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Article

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).

Article

Game theory is a set of mathematical tools used to analyze the strategic interaction between decision makers. Proponents of game theory have offered different perspectives about its potential benefits in the study of politics: It is a rigorous apparatus that can offer a solid foundation for the scientific enterprise; it offers predictions that could be tested with statistical analysis; it can account for the essence of unique cases and could be tested with qualitative evidence. Critics of game theory, in political science and international security specifically, argued in the 1990s that it had generated few empirical insights. Two decades later, game-theoretic approaches to international security remain a robust research program, but their prevalence remains limited. It is important to evaluate the potential benefits of game theory and the contributions that it has made to international security, so as to devise appropriate strategies to maximize its empirical purchase. The controlled comparison approach, using qualitative evidence on a medium number of cases, appears especially promising.

Article

Contextualism denotes a set of ideas about the importance of attention to context. The topic of the article is contextualism in normative political theory/philosophy, 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 might not be as distinctive as some contextualists think. This also means that contextualism might, in fact, be a more common approach to political theory than sometimes suggested.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

José Nederhand and Astrid Molenveld

Q methodology is an approach well suited to identifying and comparing patterns of similarity and differences in people’s viewpoints. The method systematically maps perceptions—including which elements of the perceptions are shared or unique. Q methodology originated in psychology, but it has been widely applied in multiple disciplines. The approach has also increasingly gained ground in public administration, in which studying perceptions, attitudes, and related biases is of key importance. William Stephenson, one of the founders of the method, developed Q methodology in order to be able to study persons as a complex whole, instead of just their characteristics, which is common among statistical methods. Unraveling the multiplicity of debates and perceptions is very useful for informing and evaluating the practice of public administration researchers and practitioners. By providing systematic insight into clusters of perceptions surrounding a specific topic, Q methodology allows researchers to develop new concepts and to advance the (existing) literature. For practitioners, the method is particularly suited for describing societal and political debates and practices, for designing governance and policy interventions, and for evaluating the implementation of policy programs.

Article

Evgeniia Iakhnis, Stefanie Neumeier, Anne Van Wijk, and Patrick James

Quantitative methodology in crisis studies is a topic of substantial scope. The principal rallying point for such research is the long-standing International Crisis Behavior (ICB) Project, which from 1975 onward has produced a comprehensive and heavily accessed data set for the study of conflict processes. A prehistory of crisis studies based on statistical methods, which identified connections between and among various conflict-related events, pointed increasingly toward the need for a program of research on escalation. The potential of quantitative methodology to contribute seriously to crisis studies has been realized along multiple dimensions by the ICB Project in particular. For example, quantitative methods have been applied productively to study the effects of both global and regional organizations, along with individual states, upon the process of crisis escalation. Current research in crisis studies is based on the premise that research designs so far have covered only one of multiple relevant stages regarding the process of escalation. This is where the concept of a “near crisis” becomes relevant: a near crisis entails perception of threat and finite time, but not an increased likelihood of military hostilities. Data analysis pertaining to multiple stages of escalation is at an early stage of development, but initial results are intriguing. A further critique of quantitative research begins with the observation that it is mostly state-centered and reductionist in nature. A key question emerges: How can the concept of crisis and associated data collection be revised to include a humanistic element that would entail new and potentially more enlightening configurations of independent and dependent variables?

Article

The Suez Crisis of 1956 is a perfect case for crisis research in the domain of international relations: the events leading to an Israeli attack on Egypt and an Anglo-French military invasion in the Suez Canal area seriously endangered regional and global peace and security. It also had major long-lasting consequences, notably the end of British influence in the Middle East, the expansion of the Cold War into that region, severe damage to the Western alliance, and, related to that, the acceleration of European integration as well as the development of the French nuclear bomb. An analysis of the Suez Crisis allows for a useful comparison of objectivistic and subjectivistic conceptualizations of the notion of crisis. This bears out that different actors attached, and still attach, different meanings to the events of 1956. Consequently, they look back on, and evaluate, the crisis in different terms. Also, Suez invites a confrontation of rationalist and constructivist approaches to the crisis phenomenon in the international relations literature. Furthermore, it invites an assessment of different approaches to foreign policy crisis decision-making, as they are employed in the comparative foreign policy analysis literature. In addition, the crisis serves to dissect important methodological issues regarding crisis research, particularly regarding causality and the issue of the decision unit. Finally, Suez offers insights into the specific legal and normative constraints faced by democracies seeking to go to war.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

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).

Article

Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) is increasingly establishing itself as a method in social research. QCA is a set-theoretic, truth-table-based method that identifies complex combinations of conditions (configurations) that are necessary and/or sufficient for an outcome. An advantage of QCA is that it models the complexity of social phenomena by accounting for conjunctural, asymmetric, and equifinal patterns. Accordingly, the method does not assume isolated net effects of single variables but recognizes that the effect of a single condition (that is, an explanatory factor) often unfolds only in combination with other conditions. Moreover, QCA acknowledges that the occurrence of a phenomenon can have a different explanation from its non-occurrence. Finally, QCA allows for different, mutually non-exclusive explanations of the same phenomenon. QCA is not only a technique; there is a diversity of approaches to how it can be implemented before, during and after the “technical moment,” depending on the analytic goals related to contributing to theory, engaging with cases, and the approach to explanation. Particularly since 2012, an increasing number of scholars have turned to using QCA to investigate public administrations. Even though the boundaries of Public Administration (PA) as an academic discipline are difficult to determine, it can be defined as an intellectual forum for those who want to understand both public administrations as organizations and their relationships to political, economic, and societal actors—especially in the adoption and implementation of public policies. Owing to its fragmented nature, there has been a long-lasting debate about the methodological sophistication and appropriateness of different comparative methods. In particular, the high complexity and strong context dependencies of causal patterns challenge theory-building and empirical analysis in Public Administration. Moreover, administrative settings are often characterized by relatively low numbers of cases for comparison, as well as strongly multilevel empirical settings. QCA as a technique allows for context-sensitive analyses that take into account this complexity. Against this background, it is not surprising that applications of QCA have become more widespread among scholars of Public Administration. A systematic review of articles using QCA published in the major Public Administration journals shows that the use of QCA started in mid-2000s and then grew exponentially. The review shows that, especially in two thematic areas, QCA has high analytical value and may (alongside traditional methodological approaches) help improve theories and methods of PA. The first area is the study of organizational decision-making and the role of bureaucrats during the adoption and implementation of public policies and service delivery. The second area where QCA has great merits is in explaining different features of public organizations. Especially in evaluation research where the aim is to investigate performance of various kinds (especially effectiveness in terms of both policy and management), QCA is a useful analytical tool to model these highly context-dependent relationships. The QCA method is constantly evolving. The development of good practices for different QCA approaches as well as several methodological innovations and software improvements increases its potential benefits for the future of Public Administration research.

Article

Mario Quaranta

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.