Tag: political science (page 2 of 3)

Hanging Out on the Theory-Practice-Policy Divide

In Spring of 2006, I was nearing the end of data collection on my investigation into the human rights of children born of rape and exploitation in conflict zones, and I presented my preliminary findings on the topic atUniversity of Pittsburgh’s Research in International Politics (RIP) monthly brown-bag. In such circles, heavily dominated by empirical approaches, one does not present normative theory (that is, value-laden arguments about how the world should look) or policy-oriented sets of recommendations about particular problems. Rather, one identifies empirical puzzles about the world and then goes
about solving them by applying or modifying existing theories. Theories, in this sense, are lenses said to explain and predict major patterns in world affairs. 

Therefore, I had organized this particular paper not as a problem-focused human rights argument about children born of war, but rather as an empirical study on “issue non-emergence” within advocacy networks. I presented the subject of “children born of war” as a negative case and demonstrated why, from the perspective of agenda-setting theory, this might be considered an interesting puzzle. The case, I argued, showed that we needed a different understanding of the obstacles to issue emergence. This was the working paper version of a longer book project exploring why children born of war rape had received so little attention from advocacy organizations aiming to protect war-affected children. 

My colleagues provided a variety of suggestions on the theory, the methods, and the structure of the argument. But one piece of advice particularly sticks out in my mind. “You’d better stop talking to international organizations about this issue until you publish,” said one senior faculty member. “Otherwise, before you know it, you will no longer have a puzzle to explain, because these children will be on the agenda.”  

Two things struck me about this comment. First was the suggestion that in researching the non-emergence of “children born of war,” I might in fact be engaged in a form of issue entrepreneurship that could alter the research findings. Second was the suggestion that the idea that more attention to this population should have been less preferable to me (or anyone) than the ability to advance my career by publishing an interesting paper. In this essay, I grapple with those two problematiques as a way of thinking about what we aim for when we choose political science as a vocation, and to what extent our answers to that question are implicated in the social constructions we study.

Thus begins my reflection essay in this month’s issue of Perspectives on Politics. This piece began as the concluding chapter of the my book on human rights agenda-setting, but I was asked to remove it by the Columbia University Press editor as the price of publication. The essay reflects on that maneuver and its meaning in the context of a wider set of ruminations about academic norms, scholarly inquiry and the ways we interface with and affect the world we study.  We do this both through our practices as scholars and through our many every-day interactions with the public, practitioners and policy-makers on the research frontier, but this dialectic is masked by our professional norms. I hope that’s starting to change.

This set of ruminations from my professional journey along theory-data-practitioner-policy-public-sphere continuum remains very relevant to my new book project. These days, I think of what I learned on the Bosnia project constantly as I navigate semi-structured interviews and informal conversations with human security elites in the areas of civilian protection, children’s health, and arms control. I hope that in my new manuscript I can find a way to acknowledge my embeddedness within these communities of practice as a methodological choice in a way that nonetheless passes academic peer review.

Along those lines, Stephen Walt reminds us in an new important essay that hanging out on the divide between academe and the real world is necessary, yet full of pitfalls. He proposes a menu of strategies by which academic institutions can incentivize an ethical, reflexive and transparent approach that encourages such bridge-building. But he also insists we must acknowledge and render transparent the academic and political significance of such interactions between scholars and practitioners, policymakers and the public. If we can find a way to do that without unhelpfully blurring the line between academe and the ‘rest’ perhaps we can rescue the discipline from what he calls the “cult of irrelevance.”

To do it, we need to rethink how we train and socialize students, reward our junior colleagues, and report on our consulting relationships, as Walt points out. But in my view we also need to change our publishing norms to include and honor scholarly reflections on one’s journey through one’s subject matter as a staple component of analytical presentations.

NSF Blogging

The Monkey Cage is engaged in a full-court press in defense of NSF political-science grants. The cause, of course, is Representative Jeff Flake’s (successful) amendment to axe funding for political-science research. Although I never have received, and probably will never receive, an NSF grant, I find Flake’s denigration of social-science research troubling. Much worse are attempts to micro-manage the NSF. 

The whole point of this kind of arrangement is to prevent politicians from making decisions about what kind of basic research best advances knowledge in specialized disciplines (more from Chris Zorn on this point). The problems here are on pretty good display in Flake’s own speech. To wit:

So what kind of research is NSF charging to our credit card? $700,000 to develop a new model for international climate change analysis; $600,000 to try to figure out if policymakers actually do what citizens want them to do.

Both of these seem pretty worthy of study, unless one has some kind of ideological bias against modeling climate change or understanding how well American representative democracy functions.

But Flake’s other objection is less easily dismissed. As he notes:

…. three-quarters of these awards under this program for political science research, totaling over $46 million, were directed to universities that have endowments greater than $1 billion.
Think about it. Three out of the four of the grants awarded by the NSF Political Science 

Program go to the wealthiest universities in the country. Would those who would oppose this amendment have believed that Harvard and Yale would have to close their political science departments if Federal grants are not available for this program? Of course not. These universities and the field of political science will be just fine.

Obviously, there are confounding factors: wealthier institutions provide a lot of grant-application support, the academics who work there are (overall) extremely well-known and more influential in their fields, and so forth. And if the money goes to finance research that would not otherwise have been done, who cares if Harvard’s Government Department can survive the lost revenue? Moreover, as John Sides points out a quarter of NSF funding goes to folks not at Princeton, Yale, etc.

Still, it would be interesting for someone with time on his or her hands (i.e., not me) to look at the pedigree of grant recipients to see how predictive having been educated at a handful of schools is for NSF funding. I don’t think that our discipline should be entirely sanguine about the ways that funding streams, such as that provided by the NSF, may benefit the privileged.

Those kinds of factors, of course, aren’t dispositive. The elimination of NSF grants for political scientists is ridiculous on the merits. It is made even more ridiculous by the fact that many cognate fields will still get funding.

So, as the saying goes, contact your congresscritter!

(While it would be, in some respects, interesting to have a natural experiment on the impact to Political Science as a discipline if it lost NSF funding–which overwhelmingly goes to a particular kind of research–no such experiment is worth the loss of the social and intellectual goods provided by that money.)

Winecoff vs. Nexon Cage Match!

Kindred Winecoff has a pretty sweet rebuttal to my ill-tempered rant of late March. A lot of it makes sense, and I appreciate reading graduate student’s perspective on things.

Some of his post amounts to a reiteration of my points: (over)professionalization is a rational response to market pressure, learning advanced methods that use lots of mathematical symbols is a good thing, and so forth.

