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Article

Elizabeth A. Oldmixon

Churches are at the fulcrum of religious politics, and as church leaders, religious elites have an important role to play in the political milieu. They possess many of the resources associated with potent activism, but more importantly their job is to provide guidance to participants in a vast voluntary network. They can engage in agenda setting, encourage the faithful to apply their religious values to political engagement, and create opportunities to learn civic skills. Even so, religious leaders are subject to influence even as they try to exercise influence. In the foreground, religious leaders have a predictable set of goals, the substance of which varies by race, ethnicity, gender, and social theology. In the background, religious leaders pursue their goals in different sociodemographic and institutional contexts. The political behavior of religious leaders, then, is the product of background and foreground balancing.

Article

Christina Ladam, Ian Shapiro, and Anand Sokhey

As the most common form of voluntary association in America, houses of worship remain an unquestionably critical component of American civil society. Major approaches to studying religion and politics in the United States are described, and the authors present an argument for focusing more attention on the organizational experience provided by religious contexts: studying how individuals’ social networks intersect with their associational involvements (i.e., studying religion from a “interpersonal” perspective) may actually shed new light on intrapersonal, psychological constructs like identity and religiosity. Evidence is presented from two nationally representative data sets that suggests considerable variance in the degree to which individuals’ core social networks overlap with their houses of worship. This variance exists within and between individuals identifying with major religious traditions, and such networks are not characterized solely by agreement (as theories of self-selection might suggest).

Article

Lacking sovereignty, a well-developed theology of politics, and a central organizing mechanism, the Jewish political experience is unique among the three Abrahamic faiths. Apart from research on the political content implicit in Jewish scriptures, there has been little scholarship on what Jews do when they engage in political action. Using a contextual framework, this article examines the politics of Jews by reviewing both single-country studies and the few extant cross-national analyses. In considering why Jewish political behavior differs from one place to another, political process theory and Medding’s theory of Jewish interests guide the analysis. Medding argued that Jewish politics is primarily a response to threats perceived in the political environment. The ability of Jewish communities to resist such threats depends largely on the rules governing the political environment, the political opportunity structure. Where Jews are a majority and control the rules, as in the state of Israel, they have adopted a regime that prioritizes the Jewish character of the state against perceived threats from the country’s Arab citizens. Where Jews are a minority, as in the United States, their ability to control the political environment is limited. However, the political rules of the game embodied in the U.S. Constitution have levelled the playing field to the advantage of religious minorities like Jews. Specifically, by rejecting “blood and soil” citizenship and denying the religious character of the state, those rules provide Jews and other minorities a valuable resource and access to sympathetic allies in the political system. Hence American Jews have been able to counter what they perceive as the major threat to their political interests—a replacement of the secular state by a confessional regime. Focusing on threats, the political opportunity structure, and political context helps to anchor Jewish political studies in research on ethnic political cohesion and to bring such research into the scholarly mainstream.

