Agent-based computational modeling (ABM, for short) is a formal and supplementary methodological approach used in international relations (IR) theory and research, based on the general ABM paradigm and computational methodology as applied to IR phenomena. ABM of such phenomena varies according to three fundamental dimensions: scale of organization—spanning foreign policy, international relations, regional systems, and global politics—as well as by geospatial and temporal scales. ABM is part of the broader complexity science paradigm, although ABMs can also be applied without complexity concepts. There have been scores of peer-reviewed publications using ABM to develop IR theory in recent years, based on earlier pioneering work in computational IR that originated in the 1960s that was pre-agent based. Main areas of theory and research using ABM in IR theory include dynamics of polity formation (politogenesis), foreign policy decision making, conflict dynamics, transnational terrorism, and environment impacts such as climate change. Enduring challenges for ABM in IR theory include learning the applicable ABM methodology itself, publishing sufficiently complete models, accumulation of knowledge, evolving new standards and methodology, and the special demands of interdisciplinary research, among others. Besides further development of main themes identified thus far, future research directions include ABM applied to IR in political interaction domains of space and cyber; new integrated models of IR dynamics across domains of land, sea, air, space, and cyber; and world order and long-range models.
Recent methodological work on systematic case selection techniques offers ways of choosing cases for in-depth analysis such that the probability of learning from the cases is enhanced. This research has undermined several long-standing ideas about case selection. In particular, random selection of cases, paired or grouped selection of cases for purposes of controlled comparison, typical cases, and extreme cases on the outcome variable all appear to be much less useful than their reputations have suggested. Instead, it appears that scholars gain the most in terms of making new discoveries about causal relationships when they study extreme cases on the causal variable or deviant cases.
Collaborative research has a critical role to play in furthering our understanding of African politics. Many of the most important and interesting questions in the field are difficult, if not impossible, to tackle without some form of collaboration, either between academics within and outside of Africa—often termed North–South research partnerships—or between those researchers and organizations from outside the academic world. In Africa in particular, collaborative research is becoming more frequent and more extensive. This is due not only to the value of the research that it can produce but also to pressures on the funding of African scholars and academics in the Global North, alongside similar pressures on the budgets of non-academic collaborators, including bilateral aid agencies, multilateral organizations, and national and international non-government organizations.
Collaborative projects offer many advantages to these actors beyond access to new funding sources, so they constitute more than mere “marriages of convenience.” These benefits typically include access to methodological expertise and valuable new data sources, as well as opportunities to increase both the academic and “real-world” impact of research findings. Yet collaborative research also raises a number of challenges, many of which relate to equity. They center on issues such as who sets the research agenda, whether particular methodological approaches are privileged over others, how responsibility for different research tasks is allocated, how the benefits of that research are distributed, and the importance of treating colleagues with respect despite the narrative of “capacity-building.” Each challenge manifests in slightly different ways, and to varying extents, depending on the type of collaboration at hand: North–South research partnership or collaboration between academics and policymakers or practitioners. This article discusses both types of collaboration together because of their potential to overlap in ways that affect the severity and complexity of those challenges.
These challenges are not unique to research in Africa, but they tend to manifest in ways that are distinct or particularly acute on the continent because of the context in which collaboration takes place. In short, the legacy of colonialism matters. That history not only shapes who collaborates with whom but also who does so from a position of power and who does not. Thus, the inequitable nature of some research collaborations is not simply the result of oversights or bad habits; it is the product of entrenched structural factors that produce, and reproduce, imbalances of power. This means that researchers seeking to make collaborative projects in Africa more equitable must engage with these issues early, proactively, and continuously throughout the entire life cycle of those research projects. This is true not just for researchers based in the Global North but for scholars from, or working in, Africa as well.
Caroline A. Hartzell
Civil wars typically have been terminated by a variety of means, including military victories, negotiated settlements and ceasefires, and “draws.” Three very different historical trends in the means by which civil wars have ended can be identified for the post–World War II period. A number of explanations have been developed to account for those trends, some of which focus on international factors and others on national or actor-level variables. Efforts to explain why civil wars end as they do are considered important because one of the most contested issues among political scientists who study civil wars is how “best” to end a civil war if the goal is to achieve a stable peace. Several factors have contributed to this debate, among them conflicting results produced by various studies on this topic as well as different understandings of the concepts war termination, civil war resolution, peace-building, and stable peace.
Comparison in the social sciences is a principal tool for sharpening our ability to describe reality. It is helpful in understanding the politics of African countries. Different comparative methods help to trace the origin and links to what has transpired in the field of comparative politics at large and with respect to the African continent. Recognizing that the politics–development nexus has served as the dominant context for comparison, scholars have addressed and created knowledge as it pertains to an account of the contemporary state of comparative analysis in the study of African politics.
