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Judicial Behavior  

Lee Epstein and Nicholas W. Waterbury

Once the sole province of U.S. scholars—and mostly political scientists at that—researchers throughout the world, drawing on history, economics, law, and psychology, are analyzing judicial behavior: why judges make the choices they do and what effect those choices have on society. How the field moved from a modest, niche project of political scientists working in the mid-20th century to the powerhouse it has become makes for an interesting story, marked by several key developments along the way. One is certainly the influx of scholars and theories from other disciplines that have supplemented and challenged existing knowledge. Other developments include the growing interest in judging from a comparative perspective; the massive improvements in data acquisition through technological advancements; and, perhaps most importantly, the sheer number of topics that now fall under the rubric of “judicial behavior.” Although the field has advanced markedly, much work remains. Many of the canonical theories of judicial behavior rest on the assumption that judges are rational, goal-oriented, actors. But decades’ worth of studies in social psychology, including experiments on judges, raise serious questions about the plausibility of this assumption. Should observational results converge with the experimental evidence, scholars must grapple with how to integrate insights from social psychology into the analysis of judicial behavior. On the empirical side, however notable the improvements in data infrastructure, most products ignore obvious objects of interest: the actual opinions produced by judges. Developing tools carefully calibrated to account for the unique ways judges develop and frame their work products presents yet another challenge. But it is one worth pursuing if only because of its potential to bring scholars closer to the goal of developing a fuller, more realistic conception of judicial behavior.

Article

Bounded Rationality and Cognitive Limits in Political Decision Making  

Brooke N. Shannon, Zachary A. McGee, and Bryan D. Jones

Bounded rationality conceives of people engaging in politics as goal oriented but endowed with cognitive and emotional architectures that limit their abilities to pursue those goals rationally. Political institutions provide the critical link between micro- and macro-processes in political decision-making. They act to (a) compensate for those bounds on rationality; (b) make possible cooperative arrangements not possible under the assumptions of full or comprehensive rationality; and (c) fall prey to the same cognitive and emotional limits or canals that individual humans do. The cognitive limitations that hamper individuals are not only replicated at the organizational level but are in fact causal.

Article

Populist Politics in Africa  

Danielle Resnick

Although widely used in reference to the Americas and Europe, the concept of populism has been less frequently applied to political dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa. Populism is variously viewed as a political strategy aimed at fostering direct links between a leader and the masses, an ideational concept that relies on discourses that conjure a corrupt elite and the pure people, and a set of socio-cultural performances characterized by a leader’s charisma, theatrics, and transgression of accepted norms. A cumulative approach that combines all three perspectives allows for identifying episodes of populism in Africa. These include historical cases of populist regimes in the 1980s as well as more contemporary examples of party leaders in the region’s democracies who use populism in their electoral campaigns to mobilize subaltern groups, especially those living in urban areas. As found in other regions of the world, those African leaders who have ascended to the presidency on the back of populism typically exert anti-democratic practices once in office. This reaffirms that populism can allow for greater representation of the poor and marginalized in the electoral process, but that populists’ celebration of popular will and supposedly unmediated ties to the people become convenient justifications for bypassing established institutions and undermining the rule of law.