On the one hand, I hope that one day Kindred will sit on a hiring committee (because I’d like to see him land a job). On the other hand, I’m a bit saddened by the prospect because his view of the academic job market is just so, well, earnest.  I hate to think what he’ll make of it when he sees how the sausage actually gets made.

I do have one quibble:

While different journals (naturally) tend to publish different types of work, it’s not clear whether that is because authors are submitting strategically, editors are dedicated to advancing their preferred research paradigms, both, or neither. There are so many journals that any discussion of them as doing any one thing — or privileging any one type of work — seems like painting with much too wide a brush.

Well, sure. I’m not critical enough to publish in Alternatives, Krinded’s not likely to storm the gates of International Political Sociology, and I doubt you’ll see me in the Journal of Conflict Resolution in the near future. But while some of my comments are applicable to all journals, regardless of orientation, others are pretty clearly geared toward the “prestige” journals that occupy a central place in academic certification in the United States.

But mostly, this kind of breaks my heart:

I’ve taken more methods classes in my graduate education than substantive classes. I don’t regret that. I’ve come to believe that the majority of coursework in a graduate education in most disciplines should be learning methods of inquiry. Theory-development should be a smaller percentage of classes and (most importantly) come from time spent working with your advisor and dissertation committee. While there are strategic reasons for this — signaling to hiring committees, etc. — there are also good practical reasons for it. The time I spent on my first few substantive classes was little more than wasted; I had no way to evaluate the quality of the work. I had no ability to question whether the theoretical and empirical assumptions the authors were making were valid. I did not even have the ability to locate what assumptions were being made, and why it was important to know what those are.

Of course, most of what we do in graduate school should be about learning methods of inquiry, albeit understood in the broadest terms. The idea that one does this only in designated methods classes, though, is a major part of the problem that I’ve complained about. As is the apparent bifurcation of “substantive” and “methods of inquiry.”And if you didn’t get anything useful out of your “substantive” classes because you hadn’t yet had your coursework in stochastic modeling… well, something just isn’t right there. I won’t tackle what Kindred means by “theory-development,” as I’m not sure we’re talking about precisely the same thing, but I will note that getting a better grasp of theory and theorization is not the same thing as “theory-development.”

Anyway, I’ll spot a TKO to Kindred on most of the issues.

Vietnam PS Impressions (2): GDR in the Jungle

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Here is part one, where I noted how much the communist super-idolization of leaders like Ho and Mao weirds me out. Here are a few more social science impressions from our university trip:

4. What is it about communist states and concrete? Ech. It is so ugly and awful-looking. And it looks even worse and more out of place in the tropics. Mozambique and Vietnam look like the GDR in the jungle. The German Democratic Republic was architecturally hideous enough with its soulless, modernist-boxy, steel-and-concrete gigantism. Now drop that model into a third world tropical setting, and the outcome is even more awful-looking, not to mention dysfunctional and individuality-crushing. Vietnam and Mozambique both have terribly scarred their landscapes with countless square concrete box buildings that rise straight up out of the (otherwise attactive) rolling green countryside. They don’t fit the locale at all, not mention that they are often only half-built and/or decaying from all the saltwater in the tropical air. It looks atrocious. Good god. Couldn’t the Soviets do anything right? Did they have to export even lazy, style-less concrete boxes masquerading as ‘socialist realist’ architecture? Where’s Frank Lloyd Wright when you need him?

5. The Indo-Sinic collision in Vietnam makes the local art the most interesting I’ve seen yet in Asia. The national museum of fine art has (above) a wonderful serene Buddha, with his hands clasped and face placid (fairly typical) – plus 30 arms. Wow! That stopped me cold: Buddha + Vishnu = I have no idea. I can only imagine how the monks back in Korea (my wife is a Buddhist) would react. But it is truly unique, and I find Confucian art with all its rigid, formal wise men telling me to be a good son kinda boring. Bring on the wild Champa statuary with bodhisattvas who look like Hindu gurus and dancers with their legs backwardly touching their heads. Awesome.

6. ‘Please, let me make your trip to Vietnam as un-Vietnamese as possible.’ Ech. What is it about tour companies and cultural insulation? We ate most of our meals in Korean restaurants; we meet the Korean ambassador who told us how the Vietnamese have a ‘Korean dream’ and love Samsung; they served soju at every meal; we were shuffled around to souvenir shops explicitly built for Korean tourists where you could buy stuff that you could get at any mall in Hanguk-land, the staff spoke Korean, and even the owners were apparently Koreans; we didn’t even have to exchange any money! I guess flying Vietnamese Airways and eating some spring rolls was a major concession.

6. A few other random thoughts:

a. I never saw a Buddhist-Taoist-Confucian ‘fusion’ shrine anywhere before; again the art in Vietnam was surprisingly unique and engaging. People were half-bowing, full-bowing, waving incense. It was pretty hard to know exactly what to do (three half-bows usually works pretty well).

b. Remember your French textbook in high school telling you that Vietnam was in the ‘Francophonie’? Wrong. About the only French I could find was stuff left over on purpose. There were no exceptional signs or services. No one spoke it. I looked a lot. But English was the dominant foreign language. But there were almost no American tourists – about half Europeans and half Asians (Koreans and Chinese, no Japanese).

c. Yes, you can visit the Hanoi Hilton. Yes, it is extremely disturbing; you can even see the well-maintained flight suit John McCain was wearing when he was shot down and captured (another bizarre and uncomfortable tourist attraction). But post-Abu Ghraib, indignation feels hypocritical. It’s a very hard place to visit. The focus of the museum is on the French repression (complete with a preserved guillotine – very grim). Generally speaking, the Hanoi museums aren’t nearly as anti-American as you might expect. The ire is focused more on the French than us, and the bulk of the attention goes to Ho as a legendary founder like Lycurgus or George Washington.

I tweeted a series of these sorts of political science impressions from Vietnam here.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

Even Uncle Ho’s Hand-Weights Contributed to the Revolution (1)

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Our social science faculty association organized a trip to Vietnam last week. It was pretty fascinating. It was my first trip, and I don’t speak the language, so obviously I am qualified to generalize wildly about it now. As Gabriel Almond once quipped, ‘you should never generalize about a country until you’ve at least flown over it. So guess I meet that test at least. Here are some anecdotal, political science-y impressions:

1. Communist hagiography really freaks me out. I have now been to the ‘holy-site’ tombs of Lenin, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh, and they are some of the most bizarre human artefacts I’ve ever seen. (Kim Il Sung has one too. For analogous thoughts on Communist kitsch in NK, try this.) If you’ve never seen a communist mausoleum, you should visit at least one, especially if you are a political scientist. Modeled on the Lenin tomb of Red Square, Ho’s is a large, raised rectangular box, designed in hideously ugly Soviet-esque grey concrete. Ho is inside in-state – even though he explicitly wanted to be cremated (Lenin too wanted to be buried). And yes, they do refer to him as Uncle Ho to your face. Accompanying the mausoleum are two museums – and a gift shop in which you can buy Ho Chi Minh keychains and playing cards. Wait, what?!

