty has been a resource to weak African states, allowing them to endure against the odds, and to their rulers who have instrumentalized it to foster their domestic authority and domination. Yet, African sovereignty has also been a curse. Being exogenous to domestic social and political relations, it tends to isolate and shield rulers from the ruled and predisposes state institutions toward predation. It also standardizes and homogenizes the continent’s institutional landscape in disregard to the wealth and promise of effective institutional arrangements on the ground, to which it denies legitimacy. Despite the equilibrium properties of the African sovereignty regime, there might be opportunities to tweak the system in ways that could unleash more effective and accountable state and nonstate institutions.

Article

Space, Mobility and Legitimacy  

Ettore Recchi

While migration has always existed, and its consequences have always been important, few people have lived a mobile life in the history of mankind. Population immobility has recurrently been part and parcel of political strategies of social control and domination. Since the second half of the 20th century, however, the extent of geographical movements of individuals has expanded enormously. In particular, the size and scope of international travel has increased at an exponential pace. Favored by globalization and technological progress, transnationalism, initially linked to migration, has emerged as a relatively widespread phenomenon that involves a growing portion of the general population, especially, but not only, in developed countries. Mainly on the basis of research carried out in Europe, there is evidence that transnational practices tend to strengthen cosmopolitanism and the legitimacy of supranational polities (particularly the European Union [EU]), while it is less clear whether they entail denationalization. Further research is needed to improve the quality of independent and dependent variables in this area and assess the effect of international mobility and transnationalism outside the European context.

Article

State Formation and Conflict in Africa  

Didier Péclard

Dominant narratives and theories developed at the turn of the 21st century to account for the links between state formation and civil wars in Africa converged around two main ideas. First was the contention that the increase in civil wars across the continent—like that in many parts of the globe, including South Asia and Central Europe—was linked to state failure or decay. Violent conflict thus came to be seen as the expression of the weakness, disintegration, and collapse of political institutions in the postcolonial world. Second, guerrilla movements, once viewed as the ideological armed wings of Cold War contenders, then came to be seen as roving bandits interested in plundering the spoils left by decaying states, and their motives as primarily, if not only, economic or personal, rather than political. However, recent research has challenged the reductionism that underlay such accounts by looking into the day-to-day politics of civil war, thus moving beyond the search for the motives that bring rebels and rebel movements to wage war against the established order. Drawing on this literature, this article argues that violent conflict is part and parcel of historical processes of state formation. Thus, in order to understand how stable political institutions can be built in the aftermath of civil war, it is essential to study the institutions that regulate political life during conflict. This implies a need not only to look at how (and if) state institutions survive once war has broken out, but also to take into account the institutions put in place in areas beyond the control of the state.

Article

Subsidiarity as a Subject of Battle in European Union Politics  

Kees van Kersbergen and Bertjan Verbeek

Since the Maastricht Treaty (1993), subsidiarity has guided the political process surrounding the distribution of competences between administrative layers in the European Union (EU). The EU’s subsidiarity regime affects the politics and governance of the EU, because the notion of subsidiarity allows for continuous negotiation over its practical use. The constant battle over subsidiarity implies that the notion changes its meaning over time and alters the power relations between different actors within the EU. Since the Lisbon Treaty (2009), subsidiarity has mainly strengthened the position of member states at the expense of the Commission.

Article

Sweden and the European Union  

Karl Magnus Johansson

Membership in the European Union (EU) entails adjustments or changes in national democracies. Sweden joined the EU in 1995, and EU membership has given rise to controversies in the public debate as well as in the academic community. In an effort to legitimize membership in the public debate, the consequences in terms of sovereignty were summarized in the official Swedish discourse on EU membership as a loss in formal sovereignty but an increase in real sovereignty. This entailed a reinterpretation of popular sovereignty, as stipulated by the Swedish constitution, as well as of democracy, implying that efficiency or problem-solving capacity was emphasized more than procedural democracy. The controversy surrounding the question of influence came to the fore in connection with the euro referendum in 2003. While some argued that remaining outside the euro would come with a political price—marginalization—others emphasized the lack of evidence for such effects. To some extent, this remains a moot point, not least as a result of the expansion and importance of the euro zone. Another salient question is whether or not there is political opposition, that is, conflict rather than consensus in EU affairs. Research claims that (allegedly almost nonexistent) previous research had underestimated the degree of political opposition or conflict, notably in parliament. Moreover, results suggest that there is variation in EU opposition across time and policy areas. In addition there are different interpretations of either decentering or centering effects. Whereas some claim that fragmentation or decentralization is the central feature of the Europeanization of the Swedish state, other researchers submit that the predominant tendency is rather centralization, as the demands of EU decision making—not least EU summitry—on national policy coordination have been a principal driving factor in this process. These are main themes in the debate over the EU and EU membership in Sweden. Included here are a series of analytical narratives and counternarratives, as well as a discussion of important implications for the national democracy and for the distribution or redistribution of power among domestic political actors therein.