Comparative public policy (CPP) is a multidisciplinary enterprise aimed at policy learning through lesson drawing and theory building or testing. We argue that CPP faces the challenge of conceptual and analytical standardization if it is to make a significant contribution to the explanation of policy decision-making. This argument is developed in three sections based on the following questions: What is CPP? What is it for? How should it be done? We begin with a presentation of the historical evolution of the field, its conceptual heterogeneity, and the persistence of two distinct bodies of literature made of basic and applied studies. We proceed with a discussion of the logics operating in CPP, their approaches to causality and causation, and their contribution to middle-range theory. Next, we explain the fundamental problems of the comparative method, starting with a synthesis of the main methodological pitfalls and the problems of case selection and then revising the main protocols in use. We conclude with a reflection on the contribution of CPP to policy design and policy analysis.
Although militias have received increasing scholarly attention, the concept itself remains contested by those who study it. Why? And how does this impact contemporary scholarship on political violence? To answer these questions, we can focus on the field of militia studies in post–Cold War sub-Saharan Africa, an area where militia studies have flourished in the past several decades. Virtually all scholars of militias in post–Cold War Africa describe militias as fluid and changing such that they defy easy definition. As a result, scholars offer complex descriptors that incorporate both descriptive and analytic elements, thereby offering nuanced explanations for the role of militias in violent conflict. Yet the ongoing tension between accurate description and analytic definition has also produced a body of literature that is diffuse and internally inconsistent, in which scholars employ conflicting definitions of militias, different data sources, and often incompatible methods of analysis. As a result, militia studies yield few externally valid comparative insights and have limited analytic power. The cumulative effect is a schizophrenic field in which one scholar’s militia is another’s rebel group, local police force, or common criminal. The resulting incoherence fragments scholarship on political violence and can have real-world policy implications. This is particularly true in high-stakes environments of armed conflict, where being labeled a “militia” can lead to financial support and backing in some circumstances or make one a target to be eliminated in others. To understand how militia studies has been sustained as a fragmented field, this article offers a new typology of definitional approaches. The typology shows that scholars use two main tools: offering a substantive claim as to what militias are or a negative claim based on what militias are not and piggy-backing on other concepts to either claim that militias are derivative of or distinct from them. These approaches illustrate how scholars combine descriptive and analytic approaches to produce definitions that sustain the field as fragmented and internally contradictory. Yet despite the contradictions that characterize the field, scholarship reveals a common commitment to using militias to understand the organization of (legitimate) violence. This article sketches a possible approach to organize the field of militia studies around the institutionalization of violence, such that militias would be understood as a product of the arrangement of violence. Such an approach would both allow studies of militias to place their ambiguity and fluidity at the center of analyses while offering a pathway forward for comparative studies.
Richard Ned Lebow
Counterfactuals seek to alter some feature or event of the pass and by means of a chain of causal logic show how the present might, or would, be different. Counterfactual inquiry—or control of counterfactual situations—is essential to any causal claim. More importantly, counterfactual thought experiments are essential, to the construction of analytical frameworks. Policymakers routinely use then by to identify problems, work their way through problems, and select responses. Good foreign-policy analysis must accordingly engage and employ counterfactuals.
There are two generic types of counterfactuals: minimal-rewrite counterfactuals and miracle counterfactuals. They have relevance when formulating propositions and probing contingency and causation. There is also a set of protocols for using both kinds of counterfactuals toward these ends, and it illustrates the uses and protocols with historical examples. Policymakers invoke counterfactuals frequently, especially with regard to foreign policy, to both choose policies and defend them to key constituencies. They use counterfactuals in a haphazard and unscientific manner, and it is important to learn more about how they think about and employ counterfactuals to understand foreign policy.
Shannon Carcelli and Erik A. Gartzke
Deterrence theory is slowly beginning to emerge from a long sleep after the Cold War, and from its theoretical origins over half a century ago. New realities have led to a diversification of deterrence in practice, as well as to new avenues for its study and empirical analysis. Three major categories of changes in the international system—new actors, new means of warfare, and new contexts—have led to corresponding changes in the way that deterrence is theorized and studied. First, the field of deterrence has broadened to include nonstate and nonnuclear actors, which has challenged scholars with new types of theories and tests. Second, cyberthreats, terrorism, and diverse nuclear force structures have led scholars to consider means in new ways. Third, the likelihood of an international crisis has shifted as a result of physical, economic, and normative changes in the costs of crisis, which had led scholars to more closely address the crisis context itself. The assumptions of classical deterrence are breaking down, in research as well as in reality. However, more work needs to be done in understanding these international changes and building successful deterrence policy. A better understanding of new modes of deterrence will aid policymakers in managing today’s threats and in preventing future deterrence failures, even as it prompts the so-called virtuous cycle of new theory and additional empirical testing.
