An improved understanding of foreign policy learning necessitates a clarification of what foreign policy learning is, who learns, and how such learning occurs. Cognitive and social psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists situated in a variety of subfields have contributed to the understanding of foreign policy learning, a multidisciplinary area of inquiry. Learning theorists seek to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government. This cognitive dimension is important because actors may pursue a new course of action for politically expedient reasons rather than having genuinely “learned”—a distinction referred to as “complex” vs. “simple” learning.
Foreign policy learning can be internal or external. The former type of learning entails what individuals, governments, or organizations learn from their prior experience. Learning theorists who focus on the individual level of analysis borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, the belief structures, and the cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking. Leaders whose cognitive structures are described as relatively open and complex—like Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose learning brought about the dramatic changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union—are more likely to alter their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts.
Yet external learning occurs as well. Policy diffusion studies show that learning can result from demonstration effects. Foreign policy learning via diffusion is not instrumental, but instead occurs through osmosis. Privatization in the former communist states, China’s Foreign Direct Investment liberalization, and the diffusion of environmental norms in the European Union are examples of learning that is contagious, not chosen. A more conscious mode of learning than diffusion is policy transfer, which entails policymakers’ transferring ideas from one country and implementing them in another. Technological innovations, unlike lessons that involve political ideology, are generally easier lessons to transfer—for example, Japan’s success in applying lessons from the West to modernize its army in the second half of the 19th century.
The constraints to foreign policy learning are formidable. Decision makers are not always open to reconsidering views that challenge their beliefs. Leaders tend to resort to, and misuse, analogies that prevent learning. Even a change in a decision maker’s beliefs may not lead to foreign policy change, given the myriad political pressures, bureaucratic hurdles, and economic realities that often get in the way of implementing new ideas. Indeed, foreign policy learning and foreign policy change are not synonymous.
Scholars face significant obstacles in studying foreign policy learning. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Despite attempts to make sense of the confusion, scholars face the daunting challenge of improving understanding of how learning is shaped and funneled through the interaction of agents and the structures in which they are situated, as well as the relationship between learning and foreign policy change.
Miki Caul Kittilson
The burgeoning field of gender and political behavior shows that the way in which ordinary citizens connect to the democratic process is gendered. Gender differences in voting behavior and participation rates persist across democracies. At the same time, countries vary substantially in the size of these gender gaps. In contemporary elections, women tend to support leftist parties more than men in many countries. Although men and women vote at similar rates today, women still trail men in important participatory attitudes and activities such as political interest and discussion. Inequalities in political involvement undermine the quality of deliberation, representation, and legitimacy in the democratic process. A confluence of several interrelated factors (resources, economy, socialization, political context) work together to account for these differences. Today, scholars more carefully consider the socially constructed nature of gender and the ways in which it interacts with other identities. Recent research on gender and political behavior suggests that political context affects different kinds of women in different ways, and future research should continue to investigate these important interactions.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
While some women have been successful in promoting a feminist agenda in parliament, the research shows that this is not always a realistic expectation of women. Parliaments, as institutions, have specific cultural norms and practices, some of which actively work against women’s ability to advance gender equality. Understanding the conditions under which women—and men—parliamentarians might be successful in promoting gender equality outcomes has become an important avenue for research and development practice. The focus on gender-sensitive parliaments allows for a framework to identify and encourage the development of those conditions.
There are four key elements of a gender-sensitive parliament. First, it accepts that the responsibility to achieve gender equality, both as a policy outcome and as a process, rests with the parliament as a whole—its male and female Members and staff—and with the organizations that drive substantial policy development: political parties. Second, a gender-sensitive parliament is guided by overarching policies and legal frameworks, which allow the parliament to monitor its achievements towards gender equality and allow for follow up and review. Third, a gender-sensitive parliament institutionalizes a gender mainstreaming approach through its plenary debates, question sessions, committees, and caucuses to ensure that all policy and legislative reviews interrogate any potential discrimination against women or men, girls or boys. Finally, a gender-sensitive parliament fosters a culture of respect for women and their right to be an equal member of parliament.
Stephen Benedict Dyson and Thomas Briggs
Political Science accounts of international politics downplay the role of political leaders, and a survey of major journals reveals that fewer than 3% of all articles focus on leaders. This is in stark contrast to public discourse about politics, where leadership influence over events is regarded as a given.
This article suggests that, at a minimum, leaders occupy a space in fully specified chains of causality as the aggregators of material and ideational forces, and the transmitters of those forces into authoritative political action. Further, on occasion a more important role is played by the leader: as a crucial causal variable aggregating material and ideational energies in an idiosyncratic fashion and thereby shaping decisions and outcomes.
The majority of the article is devoted to surveying the comparatively small literature on political leaders within International Relations scholarship. The article concludes by inviting our colleagues to be receptive to the idiosyncrasies, as well as the regularities, of statespersonship.
Willy Jou and Russell J. Dalton
One of the ways that citizens and elites orient themselves to politics is in reference to a Left-Right vocabulary. Left and Right, respectively, refer to a specific set of progressive and conservative policy preferences and political goals. Thus, Left-Right becomes a framework for positioning oneself, political figures, and political parties into a common framework. Most citizens identify themselves in Left-Right terms and their distribution of these orientations vary across nations. These orientations arise both from long-term societal influences and from the short-term issues of the day. Most people also place political parties in Left-Right terms. This leads citizens to use Left-Right comparisons as an important factor in their voting choice, although this impact varies considerably across nations. Most parties attract voters that broadly share their Left-Right orientations.