Article

Taking China Seriously: Relationality, Tianxia, and the “Chinese School” of International Relations  

Salvatore Babones

China’s economic rise has been accompanied by the maturation and increasing professionalization of academic disciplines in China, including the discipline of international relations. The emergence of an indigenous international relations discipline in China has led to an intense debate about the development of a distinctive “Chinese School” that draws on China’s intellectual traditions and historical record to inspire the development of new international relations theories. While the debate continues, the outlines of a Chinese School are becoming clear. The Chinese School of international relations theory draws on Confucian concepts of relationality and hierarchy to theorize the character of the relations between countries rather than focus on the attributes of countries themselves. It also highlights the historical existence of interstate systems organized in a hub-and-spoke pattern around a single, central state. The premodern East Asian world-system in which China was embedded and classical Chinese scholars developed their ideas was a central state system. Premodern China was always by far the dominant state in East Asia, with the result that international relations in the East Asian world-system exhibited a hub-and-spoke pattern centered on China, as in the tributary system of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Moreover the Confucian worldview that ultimately came to be China’s state ideology served in effect as the governing moral code of the system as a whole. The combination of a central state structure with a universal moral code created what in Chinese is called a tianxia (“all under heaven”), a world-embracing system of governance centered on a particular state, in this case China. In a tianxia system international relations tend to be hierarchical because of the clear power differentials between the central state and other states. They can be either expressive (showing social solidarity) or purely instrumental, depending on the stance taken by the central state. Chinese School international relations theorists tend to assume that the “best” (most stable, most peaceful, most prosperous, etc.) world-system configuration would be a tianxia system dominated by expressive rationality and centered on China, but this is no more self-evident than the widely held Western preference for a liberal, rules-based order. What Chinese School international relations theory really offers the discipline is a new set of concepts that can be applied to the theorization and empirical analysis of today’s millennial world-system. This postmodern interstate system appears to be a central state system with a universal moral code, an American tianxia based on individualism. The historical Confucian Chinese tianxia may be the best precedent for modeling this system.

Article

Territorial Threats and Military Dictatorships  

Nam Kyu Kim

Many scholars consider the military dictatorship a distinct authoritarian regime type, pointing to the singular patterns of domestic and international behaviors displayed by military regimes. Existing studies show that compared with civilian dictatorships, military dictatorships commit more human rights abuses, are more prone to civil war, and engage in more belligerent behaviors against other countries. Despite their coercive capacity, rulers of military dictatorships tend to have shorter tenures than rulers of non-military dictatorships. Additionally, military dictatorships more quickly and peacefully transition to democracy than their non-military counterparts and frequently negotiate their withdrawal from power. Given the distinct natures of military dictatorships, research on military dictatorships and coups has resurged since 2000. A great body of new research utilizing new theories, data, and methods has added to the existing scholarship on military rule and coups, which saw considerable growth in the 1970s. Most studies tend to focus on domestic issues and pay relatively little attention to the relationship between international factors and military rule. However, a growing body of studies investigates how international factors, such as economic globalization, international military assistance, reactions from the international community, and external threat environments, affect military rule. One particularly interesting research topics in this regard is the relationship between external territorial threats and military rule. Territorial issues are more salient to domestic societies than other issues, producing significant ramifications for domestic politics through militarization and state centralization. Militaries play a pivotal role in militarization and state centralization, both of which are by-products of external territorial threats. Thus, external territorial threats produce permissive structural conditions that not only prohibit democratization but also encourage military dictatorships to emerge and persist. Moreover, if territorial threats affect the presence of military dictatorships, they are more likely to affect collegial military rule, characterized by the rule of a military institution, rather than military strongman rule, characterized by the rule by a military personalist dictator. This is because territorial threats make the military more internally unified and cohesive, which helps the military rule as an institution. Existing studies provide a fair amount of empirical evidence consistent with this claim. External territorial threats are found to increase the likelihood of military regimes, particularly collegial military regimes, as well as the likelihood of military coups. The same is not true of non-territorial threats. This indicates that the type of external threat, rather than the mere presence of an external threat, matters.

