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Bahrain: The Army and the Dynamics of State-Society Relations  

Laurence Louër

In contrast with some of its Gulf neighbors, Bahrain cannot develop a more socially embedded military institution that would be the engine of an inclusive nation-building process. This is because of the peculiar nature of its state–society relations, which are plagued by mutual distrust between the ruling Al Khalifa family, who hail from the country’s Sunni minority, and a great part of the Shia majoritarian population. As a result, the security apparatus, and the army in particular, recruits almost exclusively from the ruling family, its Sunni tribal allies, and foreigners. Totally insulated from the Shia society, the militaries never participated, nor will ever participate, in mass politics, which have been mostly driven by Shia-dominated protests. The noncompromise option taken by the incumbents following the mass protest of 2011 has entailed a shift toward a hard form of authoritarianism in which the security apparatus has emerged as a key actor of political control. The regime is increasingly militarized as the Al Khalifa militaries have acquired a growing weight in the politics of dynastic factionalism, with the militaries now being in crucial positions to influence not only the kingdom’s policies but also the internal balances within the ruling dynasty.

Article

Political Agenda Setting and the Mass Media  

Stefaan Walgrave and Peter Van Aelst

Recently, the number of studies examining whether media coverage has an effect on the political agenda has been growing strongly. Most studies found that preceding media coverage does exert an effect on the subsequent attention for issues by political actors. These effects are contingent, though, they depend on the type of issue and the type of political actor one is dealing with. Most extant work has drawn on aggregate time-series designs, and the field is as good as fully non-comparative. To further develop our knowledge about how and why the mass media exert influence on the political agenda, three ways forward are suggested. First, we need better theory about why political actors would adopt media issues and start devoting attention to them. The core of such a theory should be the notion of the applicability of information encapsulated in the media coverage to the goals and the task at hand of the political actors. Media information has a number of features that make it very attractive for political actors to use—it is often negative, for instance. Second, we plead for a disaggregation of the level of analysis from the institutional level (e.g., parliament) or the collective actor level (e.g., party) to the individual level (e.g., members of parliament). Since individuals process media information, and since the goals and tasks of individuals that trigger the applicability mechanism are diverse, the best way to move forward is to tackle the agenda setting puzzle at the individual level. This implies surveying individual elites or, even better, implementing experimental designs to individual elite actors. Third, the field is in dire need of comparative work comparing how political actors respond to media coverage across countries or political systems.

Article

The Ownership Society in Comparative Perspective  

Andrew Kerner

The term ownership society is commonly used to describe a suite of policies promoted during the second George W. Bush administration that sought, among other things, to increase popular ownership of housing and financial assets. The ownership society was always in large part an attempt at social engineering. That attempt rests on two premises: first, that asset ownership pushes individuals’ politics to the right; and second, that governments can engineer a more right-leaning populace by promoting asset ownership. While the term was novel, the ideas were not. Bush’s ownership society bore more than a striking resemblance to Thatcher’s “enterprise society,” for example, and similar ideas percolated in some quarters of Latin American neoliberalism of the 1980s and 1990s. But foreign referents are in this case not necessary; the ownership society was in large part an expansion of a preexisting American tradition of promoting private ownership explicitly for its capacity to transform the owner’s politics. Despite its consistent appeal to right-of-center governments, political science has not come to any tidy conclusions about whether the ownership society exists or, if it does exist, how it works and how it interacts with financial and housing markets. Turmoil in those markets over the past 10 years, and the accompanying political fallout, underline the need to consolidate what we know about the ownership society and to set a course for theoretical and empirical development. Two themes in the literature are particularly noteworthy as it moves forward. First, there is a substantial contrast between “static” and “dynamic” theories of ownership society politics. Static theories argue that the fact of asset ownership per se affects the owner’s politics; dynamic theories look more toward movements in asset markets, arguing that asset ownership’s political effects vary according to the financial consequences of that ownership on the individual. While the latter appears to better fit the empirical evidence, the relevant scope conditions—when should we expect a dynamic theory to obtain, and where should we expect a static theory to obtain—remain unclear. Second, the empirical study of the ownership society is made difficult by the fact that asset ownership is virtually never randomly assigned, and the political antecedents of asset ownership are difficult to convincingly control for using observational data. In lieu of a perfect research design, better communication between observational and experimental studies can help move the literature forward.

Article

Radio as a Political Medium in Africa  

Harri Englund

Radio’s affordability, portability, and use of local languages have long granted it a special status among mass media in Africa. Its development across the continent has followed remarkably similar paths despite clear differences in different countries’ language policies, economic fortunes, and political transformations. Common to many countries has been the virtual monopoly over the airwaves enjoyed by the state or parastate broadcasting corporations during the first decades of independence. The wave of democratization since the late 1980s has brought important changes to the constitutional and economic landscape in radio broadcasting. Although private, religious, and community stations have filled the airwaves in many countries, it is also important to recognize the many subtle ways in which state-controlled radio broadcasting, both before and after independence, could include alternative ideas, particularly in cultural and sports programming. By the same token, radio’s culpability in orchestrating oppression—or even genocide, as in Rwanda’s case—stands to be examined critically. Liberalized airwaves, on the other hand, draw attention to developments that find parallels in radio history elsewhere in the world. They include radio’s capacity to mediate intimacy between radio personalities and their listeners in a way that few other media can. They also become apparent in radio’s uses in encouraging participation and interaction among ordinary citizens through phone-in programs that build on the rapid uptake of mobile telephony across Africa. Such developments call for a notion of politics that makes it possible to observe radio’s influence across the domains of formal politics, religion, and commercial interests.