I think attaching a gift-shop to a Marxist tomb (there was one after the Mao mausoleum tour too – I have a Mao Zedong tie-clip no less) captures the truly disturbing and contradictory bizarre-ness of these sites:

a. Communists aren’t supposed to believe in God, but these sites show they are basically catering to the religious impulse for legend and transcendence. In Russia, my host family told me that Stalin took God out of Heaven and placed him in Red Square. But doesn’t that violate the whole rationalist intent of Marx? Didn’t Marxists talk for years about how they were making socialism ‘scientific,’ with ‘iron laws’ and ‘stages’ of history and all that? Yet here is something like worship, another ‘opiate for the masses,’ complete with a cathedral with relics that tells the mythologized story to the masses, no? Doesn’t it fly completely in the face of Marxist ideology to build secular versions of religious stories and myths, complete with mimicry cults, ‘holy relics’ like Ho’s walking stick (pic above), and sacred sites like tombs?

b. On top of this ideological confusion is the transformation of these sites into tourist attractions for capitalist westerners. Gah! So not only do these things violate Marxist-Leninist basics of rationality by creating a new set of myths, they then get so widely disbelieved at home, that the only reason they stay is because foreigners will pay money to see them. Again, when I was in Russia, there was talk of finally burying Lenin, per his wishes, except that Moscow city opposed it because of the tourist value. Isn’t that the ultimate capitalist debasement of these famous anticapitalists? Which leads to…

c. You don’t go to actually fawn over Lenin or Ho (I imagine that the Vietnamese and Chinese hardly believe the ‘secular saint’ ideology anymore either). Instead you go to see the act of a cult of personality itself. Every detail becomes worthy of obsession, and the Ho one seems even thicker than Lenin or Mao’s. Right behind the Ho mausoleum is Ho’s presidential palace-cum-museum in which all sorts of personal stuff is retained – even his exercise handweights (also in the pic above) and used cars. (I read that in NK, they rope off benches were Kim Il Sung sat.) In short, the attraction of these sites for us is to see just how awful and perverse communism was in practice, not actually learn anything about Mao, etc. We go to see this completely freaky communist-quasireligious myth-making – and then buy Ho Chi Minh paperweights as Christmas gifts.

2. I guess the first thing you notice as a political scientist is not ‘socialism,’ but the rapid-developer feel of the place. Its evident as soon as you get off the plane, if only from the odor. Unless it rains, the air is always thick with ammonia and carbon; facemasks are everywhere. In fact, it was so bad, it activated my allergies and gave me headaches; it was worse than China, which is the worst to date I’ve experienced. Gridlock, a common curse among second-world developers, is extreme; Hanoi traffic is the most terrifying I’ve ever seen after Cairo. The density of Hanoi is extreme – not India, but close. The streets are filled with people selling everything imaginable. Like other Asian developers, there is a massive small retail sector of mom-and-pop corner stores selling textiles, toys, pirated discs, tchotchkes, home appliances and other gizmos, etc. Scooters are everywhere. Everyone seems busy and is talking on their cell phones. The bustle is palpable. This was in great contrast to what I saw in southern Africa. It seemed to me that we were looking at Korea 40 years ago, which general impression my colleagues confirmed to me.

3. The poverty did not look as bad one would expect from the numbers. Average GDP per capita is only $1000 per annum, but I was pleasantly surprised to generally see straight teeth and bones, healthy looking skin, reasonably middle class attire (jeans, tennis shoes, socks, baseball caps, etc), cell phones and headphones, scooters and bicycles, etc. Women wore make-up and heels. Even the cops were wearing Ipods. No one seemed to be living on the street, wearing everything they own, as is immediately evident in India; nor did we see any massive shack-slums as in Mumbai. Even in the countryside, where infrastructure was noticeably worse, this basically held-up. I imagine that deeper in the jungle and mountainous regions, like the central highlands, it is much worse. But Hanoi was more bustling, wealthy, and functional than places like Mumbai, much less Windhoek or Maputo. The difference between the countryside in Namibia and Vietnam was huge.

Part two will come in 3 days.

I tweeted a series of these sorts of political science impressions from Vietnam here.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

The Cultural is Political

Recently, Mike Innes tweeted playfully that he feared the Duck had become a “creative writing” blog due to the proliferation of satirical posts about pop cultural topics. This tweet was in response to my refutation of Brian Rathbun’s (also satirical) assertion that nerd / metal-head subcultures in US society are mutually exclusive, a post which also included critiques of the genre-specificity of pop cultural research in IR, commentary on a recent documentary about heavy metal music (itself quite political) and a satirized commentary about the strictures of institutional rules and norms on the identities and research agendas of political science professors.

Admittedly, the post did not deal with any foreign policy issues per se.

Mike’s implication (confirmed in a second tweet) appeared to be that blogging about pop culture, or blogging as pop culture (that is as satire rather than as serious analysis) is not “real” political blogging. However much he may have been teasing, this got me thinking about what we mean as political scientists when we think or write or teach about popular culture as opposed to policy processes, and especially when we produce ‘creative’ products ourselves as political scientists versus what we consider ‘scholarly’ political science outputs. (Because apparently a blog post is ‘scholarly’ if it reflects a certain style of writing or addresses certain themes but is ‘creative’ if it deals with other themes or with similar themes using satire rather than social science jargon.)

In this post, and later this Spring at the International Studies Association Conference, I will argue that culture is politics; and that analyses that blend attention to culture with concern over conventional political and policy issues are particularly appropriate on blogs precisely because they are relatively neglected in the discipline (though, this is changing). However, in thinking through this claim, and in watching the comments thread on Megan’s fantastic gender-violence-fetishism post, I realize that one can mean very different things by “culture is politics.” Taking cultural products seriously, examining the politics by which culture is produced, and creating cultural products ourselves are three different roles political scientists can play as bloggers.