Article

Understanding Government Behavior During Armed Conflict  

Cyanne E. Loyle

How and why do governments choose the strategies that they do during armed conflict? While there is a substantial body of research on the use of different tactics by governments and rebels during armed conflict, this work has rarely made an attempt to engage with scholars of different tactics in order to develop a broader understanding of how and why actors make the behavioral choices that they do and how these choices advance certain intended strategies. Furthermore, the work across tactics does not have unified findings. Understanding both the range of behaviors by conflict actors and the motivations for these behaviors is an important and necessary step for understanding the course of armed conflict more generally and for developing relevant policy aimed at changing these behaviors. Within existing literature on belligerent tactics, important lessons about government behaviors and why these specific behaviors are selected can be distilled. Objectives, strategies, and tactics should be disaggregated in order to think through the implications of different government decisions for understanding or changing behavior. This disaggregation aids us in identifying the areas of research in which we have confirmed findings and those questions regarding government behavior that require additional investigation. Moving forward we could and should develop a systematic list of the types of factors that impact certain behavioral choices, across tactics, but this is most useful if we can then link these factors to an understanding of the broader objectives and strategies that a government is trying to pursue.

Article

The United Kingdom and the European Union  

Alasdair Blair

Since the end of World War II a key question that successive U.K. governments have faced is what position the country should occupy in global affairs. Such a question stemmed from the legacy of Empire, which both offered global connections and at the same time financial demands in terms of the need to maintain a global footing. These issues came to a head when the United Kingdom applied (unsuccessfully) to join the European Community (the forerunner of the European Union (EU)) in the 1960s when the country was reappraising its position in the world. And while the United Kingdom eventually joined the Community in 1973, there remained an underlying skepticism about membership within the public at large as well as within sections of the Conservative and Labour parties. This suspicion gained more traction from the 1990s onward as the then EU appeared to be moving to a deeper level of integration in the wake of the Maastricht Treaty. This spurred on Euroskeptics in the United Kingdom to campaign for independence. To put a lid on this pressure for reform, David Cameron held a referendum on U.K. membership in 2016. His gamble that this would once and for all seal the United Kingdom within the EU by closing down the issue of withdrawal did not actually materialize, as the electorate voted to leave, which in turn set the country on a path to depart the EU in 2020. Yet, despite these developments, just as was the case in 1945, the United Kingdom is in many ways still searching for a role in the world in 2020.

Article

The United States and the European Union  

Roberto Dominguez and Joshua Weissman LaFrance

The history of the European Union (EU) is closely associated with the development of the United States. As the process of European integration has produced institutions and gained a collective international presence, the United States has been a close observer, partner, and often critic of the policies and actions of the EU and its member states. A steady progression of events delineates this path: the Marshall Plan, origins of European integration, the Cold War, the post–Cold War, 9/11 and its effects on the international system, the Great Recession, and the deterioration of global democracy. All throughout, the EU and the United States have both cooperated and collided with one another, in line with the combination of three main factors: (a) the evolution of the EU as an independent, international actor; (b) American strategies for engagement with Europe and then with the EU; and (c) the adaptive capacity and cohesion of the overall transatlantic relationship. The EU–U.S. relationship is significant not only for the influential role of the EU in world affairs but also because, as opposed to China or Russia, the transatlantic area hosts one of the most solid relationships around the world. Crises surely have been, and will be, a frequent aspect of the intense interdependences on both sides of the Atlantic; however, the level of contestation and conflict is relatively low, particularly as compared with other areas that smoothly allow the flow of goods, services, people, and ideas. Taken altogether, then, the transatlantic relationship possesses a strong foundation: it is integral, resilient, and enduring over a history of diplomatic disagreements and conflicts. The primary question remains just how this steady stream and confluence of shared challenges ultimately will fare in face of evolving crises and systemic disruptors. In any case, the answer is determined by the enduring nature, and foreign policy choices, of the primary actors on each side of the Atlantic.