Interviewing is commonly utilized in all disciplines of the social sciences. Across Africa, interviews are undertaken in a variety of diverse contexts by researchers from within and without the continent. Although the challenges many face are context specific, they are certainly not Africa specific: from research design and preparation, to implementation in cross-cultural, extremely rural, or conflict-affected environments.
In order to overcome these challenges, researchers must first recognize that interview data encompass much more than respondents’ answers to posed questions. Interview data, obtained in the process of organizing and conducting interviews, are the information collected before, during, and after the interview encounter; and analyses of the context in which they are pursued, including encountered difficulties. Together, these rich data further our understanding of contemporary Africa, as they do of other continents. It is rare, however, for published outputs to fully engage with the processes of preparing for, enacting, and interpreting the interview encounter. Such omissions limit our understanding of the research process and impede methodological transparency, thereby obscuring possible biases in data and the conclusions drawn from it.
Modern Populism: Research Advances, Conceptual and Methodological Pitfalls, and the Minimal Definition
Takis S. Pappas
Populism is one of the most dynamic fields of comparative political research. Although its study began in earnest only in the late 1960s, it has since developed through four distinct waves of scholarship, each pertaining to distinct empirical phenomena and with specific methodological and theoretical priorities. Today, the field is in need of a comprehensive general theory that will be able to capture the phenomenon specifically within the context of our contemporary democracies. This, however, requires our breaking away from recurring conceptual and methodological errors and, above all, a consensus about the minimal definition of populism.
All in all, the study of populism has been plagued by 10 drawbacks: (1) unspecified empirical universe, (2) lack of historical and cultural context specificity, (3) essentialism, (4) conceptual stretching, (5) unclear negative pole, (6) degreeism, (7) defective observable-measurable indicators, (8) a neglect of micromechanisms, (9) poor data and inattention to crucial cases, and (10) normative indeterminacy. Most, if not all, of the foregoing methodological errors are cured if we define, and study, modern populism simply as “democratic illiberalism,” which also opens the door to understanding the malfunctioning and pathologies of our modern-day liberal representative democracies.
Political party systems are an important element of political systems in Africa and elsewhere. They form the central intermediate institution between the general population and the government. Party systems represent and aggregate diverse political views and group interests, and they form coalitions that then form governments with potentially important consequences of democracy and political stability.
Unlike the case in the period directly after independence, African party systems have been overwhelmingly multiparty since the 1990s. As a result, the literature has grown significantly, although most works focus on political parties rather than party systems. Many efforts have been devoted to classification, referring to the legal context as well as, more specifically, the number of relevant parties, the levels of institutionalization, and, less often, the degree of ideological or other polarization. While levels of institutionalization and ideological differences are generally not pronounced, more than half of African party systems have been one-party dominant, of which most are authoritarian. In contrast, two-party and pluralist-party systems, which make up approximately one half of all multiparty systems, are generally more democratic. Besides determining classifications, most analytical work focuses on the determinants of African party systems using quantitative and qualitative as well as macro- and micro-level methodologies. Three determinants are debated: first, ethnicity, which has been cited as the main social cleavage behind African party systems; however, while ethnicity matters, its effects vary and are limited; second, political institutions, especially electoral systems for legislative elections, which only partly explain fragmentation or other features; third, the performance of political parties and rationalist approaches. Scholars largely agree that all of these elements need to be taken into account. While certain functions of party systems may facilitate democratization and political stability or other outcomes, little empirical work exists on the consequences of party systems. Some evidence suggests that highly institutionalized, moderately fragmented, and polarized systems promote democracy. Future research faces many challenges, in particular the development of integrated theory and more fine-grained data, as well as an increased focus on the consequences of party systems.
Process tracing is a research method for tracing causal mechanisms using detailed, within-case empirical analysis of how a causal process plays out in an actual case. Process tracing can be used both for case studies that aim to gain a greater understanding of the causal dynamics that produced the outcome of a particular historical case and to shed light on generalizable causal mechanisms linking causes and outcomes within a population of causally similar cases. This article breaks down process tracing as a method into its three core components: theorization about causal mechanisms linking causes and outcomes; the analysis of the observable empirical manifestations of the operation of theorized mechanisms; and the complementary use of comparative methods to enable generalizations of findings from single case studies to other causally similar cases. Three distinct variants of process tracing are developed, illustrated by examples from the literature.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.
Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) is a method, developed by the American social scientist Charles C. Ragin since the 1980s, which has had since then great and ever-increasing success in research applications in various political science subdisciplines and teaching programs. It counts as a broadly recognized addition to the methodological spectrum of political science. QCA is based on set theory. Set theory models “if … then” hypotheses in a way that they can be interpreted as sufficient or necessary conditions. QCA differentiates between crisp sets in which cases can only be full members or not, while fuzzy sets allow for degrees of membership. With fuzzy sets it is, for example, possible to distinguish highly developed democracies from less developed democracies that, nevertheless, are rather democracies than not. This means that fuzzy sets account for differences in degree without giving up the differences in kind. In the end, QCA produces configurational statements that acknowledge that conditions usually appear in conjunction and that there can be more than one conjunction that implies an outcome (equifinality). There is a strong emphasis on a case-oriented perspective. QCA is usually (but not exclusively) applied in y-centered research designs. A standardized algorithm has been developed and implemented in various software packages that takes into account the complexity of the social world surrounding us, also acknowledging the fact that not every theoretically possible variation of explanatory factors also exists empirically. Parameters of fit, such as consistency and coverage, help to evaluate how well the chosen explanatory factors account for the outcome to be explained. There is also a range of graphical tools that help to illustrate the results of a QCA. Set theory goes well beyond an application in QCA, but QCA is certainly its most prominent variant.
There is a very lively QCA community that currently deals with the following aspects: the establishment of a code of standards for QCA applications; QCA as part of mixed-methods designs, such as combinations of QCA and statistical analyses, or a sequence of QCA and (comparative) case studies (via, e.g., process tracing); the inclusion of time aspects into QCA; Coincidence Analysis (CNA, where an a priori decision on which is the explanatory factor and which the condition is not taken) as an alternative to the use of the Quine-McCluskey algorithm; the stability of results; the software development; and the more general question whether QCA development activities should rather target research design or technical issues. From this, a methodological agenda can be derived that asks for the relationship between QCA and quantitative techniques, case study methods, and interpretive methods, but also for increased efforts in reaching a shared understanding of the mission of QCA.
Diana Kapiszewski, Lauren M. MacLean, and Benjamin L. Read
Generations of political scientists have set out for destinations near and far to pursue field research. Even in a digitally networked era, the researcher’s personal presence and engagement with the field context continue to be essential. Yet exactly what does fieldwork mean, what is it good for, and how can scholars make their time in the field as reflective and productive as possible? Thinking of field research in broad terms—as leaving one’s home institution to collect information, generate data, and/or develop insights that significantly inform one’s research—reveals that scholars of varying epistemological commitments, methodological bents, and substantive foci all engage in fieldwork. Moreover, they face similar challenges, engage in comparable practices, and even follow similar principles. Thus, while every scholar’s specific project is unique, we also have much to learn from each other.
In preparing for and conducting field research, political scientists connect the high-level fundamentals of their research design with the practicalities of day-to-day inquiry. While in the field, they take advantage of the multiplicity of opportunities that the field setting provides and often triangulate by cross-checking among different perspectives or data sources. To a large extent, they do not regard initial research design decisions as final; instead, they iteratively update concepts, hypotheses, the research question itself, and other elements of their projects—carefully justifying these adaptations—as their fieldwork unfolds. Incorporating what they are learning in a dynamic and ongoing fashion, while also staying on task, requires both flexibility and discipline.
Political scientists are increasingly writing about the challenges of special types of field environments (such as authoritarian regimes or conflict settings) and about issues of positionality that arise from their own particular identities interacting with those of the people they study or with whom they work. So too, they are grappling with what it means to conduct research in a way that aligns with their ethical commitments, and what the possibilities and limits of research transparency are in relation to fieldwork. In short, political scientists have joined other social scientists in undertaking critical reflection on what they do in the field—and this self-awareness is itself a hallmark of high-quality research.
Regional Politics and Powers: Hierarchy and Comparative Regional Analysis in International Relations
Jon Patrick Rhamey, Jr. and Thomas J. Volgy
Comparative regionalism constitutes a new frontier of international relations analysis that provides a more focused theoretical lens for understanding the localized phenomena dominant in international politics. However, as is often the case with a relatively new area of academic inquiry, the subfield currently suffers from a number of challenges in conceptual agreement and operationalization conventions that have slowed progress. Having perhaps finally caught up with area specialists and researchers in the field of comparative politics in recognizing the relative importance of regional spaces, the question remains as to how to most effectively understand the extent regions—as either levels of analysis or units unto themselves—are substantively integral in generating the outcomes studied by international relations scholars. Following almost four decades of theorizing, future steps lie in clearer conceptual definitions followed by generating novel empirical findings that may complement, or contradict, existing international relations theories.