For example, taking culture seriously as a carrier of political values and norms is supremely important to what we do, and has been at least since the “cultural turn” in IR in the late 1980s. Of course by “culture” IR scholars used to mean things like nationalist narratives, religion, or gender norms. Feminist IR scholars have long shown how the stories societies tell themselves and representations they create not only about war and peace but also about more mundane things like sex and soup shape not only society but also foreign policy. And it wasn’t long before the lens was turned toward pop culture as well by the work of Juttes Weldes and others: literature carries these narratives, cartoons and comics do, but so too does TV, film, and music.

(The intersectionalities of creative writing, political action and policy processes these have a politics and a history, often forgotten. Take Dr. Seuss for example: we remember him for his children’s books, which have helped carry American values both throughout our culture and globally, but he got his start drawing political cartoons: World War II in some respects created him as a writer and artist.)

Today, classes on “Film and Politics” are proliferating in political science departments, and with good reason: political scientists are rightly interested not only in how cultural products like films and cartoons represent politics, but also in the causal and constitutive impact of those representations on actual political processes. While there has been less research (that I’m aware of) by political scientists into musical genres and politics, this only suggests a new niche for aspiring political scientists that needs to be filled – like other cultural niches whose political implications have been insufficiently explored, like fashion (but see Cynthia Enloe‘s work on militarism) or food (but see Ansell and Vogel’s work on beef) or sports (but see Tomlinson and Young on national identity and international sports events.)

A second strand of “pop-cultural” analysis here at the Duck (and in the discipline, as a few of the cites above suggest) concerns the politics of cultural industries – rather than analyzing representations in cultural products (like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones) we sometimes analyze, for example, representations in culture-industrial sites (like the Grammys or the Browncoats movement) or we sometimes look at the intersection of the two: how culture-industrial actors sometimes function intentionally as political actors through celebrity diplomacy of different types. In the field of IR, there is more and more literature across methodological divides that deals with these topics – from John Street’s conceptual treatment of ‘celebrity politicians’ to Huliaris and Tzifakis’s case studies on celebrity activism to James Fowler’s elaborate empirical analysis of the Colbert Bump.

But finally there is the manner in which, especially on Fridays, bloggers at the Duck post more light-hearted or creative cultural products of our own loosely related to the topics we study – our version of casual Fridays which manifest at other blogs as pictures of cats, children or squid. Here at the Duck you won’t find squid, but you may find polar bears. Sometimes this is truly “casual” blogging and sometimes we put significant creative effort into playfully blending cultural critique, political analysis and satire. It’s true that it’s sometimes hard to tell where political science leaves off and tomfoolery begins. But then, isn’t the very definition of ‘tom-foolery’ socio-politically constructed? Yes.

Though I don’t often give it much thought, if asked to think about it I guess I’d tend to be a fairly loose constructionist myself on which of these roles most befits political science bloggers any day of the week, but I suppose there is room for disagreement there. What do readers think?

What I Learned Teaching IR in Asia (2): Show me the Policy Relevance!


Part one is here, where I noted how teaching IR in Asia taught me how to stop worrying and love American empire, and that American social science’ monolinguism is actually a highly responsible research technique. Here are a few more:

4. Imperial Star‘Fleet Professors, or why everyone seems to want to work for MOFAT. In his essay in Cooperation under Anarchy (btw, was that sorta the bible for anyone else in their first year of IR grad school?), Van Evera had that good remark about ‘fleet professors.’ The German navy, in the race with the Royal Navy, coopted professors, through money, access, and prestige, to make an intellectual case for expansion and competition. We used that term in grad school to indicate PhDs who wanted to work for the government or DoD, or more generally, had possible conflicts of interest because of relations with the state. Yet connection to the state is fairly common in Korea and smiled upon by university administration. Everyone (yes, me too) seems to have some relation to government-affiliated think-tanks and such (here, here, here). Conferences routinely and explicitly invite policy-makers and expect academics to comment on current issues. I worry about this, because government preferences inevitably influence positions, and it is so easy to get pulled into predictions for which you have little knowledge beyond a few articles you’ve read. I am regularly asked when NK will collapse, e.g., or who should own the Liancourt Rocks, but as Saideman noted, it’s so easy to put your foot in your mouth when you reach like that. It’s also kind of easy for this to turn into an academic food-fight, as it did the first time I debated a Chinese IR academic. By contrast, I find Korean colleagues quite excited to engage in the policy-making joust. 

The idea that this might damage the ‘speaking truth to power’ role of the professoriate is generally not worried about. (Read this on the issue.) Instead, following the yangban legacy (similar to the Chinese mandarins), the idea is that PhDs, with all their accumulated wisdom (hah! somebody call the Tea Party!), should help guide the state better. On the one hand, this is terribly flattering. Koreans, and east Asians generally, respect academics in a way I was wholly unprepared for, especially given the widespread American attitude that we are either overintellectualized ballonheads who lose our glasses on our foreheads, or a liberal atheist threat to the good values of Christian America. I get invited to speak at think-tanks and public events, talk on the radio, and write in newspapers in way I never was at home. On the other hand, it does raise the next issue…

5. Enough of your model-building, Poindexter! We need policy relevance! Walt regularly laments that IR, and political science generally, are too abstract and too distant from reality (certainly grad school was). Korea and China (although not Japan so much in my experience) are the opposite. Political science is so policy relevant that it often threatens to become public policy prescription instead. I remember this issue of ISR which pretty much found that outside the US and a few other places, political science isn’t really about basic research at all. I understand in Korea, with the enormous pressure of NK on everything we do in IR here, why this is so; bizarre and terrifying, NK inevitably dominates a huge amount of my teaching and conference time. But I do think this impoverishes Korean IR theoretically. (Here is the best IR journal to come out of Korea; let me know what you think.) And with Chinese colleagues, it is worse. It is hard to tell how much of their policy edge comes from ties to the state, and how much is ‘overseen’ by the state or required by the party (although like most people, I have found Chinese scholars in private to be far less ideological and aggressive than at the conference table). My experience is that Chinese political science is pretty much public policy, not what Duck methodologists would consider social science. At some point, this will have to change in order to address issue 3 (American IR dominance). In the Korean case, given the enormous amount of time devoted to NK in IR here, I can’t see this until after unification.