Article

Venezuela's Oil Wealth and Social Transformation  

Dario Azzellini

With the victory of Hugo Chávez in the 1998 presidential elections, Venezuela became the first country in the Latin American “pink tide.” Up to then, mainstream political analysis had considered Venezuela a stable liberal democracy. Little attention had been paid to the country internationally. Former army officer Chávez was met with suspicion by the international left, which knew little about the Venezuelan left and the contemporary history of the country, and the right thought it could persuade him to act in its interests. The process of social transformation launched, named the “Bolivarian Revolution” after Venezuelan independence leader Simón Bolivar, became radicalized rapidly and was soon declared socialist. Internal policies were characterized by popular participation, expropriations, and redistribution of the oil wealth. Internationally, Venezuela took an active role in promoting regional integration and South–South cooperation. Chávez and the social transformation process in Venezuela rapidly gained strong sympathies among social movements and the radical left throughout the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region; for the same reasons, Venezuela came to be the number-one enemy of the Latin American right and the United States, which supported several attempts to overthrow the government. After Chávez’s death in 2013, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, faced an increasingly violent opposition, a severe economic crisis, growing hostility from the United States and the European Union (EU), and a regional context in which the rise of right-wing governments reversed the “pink tide.” Since early 2019, the situation has escalated because of sanctions by the U.S. and EU countries; the recognition of a self-proclaimed “interim president” belonging to the opposition, by the United States, most EU countries, and the right-wing governments in Latin America; coup attempts; and the open threat of U.S. military intervention. The unfolding of the Bolivarian Revolution, the forces at play, and the main points of conflict need to be analyzed in their historical context.

Article

The Western Balkans and the European Union  

Gentian Elezi

The European integration process of the Western Balkans has been experiencing considerable stagnation since 2010, although the regional states have been formally following the accession stages. In spite of the remarkable achievements in the 2000s in terms of stability and engagement in reforms, the European Union (EU) conditionality policy is experiencing shortcomings in terms of tangible impact. Due also to its internal problems, the EU appears to have lost its shine in influencing domestic political agendas of the Western Balkan countries as in the case of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and has gradually lost the support of citizens in the region. This has had several consequences in terms of rising authoritarian practices, slowing down EU-related reforms and compliance with the acquis, some return to nationalistic rhetoric, and openness to influences of other global actors from the East, which do not necessarily maintain good relations with the EU. The enlargement fatigue that has affected the EU since the 2008 global crisis has had repercussions inside the EU institutions and domestic politics of member states. These changes have been reflected in the Union’s approach towards accession countries, undermining the credibility of the integration process and its commitment to the Western Balkans. The weakening of credibility and predictability on this path, together with the poor state capacities that characterize the Western Balkans, have produced some regress of the democracy indicators. The EU, with its conditionality, is still a determining factor in the trajectory of the countries of the region. However, there is a need to renew the commitments undertaken on both sides in order to make sure that the European perspective, stability, and democratization in the Western Balkans are irreversible and properly supported. The European Union is still considered the only game in town, but it has to face up to the enlargement fatigue and return to its leading role as an aspirational model for the Western Balkans.

Article

Women’s Political Movements and Civil Society in Africa  

Aili Mari Tripp

The roots of contemporary women’s mobilization in Africa were in nationalist movements and in the early single-party era, when women’s mobilization was often closely aligned with and controlled by the ruling party and state. This changed in the multiparty era after the 1990s and how new forms of mobilization came to be characterized by their autonomy from political parties and the state. This autonomy allowed for new issues to be taken up as well new forms of mobilization ranging from grass-roots activism to nationwide campaigns, broad coalitions and cyber activism. In the early 21st century, the demands range from opposition to all forms of violence against women, to financing of businesses, the right to abortion, the adoption of gender quotas in government and the legislature, and many other concerns. After the mid-2000s, restrictions on freedom of association and speech began to impinge once again on civil society in many countries, sometimes constraining women’s activism.