Article

Disproportionate policy response is understood to be a lack of ‘fit’ or balance between the costs of a public policy and the benefits derived from this policy, and between policy ends and means. The study of this phenomenon and its two anchor concepts, namely, policy over- and underreaction, has been inspired by the insight that inefficiencies in the allocation of attention in policymaking leads policymakers to react disproportionately to information. This theory of information processing appears to be broadly accepted and has generated a large body of research on agenda setting. However, little attention has been devoted to actual policy over- and underreaction and how it affects the public. The latest developments are conceptual in nature and include a conceptualization and dimensionalization of policy over- and underreaction, as well as an early-stage development of a preference-driven approach to disproportionate policy response. These issues are fundamental to developing understanding of the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of disproportionate policy response. They are also valuable to those who want to better understand the processes through which policy over- and underreaction occur and are of considerable interest to practitioners who want to understand how to manage disproportionate policy responses more effectively. Although disproportionate policy response poses methodological challenges because it is time-bound, context-sensitive and has a problematic counterfactual (i.e., proportionate policy response), it deserves academic attention. This is because the insight of the punctuated equilibrium theory—that policy responses oscillate between periods of underreaction to the flow of information coming from the environment into the system and overreaction due to disproportionate information processing—implies that policy oscillation is the norm rather than the rarity. To probe research questions related to the topic at hand, disproportionate policy response can be measured as individuals’ perceptions of what they think about the proportionality of policy. Alternatively, scholars may employ vignette survey experiments, sophisticated cost-benefit analysis and a comparison of policy outcomes with (national or international) standards developed by experts. Scholars may also undertake experimental manipulation using risk unfolding over time, combined with varying types of warnings. The study of disproportionate policy response is a gateway to some of the most significant aspects of public policy. Global and domestic threats coupled with relatively skeptical publics about politicians and political institutions and rising negativity and populism in democratic politics imply that policy overshooting is increasingly required for the public to perceive policy action as sufficient and politicians as competent, at least in the short term. Not only has disproportionate policy response been a focal point for political actors seeking decisive and swift policy change in times of real or manufactured crisis or no change at all, but such action has time and time again also made a dramatic impact upon the direction and the character of policy and politics. Classic examples are the U.S. response to 9/11 and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. So far the literature on policy change has not responded to the emergence of the stream of research aimed at fully understanding the complex phenomenon of disproportionate policy response, but a robust research agenda awaits those answering this article’s call for action.

Article

Contextualism denotes a set of ideas about the importance of attention to context. Here, focus is on contextualism in normative political theory/philosophy, specifically in relation to the part of political theory concerned with systematic political argument for normative claims—evaluative claims about the legitimacy, justice, or relative goodness of acts, policies, or institutions, and prescriptive claims about what we should do, which decision procedures we should follow, or how institutions should be reformed. In terms of what counts as context, it denotes facts concerning particular cases that can be invoked to contextualize a specific object of political discussion such as a law, an institution, or the like. Contextualism denotes any view that political theory should take context into account, but there are many different views about what this means. Contextualism can be characterized by way of different contrasts, which imply that the resulting conceptions of contextualism are views about different things, such as justification, the nature of political theory, or methodology. Here the focus is on characterizations of contextualism in terms of methodology and justification that provide different views about what role context can play in political argument. In the course of doing this, a number of problems facing the different versions of contextualism are identified, including problems of reification and status quo bias, problems of securing that political theory is both critical and action guiding while still being contextualist, and the problem of delimiting the relevant context. Different ways of avoiding these problems are sketched. It is argued that there are forms of contextualism that can avoid the problems, but that these may not be as distinctive as some contextualists think. This also means that contextualism may, in fact, be a more common approach to political theory than is sometimes suggested.

Article

A structural understanding of the contextualized behavior of states is introduced and operationalized. Context is a central theme of the discipline of geography and identifies context specific, rather than universal, social behavior. Social behavior is both defined by and creates contexts in a constant recursive interaction. Context is defined through a geographic perspective on world-systems analysis, and we focus on the behavior of states. States are central actors because, through territorial sovereignty, they are able to define key social relations and economic flows. The idea of context is developed in a way that extends the key International Relations (IR) concepts of milieu and opportunity and willingness. The recursive interaction between agency and context is conceptualized in a relational way as maneuver, the process by which the aggregate behavior of elites define state-level choices and behaviors that are made by considering the contextual position relative to all other states in the capitalist world-economy. In turn, the decision by any one state changes the behavior of other states so that context and state-level decisions interact and are constantly in flux. The elements of context include the position of a state in the hierarchy of the capitalist world-economy as well as regional and local interstate relations, some of which may display path dependency. The operationalization of maneuver requires an understanding of states as signaling and learning entities and a set of modeling techniques that identify: (1) the degree of change within the system as a whole—or the degree of stability in the number and identity of states within particular positions in the hierarchy of the capitalist world-economy; (2) the maneuver of particular states—or which states change position (or not) within the hierarchy; and (3) the explanatory power of variables measuring political and economic interstate relations in explaining the maneuver behavior of particular states.