6. Springer’s Final Thought: Nobody wins when IR theory cheats on its cases. Dave Kang once told me that East Asia is a ‘candy store’ of cases for IR, and they are terribly under-researched. Teaching here has really shown me that. Forget all your standard (i.e., western) IR examples like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the inter-war period, or Napoleon. Undergrads here only know this stuff vaguely, and you can’t connect with them if all you’ve got are stories about white guys. Start thinking about the Imjin War or Qianlong, and if you don’t know what that means, that’s the whole point. There are lots of good puzzles. For example, why don’t Japan and SK ally balance against China as realism/balance of power theory says they should? What about a pre-modern Confucian peace? It is unfortunate that Asian work on this is underdeveloped. Asian history has many good cases that we don’t know about, because we are overfocused on conflicts that are both modern (after Columbus) and Western.  That space-time limit (Western, post-1500) has really struck me most as an IR theorist living here. Just within the West, consider that Rome and Carthage have scarcely been explored a as bipolar system, even though modern IR is pretty much built on cold war bipolarity. Then think about the fact that China has been a reasonably coherent entity for something like 2200 years. The room for IR theory application and improved generalizability is huge.

Cross-posted at Asia Security Blog.

You Lost Me in the Second Paragraph

Literally (Abstract):

We define a causal mechanism as a process in which a causal variable of interest, i.e., a treatment variable, influences an outcome. The identification of a causal mechanism requires the specification of an intermediate variable or a mediator that lies on the causal pathway between the treatment and outcome variables. Although qualitative studies often employ the method of process tracing, quantitative investigation of causal mechanisms is based on the estimation of causal mediation effects. Indeed, the traditional approach to causal mediation analysis has been to use structural equation models (e.g., MacKinnon 2008; Shadish, Cook, and Campbell 2001), a practice which goes back decades (Haavelmo 1943).

Life Imitiating Political Science and Vice Versa

I had a nice life imitating art (or science) today.  I was lecturing about identity and the stuff we political scientists have borrowed from social psychology to explain ethnic conflict today.  The idea is to get my IR of Ethnic Conflict class exposed to the basics before we move on to the international relations issues that are the heart of this course.

So, today, I am quite aware of my identity and how my self-esteem depends on how I see my group and how others see my group.  Then I notice a blog about Teaching Political Science which links to an article that focuses almost entirely on American Politics and a smidge on Comparative Politics.  I would not mind it if the article was not entitled “Ten Things Political Scientists Know …”  But since it entirely ignores International Relations (and Political Theory, I guees), I have a pretty gut level emotional response of the marginalization of the group with which I identify.

One of the upsides of residing in Canada has been that the border pretty much does away with imperialist Americanists trying to define the field only in terms of their narrow subfield (one that would be considered a sub-subfield of Comparative Politics in other countries, as it is in Canada).*  Sure, I have long since realized that Americanists are pretty handy since they tend to insist that the grad students have strong quant skills which make them useful to those of us who are falling further behind on high tech skills. 

* Canadian Politics is the parallel subfield up here, but Canadianists tend not to be so forceful and tend not to seek dominance (we are what we study?).

 But moments like this make me realize:

  1. Americanists might still be pretty damned narrow-minded about what Political Science is, more so than the other subfields.
  2. My lecture today about the logic of invidious comparisons (explicating Horowitz 1985) is not just for my class but also for understanding why I am so provoked right now.

Stuff Political Scientists Like #6 — Soaking and Poking


This one was inspired by Kate Weaver, and her dirty, dirty mind.

Sometimes numbers just won’t do. Political scientists occasionally require real-world knowledge and must come to terms with face-to-face human interaction. They have to do field research. Political scientists like to soak and poke.

Stop that. Don’t make this sexual. Get your mind out of the gutter. This is serious business. There is no room for juvenile humor in a discussion of political science methodology. The boys at PSJR will get upset.
Political scientists who do field research believe that the world is like first grade. Everyone is special and unique, like snowflakes. They all have something interesting to say. You will hang on their every word. You will struggle to decipher the meaning of every tiny gesture. If they give you the finger, don’t despair. That must mean something very different in the field.

If you want to soak and poke, you must start preparing very early. You will need to speak the local language fluently as every idiomatic expression tells you something new and different. Begin planning 8-10 years in advance. You might be tempted just to go to some Spanish-speaking country because you had a little in high school. But surely Spain will not satisfy the ruthless criteria for case selection in today’s political science. Is it a critical case? Does it give you variation on your dependent variable? Does it help you set up a natural experiment? I didn’t think so. Suck it up. You are learning Urdu. Also, you speak with a Mexican accent because your high school teacher was from Guadalajara. That will simply not do.

Still you might think strategically about it. The best place for soaking is Hungary. They have great bathhouses. And poking? Well, try Amsterdam. OK! I’m sorry!

Second you must wipe your mind clear of all preconceptions. Theory destroys meaning. You must forget all of your graduate training, everything you thought you knew. Break up with your boyfriend. It is best to forget all of your old ties if you are to integrate into a new society. Plus he is getting clingy. Hypnosis might help too.

You are now set to go out ‘into the field.’ Political scientists like saying ‘in the field’ because it makes them sound like secret agents when in fact they have more in common with farmers.

Soaking and poking requires ‘participant observation,’ getting as close as possible to your subject of study. But remember that soaking and poking is just a metaphor. Please do not feed your subjects. They cannot tolerate your diet.

For the best participant observation it is ideal for you to follow around your subject of interest at all times. You must know everything about them. But your very presence will alter their behavior, particularly if they know you are studying them. I recommend subterfuge.

First, before you make direct contact, get to know their schedule — when they drop their children off at school, when they go to bed, what they like to eat. Second, stage a collision at their favorite local coffee store, ideally when they have papers in their hands so you can help them pick them up. Then initiate a conversation about an interesting article they have probably read because you found it in their garbage. Parlay that into an internship in their office where you can observe everything about them and collect anecdotes for your ethnographic masterpiece.

This might sound like stalking but it is in the name of science. Any political ethnographer worth his salt has had a restraining order at one time or another. If you can break up his or her marriage to get closer that’s great. If you are not gay and he or she if of the opposite sex, you can always go Single White Female.

Now you are fast friends but you have to go further. Fight the civil war. Participate in the coup. Assassinate a foreign leader. You have to be there, become one with your subjects. Otherwise you will never truly understand. The Committee on Human Subjects can be dealt with later.

Not everyone is skilled at soaking and poking. Europeans seem to be more inclined to try it. They are excellent at ingratiating themselves into foreign cultures, particularly native ones. Their experience going topless at the beach pays off.

When you are done, you will have made a very important contribution. No one else will ever know more about life in a refugee camp during the second week of the Ethiopian-Eritrean border dispute. And from now on, you have a passive aggressive declaration making as a question for every single academic panel you attend in the future: “I am not sure if this theory works in the Ethiopian case…..”

Stuff Political Scientists Like to Obsess About

 Not to step on Brian‘s territory, but I just wanted to cross-post here something that I wanted to propose.
One of the recurring themes on my blog and at the Poli Sci Job Rumor site is that of rankings.  See here, here, and here for a taste of my fixation.

