The distinction between ideal and nonideal theory is an important methodological concern in contemporary political theory. At issue is the extent to which political theorizing is a practical endeavor and, consequently, the extent to which real-world facts should either be factored into political theorizing or else be assumed away. The distinction between ideal theory and nonideal theory was first introduced by John Rawls in his classic A Theory of Justice. Rawls’s ideal theory is an account of the society we should aim for, given certain facts about human nature and possible social institutions, and involves two central assumptions. First, it assumes full compliance of relevant agents with the demands of justice. Second, it assumes that historical and natural conditions of society are reasonably favorable. These two assumptions are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for his ideal theory. For Rawls, nonideal theory primarily addresses the question of how the ideal might be achieved in practical, permissible steps, from the actual, partially just society we occupy. The account of ideal and nonideal theory advanced by Rawls has been subject to criticism from different directions. Amartya Sen accepts Rawls’s distinction between ideal and nonideal theory but argues that Rawlsian-style nonideal theory is too ideal. Given the many and severe injustices we face we do not need to know what ideal (or “transcendental”) justice looks like; our focus should not be on how to transition toward this ideal. Instead, the advancement of justice requires a comparative judgment which ranks possible policies in terms of being more or less just than the status quo. G. A. Cohen, by contrast, argues that Rawlsian-style ideal theory is not really ideal theory as such, but instead principles for regulating society. Our beliefs about normative principles should, ultimately, be insensitive to matters of empirical fact; genuine ideal theory is a form of moral epistemology (an exercise of identifying normative truths).
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.
W. Kindred Winecoff
First-wave international political economy (IPE) was preoccupied with the “complex interdependencies” within a world system that (it believed) was rapidly devolving following the 1971 collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates. The original IPE scholars were more dedicated to theorizing about the emergence and evolution of global systems than any strict methodology. As IPE developed, it began to emphasize the possibility that institutions could promote cooperation in an anarchic environment, so IPE scholarship increasingly studied the conditions under which these institutions might emerge. Second-wave IPE scholars began to focus on the domestic “level of analysis” for explanatory power, and in particular analyzed the role of domestic political institutions in promoting global economic cooperation (or conflict). They also employed a “second-image reversed” paradigm in which the international system was treated as an explanatory variable that influenced the domestic policymaking process. In opening up the “black box” of domestic politics, in particular as it pertained to foreign economic policy, the “American school” of IPE thoroughly explored the terrain with regression-based statistical models that assume observational independence. As a result, complex interdependencies in the global system were increasingly ignored. Over time the analytical focus progressively shifted to micro-level units—firms and individuals, whenever possible—using neoclassical economic theory as its logical underpinning (with complications for political factors). This third wave of IPE, “open economy politics,” has been criticized in the post-crisis period for its narrow focus, rigid methodology, and lack of systemic theory. Leading scholars have called modern IPE “boring,” “deplorable,” “myopic,” and “reductionist,” among other epithets. A “fourth-wave” of IPE must retain its strong commitment to empiricism while re-integrating systemic processes into its analysis. A new class of complex statistical models is capable of incorporating interdependencies as well as domestic- and individual-level processes into a common framework. This will allow scholars to model the global political economy as an interdependent system consisting of multiple strata.
Wouter van Atteveldt, Kasper Welbers, and Mariken van der Velden
Analyzing political text can answer many pressing questions in political science, from understanding political ideology to mapping the effects of censorship in authoritarian states. This makes the study of political text and speech an important part of the political science methodological toolbox. The confluence of increasing availability of large digital text collections, plentiful computational power, and methodological innovations has led to many researchers adopting techniques of automatic text analysis for coding and analyzing textual data. In what is sometimes termed the “text as data” approach, texts are converted to a numerical representation, and various techniques such as dictionary analysis, automatic scaling, topic modeling, and machine learning are used to find patterns in and test hypotheses on these data. These methods all make certain assumptions and need to be validated to assess their fitness for any particular task and domain.
Archives, including primary documents such as meeting minutes, memoranda, white papers, blueprints, drafts for laws, and acts, are a crucial part of a consistent research inquiry that provide significant understanding of the public-policy processes in public administration. Within qualitative methods for studying public policy and public administration, archives are a key step of the process-tracing method for comparative historical analysis. Archival research is the backbone of any process-tracing exercise. Using archives for public administration studies requires rigorous planning. It starts with the definition of a time horizon of analysis that sets the dates over which the analysis will be performed. The time horizon will also help design the types of documents and indicators needed to identify the decision-making process, along with the goals and the budget performance that will accompany the policy decision. The key elements of time, sequence, selection, and classification of archives in public-policy studies determine the causal process mechanisms within a public-policy process. Identifiers, data-mining software, and sequencing are additional tools for improving classification and interpretation.
The field of protest and contentious action is massive. Numerous studies have focused on the determinants of such behavior, among which are grievances and deprivations, resources, political opportunities, and general contextual conditions. Others have examined the changes in political protest over time and across countries, or the consequences of contentious action. Moreover, research on protest politics is characterized by a multitude of methodological approaches, which are not easy to group according to the “qualitative–quantitative” divide. To navigate this literature, three units of analysis are examined: individuals; groups, organizations or social movements; and protest events. This perspective can guide researchers through the field, in particular through the main factors for protest studies cross-temporally and cross-nationally, about their effects, and through the various methodological approaches. This perspective also might suggest possible directions for future research to overcome some limitations of the current literature.
Jacqueline H. R. deMeritt
Repression is the act of subduing someone by institutional or physical force. Political violence is a particular form of repression involving the use of physical force to achieve political goals. Acts of repression and/or political violence often violate fundamental human rights, and are sometimes referred to as human rights abuse. Most systematic research into these forms of human rights abuse, particularly as perpetrated by governments, is built on assumptions of rationality: repression and political violence are strategic policies that governments employ in pursuit important political and/or military objectives. Since the defining concept of the state is its monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion, those objectives are generally related to quiescence and the quelling of popular dissent. Empirical research has investigated the causes of repression and political violence, focusing generally on the conditions and incentives that make these strategies most likely. To a lesser extent, scholars have also investigated the consequences of human rights abuse. This work is intimately tied to extant work on causes, and highlights an important feedback loop between repressive governments and those who oppose them. Finally, researchers have investigated methods of limiting and/or preventing state repression and political violence. Some of these methods are primarily domestic in nature (e.g., regime type and institutional design) while others have a decidedly international bent (e.g., advocacy campaigns).