While some early attempts at engaging comparative regionalism exist prior to the Cold War’s conclusion, most theorizing begins at the point at which the region as a concept is able to emerge from the shadow of international relations research’s emphasis on the bipolar order of the American–Soviet rivalry. These early explorations, however, were frequently limited to either qualitative discussion of emerging trading behaviors and political institutions or, alternatively, the exploration of “non-Western” types of political engagement that challenged the traditional Anglo-European understanding of both international relations and the conduct of political science. Building on the backdrop of this conceptual theorizing, empirical work highlighting regional distinctions began to emerge as well. This renewed emphasis on comparing regional spaces is often undertaken from a small-N comparative methodological approach to identify similarities and differences between regions, with a very specific interest in developing an understanding for the causal variation behind how regional spaces’ trajectories develop and diverge.
Finally, one of the greatest theoretical challenges of comparative regionalism is the applicability of theories designed to understand the interactions of the entire international system (with primary focus on the major powers) to more localized spaces and conflicts. This is not to claim that politics necessarily follows different rules within different regions, but instead that because regional-local contexts are sufficiently unique, the combination of causal variables present may lead to very different outcomes for many phenomena of interest that scholars seek to understand. As regional importance has risen over the past 20 years, a clear set of criteria upon which theoretical development and empirical analysis can proceed is required in order to delineate the effects of regions on states and international politics.
Thomas J. Leeper
Empirical media effects research involves associating two things: measures of media content or experience and measures of audience outcomes. Any quantitative evidence of correlation between media supply and audience response—combined with assumptions about temporal ordering and an absence of spuriousness—is taken as evidence of media effects. This seemingly straightforward exercise is burdened by three challenges: the measurement of the outcomes, the measurement of the media and individuals’ exposure to it, and the tools and techniques for associating the two.
While measuring the outcomes potentially affected by media is in many ways trivial (surveys, election outcomes, and online behavior provide numerous measurement devices), the other two aspects of studying the effects of media present nearly insurmountable difficulties short of ambitious experimentation. Rather than find solutions to these challenges, much of collective body of media effects research has focused on the effort to develop and apply survey-based measures of individual media exposure to use as the empirical basis for studying media effects. This effort to use survey-based media exposure measures to generate causal insight has ultimately distracted from the design of both causally credible methods and thicker descriptive research on the content and experience of media. Outside the laboratory, we understand media effects too little despite this considerable effort to measure exposure through survey questionnaires.
The canonical approach for assessing such effects: namely, using survey questions about individual media experiences to measure the putatively causal variable and correlating those measures with other measured outcomes suffers from substantial limitations. Experimental—and sometimes quasi-experimental—methods provide definitely superior causal inference about media effects and a uniquely fruitful path forward for insight into media and their effects. Simultaneous to this, however, thicker forms of description than what is available from close-ended survey questions holds promise to give richer understanding of changing media landscape and changing audience experiences. Better causal inference and better description are co-equal paths forward in the search for real-world media effects.
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.
The situation of trans rights in Latin America varies greatly by country and region despite a binding 2017 opinion from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) clarifying member states’ obligations to guarantee trans rights. While countries in the Southern Cone and Northern Andes have recently made great strides in protecting and supporting their trans citizens, Central America, the Caribbean, and several countries in South America continue to offer little or no legal support for trans rights. Some countries, such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay, have passed Gender Identity Laws that provide trans people with the ability to rectify their documents to reflect their names and gender identities. The current state of trans-specific policy in the region is explored by first framing it through an overview of the relevant parts of the IACHR ruling and then presenting the case for the depathologization of trans identities, one of the movement’s most pressing goals. Crucial to this discussion is the next section, which presents the current rights and limitations in trans-specific healthcare in the region. A discussion of the importance of gender identity as a basic human right, recognized in the IACHR ruling, follows, continuing on to an analysis of the place of children, adolescents, and their parents in relation to this right. Relatedly, the next section explores the prevalence and force of anti-discrimination laws in the region, which vary greatly in their specific protection of trans people. Finally, we attempt to look forward to what may be next in the fight for trans rights in the region, exemplifying cases such as that of Uruguay, which has recently begun to debate trans-specific reparations, and Argentina, which has begun to debate dedicated employment slots for trans people.