Anyhow, I am always reminded of a simple fact when I see any political science ranking of journals, presses, departments whatever: that whenever a ranking is suggested or revised, it is always suggested by someone who benefits from the new ranking.  Nobody ever proposes a ranking that puts their department lower.  So, Godwin’s Law–that the longer any internet discussion, the probability of Hitler/Nazis/Holocaust being mentioned approaches one–has inspired me to propose a new law.

What would we name the following law: Any ranking of any aspect of the academic enterprise will produce revised rankings that improve the standing of the folks who produce the revised rankings?  In honor of a semi-anonymous person who published amusing pieces at PS (see here for an example if you can–gated),* so how about Wuffle’s Law?
* A scholar.google search of Wuffle will produce many more contributions than I had remembered.

Stuff political scientists like #4, political psychology edition — calling you stupid, but not to your face

Lest I be accused of shielding myself from satire…..

Political psychologists are a kind of political scientist. Or maybe they are a kind of psychologist. In truth, no one really gets to know them very well. That is because political psychologists think everyone is stupid.

Political psychologists think you have never made a good decision in your life. For instance, if 600 people are going to die of a terrible disease and you are given a choice between a health program that will 1) surely kill 400 and save the rest or 2) will have a one third probability of saving 600 people but 2/3 of killing everyone, you will prefer the first. You don’t think very hard, do you? Those are the same. But if you have a third option of surely killing 400 people you will choose both #1 or #2 over #3. It’s the same, too, moron. Political psychologists explain that people are risk-averse in the domain of gains. They have never been to Vegas.

It is not your fault though, political psychologists will tell you. Your brain is simply too small to handle the complex calculations that occur in even day-to-day life. Instead you rely on “cognitive shortcuts,” which is another way of saying that you don’t try very hard. You are lazy as well as being stupid.

Political psychologists have a name for these shortcuts – “heuristics.” This is just a way for political psychologists to make fun of you in front of your face because they know you have no idea what that word means. This enables them to laugh at you in your very presence. Political psychologists are like the mean, popular girls in high school who invite the ugly girl over for a slumber party in order to make fun of her all night. So it goes without saying – do not attend a political psychology slumber party.
Don’t worry, though. You are in good company. Political psychologists will tell you that even great statesmen make terrible mistakes all the time. It is very unfortunate that we have never elected a political psychologist to lead our countries. We could have avoided the Bay of Pigs and World War I.

Political psychologists, in contrast, are very smart. Much smarter than you. They know more about the political beliefs of college sophomores than anyone else in the world. Even more than college sophomores. This is because political psychologists have trick ways of figuring out what you yourself don’t even know about yourself. If you are not sure if you are a racist, ask a political psychologist. They are also able to give precise estimates about how people will make decisions in windowless rooms while playing negotiation games against a computer. This is the key to the unlocking of the secrets of the human mind – no natural light.

Political psychologists also enjoy figuring out why you are such a fascist. What the rest of the world calls being conservative, political psychologists call “right-wing authoritarianism” or “social dominance orientation.” They have devoted years to investigating the root causes of these pathologies. You are uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. You have a need for cognitive closure. You don’t trust others. You are greedy. Liberals are free of these symptoms and deserve no study. Never knowing what you think, being hopelessly naïve and giving your kid’s inheritance to the kids selling candy bars door-to-door need no explanation.

Relevant? Who Me?

OK, I’ll bite. Lots being written these days about the relevance of political science. The latest today from Stephen Hayward at American Enterprise Institute.

I’ll join with John Sides that this is an intellectually sloppy caricature of the discipline. But, I’m always struck by the question — often posed by political scientists themselves — are we relevant? Here’s a little thought experiment on the IR/Comparative side of the discipline: let’s say that all IR scholars (security and IPE) and comparativists simply stop their formal and informal advising to the US government, think tanks, NGOs, and the US media. No more participation on panels/reports at USIP, Brookings, the Atlantic Council, or the Wilson Center (whose executive summaries are on every LA’s desk on the Hill); no more briefings at INR, FSI, or out at Langley (that often are noted in memos up the chain). No briefings, lectures, or conferences at NDU, NATO, or anywhere in the Pentagon (that are frequently plagiarized in subsequent briefing slides); no more background conversations with the Times or NPR or local media outlets around the country.

The reality is that all of these institutions rely to some extent on the scholarship of political scientists who do field work (especially in countries and regions not always on top of the fold), who compile data and systematically compare historical and/or contemporary cases, who think about broader trends, and yes, who develop models and use various types of methodologies to do more rigorous testing of empirical evidence. Hundreds of political scientists descend on DC every month to present their work and share their insights at these institutions.

If relevance is defined by the frequency of citation by Washington-based journalists, then yeah, I’d agree political scientists seem to be living in backwater.

But, if relevance is defined in terms of transmission of knowledge and information, albeit incomplete and often probabilistic, to help inform internal policy debates, my experience tells me there’s plenty of relevance. In the past few years alone, we can see the influence on policy discussions and development from scholarship on the democratic peace, smart sanctions, the complexities and limitations of state building, as well as a lot of region/country specific scholarship on the challenges in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

“Girls Don’t Do Math Past Algebra”


Today, a group of articles in the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and other newspapers, comment on the AAUW (American Association of University Women) report which will be webcast this Thursday.

These articles reminded me of a teacher that I’d had when I was young, who, despite my stellar performances in math courses, told me that girls don’t do, or need to do, math past algebra. Apparently, I am not alone, as the report lets us know that 40% of women who are now in the surveyed “STEM” (science and engineering) fields were discouraged at some point in their academic career from being in the sciences. While, if anything, that teacher’s sexism encouraged me to seek out education in math and science, story after story both related to this report and more generally can be told where women were explicitly discouraged from participating in or excluded from work in the sciences and engineering.