The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann has provided one of the most elaborate theories of society available, as well as numerous works on specific aspects of society. Commonly labeled as “systems theory,” this is but a shorthand description of Luhmann’s theory. In fact, the theory rests on at least three main theoretical pillars. In addition to systems theory, a theory of social evolution and a theory of social differentiation play important roles. The present article introduces these three pillars and describes Luhmann’s theory of politics in this context. It outlines the crucial difference between a theory of politics as part of a theory of society on the one hand, and political theory as a reflective theory within the political system on the other hand. More specifically, it introduces Luhmann’s accounts of the notions of “political power,” “differentiation,” “the state,” “political steering,” and “the self-description of the political system.” The contribution concludes with some observations on the fact that Luhmann’s theory has tended to overlook the dimension of international politics, but that his theory provides opportunities to account for it in innovative ways.
Philip G. Roeder
National secession seeks to create a new sovereign state for a nation residing on its homeland that is currently located inside another sovereign state. This goal distinguishes national secession from regional secession, autonomy, and decolonization and shapes the strategies, operational objectives, and tactical choices of the leaders of national-secession campaigns. Explanations for the success of some campaigns—particularly, success at getting on the global agenda—have focused on the identities, grievances, or greed of their members. Explanations for why some campaigns have turned to protracted intense violence have focused on these motivations and on tactical-logistical opportunities.
The existing literature suffers from its failure to agree on theoretical and conceptual fundamentals. As a consequence, empirical studies focus on very different universes of cases and operationalize key variables in diverging ways. The existing literature frequently does not consider how the goal of national secession constrains the strategies, operations, and tactics of such campaigns. And so, it often fails to consider whether studies with another dependent variable can be extended to the study of national secession. Explanations stress indeterminate or substitutable causes and remote constraints on most national-secession campaigns—causes and constraints taken “off the shelf” from theories about conflicts operating under very different strategic and operational constraints. Missing from these explanations is the authenticity and realism of the programs for national secession in the assessments of the populations that each program presents as a nation with a right to a sovereign state of its own. Explanations and recommendations for responses by common-state governments, their allies, and the international community often fail to understand the centrality of the war of programs between national secessionists and common-state governments and the ways this constrains what compromises are possible and what responses are most likely to lead to domestic and international peace in such conflicts.
Russell J. Dalton
Early electoral research in the United States discovered the most important concept in the study of political behavior: party identification. Party identification is a long-term, affective attachment to one’s preferred political party. Cross-national research finds that these party identities are a potent cue in guiding the attitudes and behavior of the average person. Partisans tend to repeatedly support their preferred party, even when the candidates and the issues change. Party ties mobilize people to vote to support their party, and to work for the party during the campaign. And given the limited information most people have about complex political issues, party ties provide a cue to what positions one should support. The levels of partisanship among contemporary publics, and how it varies across nations and across time, are described. The implications of these patterns, and the current research debates on the significance of partisanship for democracies today, are discussed.
Frank C. Zagare
Perfect deterrence theory and classical deterrence theory are two theoretical frameworks that have divergent empirical implications and dissimilar policy recommendations. In perfect deterrence theory, threat credibility plays a central role in the operation of both direct and extended deterrence relationships. But credible threats are neither necessary nor sufficient for deterrence to prevail, and under certain conditions, the presence of a credible threat may actually undermine deterrence. In perfect deterrence theory, the cost of conflict and status quo evaluations are also important strategic variables. Classical deterrence theorists tend to fixate on the former and ignore the latter. This theoretical oversight precludes a nuanced understanding of the dynamics of deterrence.
Matthew Cawvey, Matthew Hayes, Damarys Canache, and Jeffery J. Mondak
“Personality” refers to a multifaceted and enduring internal, or psychological, structure that influences patterns in a person’s actions and expressed attitudes. Researchers have associated personality with such attributes as temperament and values, but most scholarly attention has centered on individual differences in traits, or general behavioral and attitudinal tendencies. The focus on traits was reinvigorated with the rise of the Big Five personality framework in the 1980s and 1990s, when cross-cultural evidence pointed to the existence of the dimensions of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. Studies have found these five trait dimensions to be highly heritable and stable over time, leading researchers to argue that the Big Five exert a causal impact on attitudes and behavior. The stability of traits also contrasts with more dynamic individual-level characteristics such as mood or with contextual factors in a person’s environment. Explanations of human decision-making, therefore, would be incomplete without attention to personality traits.
With these considerations in mind, political scientists have devoted an increasing amount of attention to the study of personality and citizen attitudes and behavior. The goal of this research program is not to claim that personality traits offer the only explanation for why some citizens fulfill the basic duties of citizenship, such as staying informed and turning out to vote, and others do not. Instead, scholars have studied personality in order to understand why individuals in the same economic and political environment differ in their political attitudes and actions. And accounting for the consistent influence of personality can illuminate the magnitude of environmental factors and other individual-level attributes that do shift over time.
Research on personality and political behavior has explored several substantive topics, including political information, attitudes, and participation. Major findings in this burgeoning literature include the following: (1) politically interested and knowledgeable citizens tend to exhibit high levels of openness to experience, (2) ideological liberalism is more prevalent among individuals high in openness and low in conscientiousness, and (3) citizens are more likely to participate in politics if they are high in openness and extraversion.
Although the personality and politics literature has shown tremendous progress in recent years, additional work remains to be done to produce comprehensive explanations of political behavior. Studies currently focus on the direct impact of traits on political attitudes and actions, but personality also could work through other individual-level attitudes and characteristics to influence behavior. In addition, trait effects may occur only in response to certain attitudes or contextual factors. Instead of assuming that personality operates in isolation from other predictors of political behavior, scholars can build on past studies by mapping out and testing interrelationships between psychological traits and the many other factors thought to influence how and how well citizens engage the world of politics.