Article

Beliefs and Stereotypes About LGBT People  

Gary R. Hicks

The public’s perception of, beliefs about, and interest in LGBT individuals and the issues impacting them has long had great significance to the community’s social, political, and legal progress. The last decade has seen monumental changes in public attitudes about LGBT people and the laws that affect them in the United States and around the world. Much of this change has been positive, including the landmark Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage. In some parts of the world—even those that have witnessed great strides for LGBT equality—there have also been signs of a backlash against the community’s newfound rights and visibility in society. Stereotypes of LGBT individuals, mostly negative, have been responsible for much of this reaction, as well as their historically negative view in by the public. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the mass media has played a major role in creating and perpetuating these stereotypes.

Article

Egypt and Tunisia: Political Control of the Military Under Mubarak and Ben Ali  

Risa A. Brooks

Civil–military relations varied dramatically in Egypt and Tunisia under their former dictators, Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abedine Ben Ali. The leaders relied on alternative strategies of political control to accommodate the military to their rule and maintain themselves in office. Mubarak forged a grand bargain with his senior officers, while Ben Ali sought to contain the military. These strategies had important implications for how they met the imperatives of autocratic civil–military relations—keeping the military from engaging in coups and ensuring it would defend them against societal opponents, while retaining the latitude to govern. The cases illustrate the importance of studying variation in patterns of civil–military relations independently of regime type and of examining the overarching logics through which political leaders control the military.

Article

Satisficing in Political Decision Making  

Daniel Stevens

The idea of satisficing as a decision rule began with Herbert Simon. Simon was dissatisfied with the increasingly dominant notion of individuals as rational decision makers who choose alternatives that maximize expected utility on two grounds. First, he viewed the maximizing account of decision making as unrealistic given that individuals have cognitive limitations and varying motivations that limit cognitive ability and effort. Second, he argued that individuals do not even choose alternatives as if they are maximizing (i.e., that the maximizing account has predictive validity). Instead, he offered a theory of individuals as satisficers: decision makers who consider a limited number of alternatives, expending limited cognitive effort, until they find one that is “good enough.” At this point, he argued, the consideration of alternatives stops. The satisficing decision rule has influenced several subfields of political science. They include elite decision making on military conflicts, the economy, and public policy; ideas of what the mass public needs to know about politics and the extent to which deficits in political knowledge are consequential; and understanding of survey responses and survey design. Political and social psychologists have also taken Simon’s idea and argued that satisficing rather than maximizing is a personality trait—stable characteristics of individuals that make them predisposed toward one or other type of alternative search when making decisions. Research in these subfields additionally raises normative questions about the extent to which satisficing is not only a common way of making decisions but a desirable one. Satisficing seems superior to maximizing in several respects. For example, it has positive effects on aspects of decision makers’ well-being and is more likely to result in individuals voting their interests in elections. There are, however, a number of directions in which future research on satisficing could be taken forward. These include a fuller incorporation of the interaction of affect and cognition, clearer tests of alternative explanations to satisficing, and more focus and understanding on the effects of the Internet and the “information age.”

Article

Urban Popular Movements in Latin America  

Paul Dosh

In Latin America, urban popular movements emerged in the late 1940s as thousands of low-income migrants and city residents banded together to claim land, build self-help housing, and forge neighborhood organizations that fomented community participation and mobilized to demand land titles and city services. These neighborhoods were characterized by informal housing; inadequate provision of electricity, water, sanitation, transportation, and social services; and informal employment and underemployment. During the authoritarianism of the 1960s and 1970s, some urban popular movements resisted military dictatorship while others forged clientelist ties. Democratic and authoritarian leaders alike were forced to deal with the steady influx of rural migrants to cities, and regimes of all types often came to view informal neighborhoods founded by urban popular movements as an acceptable solution to some of the challenges of urbanization. In the 1980s and 1990s, neoliberal privatization of public utilities and cuts to social safety nets harmed urban popular movements, but national and local democratization expanded some avenues of participation, and the regional trend of urban popular movements expanded in numbers and extended its geographic reach. In the 2000s, socialist “Pink Tide” governments delivered benefits to low-income sectors, and many popular sectors supported these leftist regimes. Material gains proved modest, however, and state-movement alliances were rocky, leaving urban popular movements in the awkward position of being dissatisfied with national leadership, yet preferring the Pink Tide incumbents to most alternatives. And in the 2010s, a new “right turn” emerged, as conservative leaders replaced many Pink Tide presidents, threatening to reintroduce the repressive over-policing of popular sectors. Throughout these periods, the core conceptual identity of some urban popular movements shifted from the poblador (the “founder” seeking to meet his or her family’s needs) to the vecino (the “neighbor” collaborating with other movement participants through collective efforts), to the ciudadano (the empowered “citizen” who recognizes his or her needs as rights to be secured through political engagement).