Just five years ago, at-the-time Harvard President Larry Summers (and current Director of the National Economic Council) argued that women are underrepresented in the sciences and engineering because of innate differences between men and women. I think there are two important things to say to this discussion: first, that women CAN do science and engineering as well as men can and shouldn’t be discouraged from it on any sort of (innate or social) capacity logic. Second, though, it might be important to explore the argument that our very conceptions of science are gendered. I have written about this in International Relations specifically in the journal Politics and Gender, but will make the argument briefly here …

In these fields, women’s underrepresentation is so grave that this “failure” to make it cannot be understood as individual or incidental, but, rather, as a consequence of structural barriers to women’s participation. Incidental explanations identify some factor or set of factors, such as educational differences, differences in the subfields of international relations that women are interested in, age differences, methodological differences, and so on, and “blame” women’s underrepresentation on those differences. These explanations imply that, if women had the “same” education, the “same” interests, and the “same” methods, then their experience in the subfield of international relations would be similar to men’s. As such, many who look for women’s equality in these fields are actively interested in finding more women who do “good work” and including them among the ranks of faculties. I have heard several department chairs and deans lament that they simply were unable to find a woman who met their criteria, and thus were unable to hire a woman to fill a vacant tenure-track line. In this scenario, senior colleagues explain, were there to be a woman who did the same work at the same level as the (more qualified) male candidate, then the department would have no problem hiring the person — women who were “the same” would be treated that way.

The problem, then, for those who consider women’s underrepresentation incidental, is that women are not the same. Because of perceived inferior preparation, skills, research interests, research methodologies, or other qualifications, women are often understood as less qualified job candidates and less desirable contenders for promotion. Women’s underrepresentation could be fixed by assuring that women got the same training, worked in the same areas, and obtained the same qualifications.

Still, there is a sociology to what is counts as “traditional” or “good” work. Feminists have described this as the “malestream,” rather than the “mainstream” because even where women are becoming more accepted as scientists, it is largely conditional upon socializing themselves into disciplines as defined by the men who came before them. If what is “traditional” is endogenous, then the problem of women’s underrepresentation is structural rather than incidental. Even were women numerically “equal” to men in terms of their participation and rank in the sciences, they would still be participating in a men’s world.

Perhaps the problem, then, is not that women’s work is nontraditional. Rather, it is that we consider women’s perspectives outside of tradition because tradition is laced with gender subordination. If “tradition” excludes women’s perspectives, indoctrinating women into tradition will not “fix” the gender disparities in these professions.

As such, instead of focusing exclusively providing women the “same” education and the “same” opportunities, perhaps it is time to question the value sciences assign to sameness. Perhaps it is time to stop thinking that women fall outside of the norm, and start redefining the norm in terms of the presence and importance of women’s perspectives in the sciences.

James Fowler: Formidable Opponent

It’s always great to see fellow political scientists on late-night talk shows. Last night it was James Fowler of UC San Diego. This is the guy I blogged about last year when he published an article in a leading political science journal on whether the Colbert Bump was actual or real. (His conclusion: the alleged bump is “more truthy than truth.”)

But Fowler’s main research agenda is social networks. In his interview last night, he discusses the many surprising ways they affect our lives. Check it out below.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
James Fowler
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Economy

More Momentum for the Social Sciences–Nobel Edition

For those that have not yet heard, the Nobel Prize for Economics (actually named the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel) was awarded this year to two recipients, one of whom–Elinor Ostrom–is a Political Scientist. As Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution notes:

It’s a nod in the direction of social science, rather than economics per se. It’s another homage to the New Institutional Economics and also to Law and Economics. It’s rewarding larger rather than smaller ideas, practical economics rather than abstract theory.

For those interested in a deeper discussion of her work, Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber provides an excellent overview and personal reflection on Ostrom.

As a political scientist, this is especially gratifying and I think reflective of some broader trends in social science, whereby the best insights and research culminate from the cross-fertilization of ideas from multiple disciplines within the social sciences (as well as the hard sciences). If you look at some of the more recent winners, their work transcended the discipline of economics and had a much broader impact on the study of human behavior and social dynamics broadly.

Personally, my research focused on decision-making, signaling & reputation, and conflict. The work of recent winners, such as Thomas Schelling (game theory), Daniel Kahneman (behavioral economics), A. Michael Spence (signaling), John Harsanyi & John Nash (game theory), and Douglass North (path-dependence, neo-institutionalism), all played a role in how I approached (and continue to approach) those issues.

Maybe a day will come when the prize is renamed the Nobel Prize for Social Science–another step towards the social sciences getting their day.

[Cross-posted at bill | petti]

Mad Scientists? Try Bemused.

Senator Tom Coburn knows how to rankle political scientists. Float a bill claiming all their work is bunk and should receive no government funding. For those who want to read it, here’s Coburn’s explanation. This is stirring up some ire and concern among political scientists in the blogosphere. Some of my colleagues even feel “picked on.”

Well look.

1) To be fair, he’s not really saying our work is bunk. Just that it’s not “science.” He doesn’t give a definition of what he thinks science is, but apparently it’s something like pornography: he knows it when he sees it:

“…biology, chemistry, geology, and physics… these are real fields of science in which new discoveries can yield real improvements in the lives of everyone.”

2) So, let’s take Coburn on his own terms instead of pointing out that he is “acting like an ignorant jackass”. If to be “science” your discoveries have to benefit people’s lives, figuring our how to make government work better would seem to count to me. People’s ability to profit from such so-called “basic research”* as how “robotics can help individuals with severe disabilities” is wholly contingent on a government providing education, roads, infrastructure, and (how ironically) funding the robotics research. You’re not going to get a lot of research into “bones that blend with tendons” in a failed state situation like Somalia; people’s lives are not improving very quickly in places like North Korea. Everything begins with good governance and security. But we wouldn’t want any studies of how to achieve that.

3) Oh, that’s right. Actually we would. Which is why DOD is reaching out to social scientists in order to do its job of protecting the nation more smartly. Also why, according to the NSF website:

“Congress established the NSF in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…”

Yep. Turns out we don’t actually have to take Coburn’s argument on its own terms, because Coburn’s entire argument is based on a faulty understanding of the purpose of the NSF, which is not simply to promote applied research as he claims but to ensure in part that the US government has the social scientific data needed to understand precisely the issues he claims are irrelevant to science. Like international conflict. Like democracy, campaigns and elections. Like political change, and regime transitions. Like international political economy. Like political psychology and political tolerance. True, you don’t need to understand these things in order to succeed at some forms of applied science – just ask the Nazi doctors. You do need them for science as Coburn defines it – where new discoveries benefit the lives of all.

So you can see why this whole thing strikes me as very, very funny – less like being picked on by a bully and more like watching a very cute two-year-old throw a tantrum before bed. You more want to laugh than get riled, much less worried about your ability to make a living.

I was especially tickled by the fact that the conference on YouTube and the 2008 Election Cycle I blogged about last year was among Coburn’s examples of “government waste.” (As a faculty member in the department that hosted the conference, I would like to express my humblest apology on behalf of our discipline.)

The great irony of this example is that one of the key features of the conference was practical, applied research – the kind he claims political scientists never do (maybe because he has his terminology backward).* For example, Chirag Shah’s TubeKit is a tool engineered to make it easy for political scientists to systematically analyze the impact of user-created video content on political processes; keynote speaker Richard Rogers’ Issuecrawler does the same for web-sphere analysis. You can argue with whether those things – or game theory models that let us predict and respond to political behavior – are a public good (then again you can argue about whether biofuels are a public good too). But you can’t claim political scientists don’t use NSF money to build tools or that these tools don’t have practical applications. Or, if you do, then your argument is based on assertion and opinion, not fact; it’s simply not grounded in the available empirical evidence. In other words, it’s not scientific.

I’d rather make policy based on facts and evidence. So would many of our leaders. And that’s the simplest reason why funding scientific research on political phenomena is and should remain among our government’s many priorities.
_______________________

*Basic research is precisely what Coburn seems to oppose – the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. The term for what he is describing – science that has practical or commercial applications – is “applied research.” The fact that he doesn’t know the difference should be a pretty strong signal about his credibility.

Better Political Forecasts through Crowdsourcing

Dan Drezner links to a recent article by Philip Tetlock on the difficult business of political forecasting. His evaluation of this troubled pastime is accomplished through the review of three recent books that all claim to provide a better way to see the future of politics. His own research (Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?, a fantastic book that you really should read) offers solid reasons to be skeptical of any pronouncements by ‘experts’ that they have some kind of proprietary knowledge about the future.

While I think his critique of the three books and of political forecasting in general is quite good, I find lacking one of his suggestions for how to improve the practice; namely, crowdsourcing. My issues does not lie with the practice of crowdsourcing, but rather the way that Tetlock describes it.

After his review of the three books (and the requisite approaches to forecasting each represents), Tetlock provides a powerful suggestion for how to improve the prediction business–crowdsourcing political forecasts:

Aggregation helps. As financial journalist James Surowiecki stressed in his insightful book The Wisdom of Crowds, if you average the predictions of many pundits, that average will typically outperform the individual predictions of the pundits from whom the averages were derived. This might sound magical, but averaging works when two fairly easily satisfied conditions are met: (1) the experts are mostly wrong, but they are wrong in different ways that tend to cancel out when you average; (2) the experts are right about some things, but they are right in partly overlapping ways that are amplified by averaging. Averaging improves the signal-to-noise ratio in a very noisy world. If you doubt this, try this demonstration. Ask several dozen of your coworkers to estimate the value of a large jar of coins. When my classes do this exercise, the average guess is closer to the truth than 80 or 90 percent of the individual guesses. From this perspective, if you want to improve your odds, you are better-off betting not on George Friedman but rather on a basket of averaged-out predictions from a broad ideological portfolio of George Friedman–style pundits. Diversification helps.

As Dan points out in his post, this suggestion potentially violates two of the necessary conditions of successful outsourcing, and that is the independence of the experts and diversity of their opinion. Dan says it best:

One of the accusations levied against the foreign policy community is that because they only talk to and read each other, they all generate the same blinkered analysis. I’m not sure that’s true, but it would be worth conducting this experiment to see whether a Village of Pundits does a better job than a single pundit.

I would actually go farther than Dan here. The problem with approach isn’t simply that political scientists and pundits may conduct their analysis in an echo chamber (although that is definitely an issue), but rather that for the crowdsourcing of these issues to work properly you would want as diverse a crowd as possible–meaning, you would wan to include individuals from outside of political science and the political pundit community.

Outside of an effective aggregation mechanism, James Surowiecki points to three necessary conditions for successful crowdsourcing:

  1. Diversity of opinion
  2. Independence of those opinions
  3. Decentralization (i.e. ability to lean on local knowledge)

Political Scientists and pundits do not hold a monopoly on useful insights into the world of politics. Other actors have an interest in understanding and predicting what will happen politically, including financial analysts, corporations, journalists, and politicians and citizens around the globe. Each of these groups likely brings their own perspective and lens for analyzing political outcomes to the table, and from a crowdsourcing perspective that is precisely what one would want (diversity, independence, and decentralization). The answer isn’t simply to gather more opinion from political pundits, but rather to gather more opinion from additional actors who represent an even greater diversity of opinion.

I agree with Dan that it would be worthwhile to set up some kind of experiment to determine the optimal composition of a political forecasting crowd. I smell a side project a brewin’….

[Cross-posted at bill | petti]

How is the Afghanistan Election Model Different?

Today much of the world will be focused on Afghanistan, as that country embarks on its second attempt at a democratic election. With a constant threat of violence from the Taliban, the level of participation has been limited. Also, early reports state that police have been cracking down on journalists so information coming out of Afghanistan has been limited. There are, however, several good sources still operations, and I have put together a short list of useful links for following the election below:

Charli had a very interesting post this morning on possible outcomes of this election. She points to another FP post that asserts a worst case scenario for Afghanistan would be a result similar to that in Iran—a disputed election with accusations of fraud. After the Iranian election we had several lively debates at ZIA on ideas for modeling and predicting the outcome of the Iranian election. Also, NYU faculty member Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s work on using game theory to analyze elections was thoroughly covered over the weekend the New York Times Magazine. Given the apparent power of game theoretic models to predict these processes the question is then: what is Afghanistan’s model?

The immediate and obvious difference between the two countries is the presence of the ISAF, most notable the U.S. military. Given how highly vested the United States is in the outcome of the Afghani election, any model would have to include this force as a key player. More interesting, perhaps, is the internal game being played among the political rivals. No matter the outcome, the declared winner will most certainly have to concede some level of authority to his rivals in order to maintain some semblance of unity among the heavily fractured groups within the country.

Finally, one aspect of this process that is often overlooked, which is a constant point of contention I have heard time and again from friends and former colleagues that have served in Afghanistan, is the underlying tribal dynamics embedded in Afghani political culture. As modelers, particularly those of us who are students of the selectorate model, we often think of elections as competition among an elite set of actors that are attempting to satisfy either a small or large selectorate groups in order to maintain power. The Afghani model, however, may be very different. In this country maintaining power requires balancing the needs of several intertwined tribal groups, with long histories, and subtle relations that span geographies, where their individual utilities for electing a given candidate may be inseparable. That is, one tribal group may wish gain or lose utility as a result of how their vote affects another tribe. As such, is there a way to reconcile the traditional models of power politics with the highly decentralized framework of Afghanistan political landscape?

I welcome your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: China Daily

Speaking of Coding


The American Political Science Association is offering a short course at this year’s conference on “Coding the Blogosphere,” which will introduce some new tools for capturing and annotating large text datasets such as those generated by Web 2.0 technologies.

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