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Constructivism in the social sciences has known several ups and downs over the last decades. It was rather early successful in sociology but hotly contested in international relations. Oddly enough, just at the moments it made important inroads into the research agenda and also became accepted by the mainstream, the enthusiasm for it waned, and many constructivists—as did mainstream scholars—moved from the concerns of “grand theory” or even “meta-theory” toward “normal science,” or experimented with other (eclectic) approaches, of which the “turn to practice” is perhaps the latest manifestation.
In a way, constructivism was “successful” on the one hand by introducing norms, norm-dynamics, and diffusion; the role of new actors in world politics; and the changing role of institutions into the debates, while losing, on the other hand, much of its critical potential. The latter survived only on the fringes—and in Europe more than in the United States. The Copenhagen school, building on the speech act theory, engendered at least a principled discussion of security studies, even if its use of speech acts was too simplistic.
In the United States constructivism soon became “mainstreamed” by having its analysis of norms reduced to “variable research.” Similarly, while the “life cycle of norms” apparently inevitably led to norm cascades and “boomerangs,” “norm death,” strangely enough, never made the research agenda, despite the obvious empirical evidence (preventive strikes, unlawful combatants, drone strikes, extrajudicial killings etc.).
The elective affinity of constructivism and humanitarianism seemed to have transformed the former into the enlightenment project of “progress,” where a hidden (or not so hidden) teleology of history à la Kant tends to overwhelm the analysis and thus prevents a serious conceptual engagement with both law and (inter-) national politics. This bowdlerization of constructivism is further buttressed by the fact that none of the “leading” U.S. departments has a constructivist on board, ensuring thereby the narrowness of conceptual and methodological choices to which the future “professionals” are exposed. The engagement with concepts and language, which “first generation” constructivists introduced, is displaced again by “ideal theory” (both in terms of deductive reasoning based on “unrealistic” assumptions and in the “clarification” of abstract principles à la Rawls), or by the search for “algorithms” hidden in “big data.”
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Most constructivist work in international relations has attempted to account for very general outcomes in the international system, most notably the well-known research of Alexander Wendt. Whether we live in a “Kantian” world or a “Hobbesian” one, for instance, is a socially constructed thing, in a sense, not flowing from some inevitable structure or theory of human nature. Nevertheless, some important constructivist work has focused on more specific foreign policy outcomes, research that is examined in depth. Constructivist analyses tend to focus on “how possible” questions rather than attempting to explain particular decisions, and this offers a useful addition or corrective to more traditional analyses of foreign policy. They also attempt to understand the general foreign policy orientations of states, often relying on notions of culture, role, and identity.
Such approaches have not yet fully matured into comprehensive approaches to foreign policy, in at least two senses. First of all, current constructivist approaches are somewhat limited by focusing on the social dimensions of foreign policy rather than on individual ones, being sociological rather than psychological in nature. This is sometimes not an issue, but it becomes a problem when variation between decision makers with the same social identity is the object of interest. Second, there have been relatively few attempts to turn constructivism into a normative theory. Arguably, in order to become a fully rounded theory (as opposed to a loose framework), constructivism needs a mechanism by which it can influence actual decision makers, very few of whom currently describe themselves in opinion polls as being constructivists, as opposed to realists or liberals.
Yet both of these problems can potentially be remedied. First, constructivist approaches may be combined with psychological approaches, which supplement their sociological focus. Both constructivism and the psychological approach to decision making are ideational in nature rather than material; in other words, they share the belief that what we think is “out there” is often more important than what actually is. Indeed, the psychological approach to foreign policy provided a major source of inspiration for the early constructivists. Second, constructivist approaches can offer policymakers prescriptive advice as to how they should or ought to behave. We will review the literature on understanding foreign policy outcomes and will then suggest the outlines of an applied constructivism that decision makers in government would find positively useful. There is Realpolitik and Idealpolitik, but can there be “Konstruktpolitik”? At least six principles might guide the development of normative constructivism. Chief amongst these is the axiom, “if you can’t change the physical, change the social.” Other principles include the effort to initiate “norm cascades,” the encouragement (or discouragement) of self-fulfilling beliefs and self-negating beliefs, acceptance of the role of agency and the conscious use of argument and language as tools of persuasion.
Matthew P. Motta and Erika Franklin Fowler
Political advertising, especially negative advertising, is a prominent feature of contemporary political campaigns in the United States. Campaigns use advertising strategically to persuade citizens their candidate is preferable to the alternatives; to mobilize like-minded supporters to get out to the polls to cast a ballot for their candidate; and to acquire citizen-personal information, so they can more effectively target individuals with appropriate persuasive or mobilizing messages. Online advertising is growing, but television advertising volume has largely been on the rise, too, with 2014 being a plateau. Evidence about trends in advertising content and effects of advertising on citizens come from television advertising in particular.
Over the past decade, candidates have consistently sponsored a majority of advertising on the airwaves although their share does appear to be declining in legislative races. Interest group sponsorship of political advertising has grown, especially in Senate and presidential races, taking advantage of recent legal changes in the campaign finance landscape. Negativity is the dominant form of television advertising, constituting more than 65% and as much as 75% of all congressional general election ads (and as much as 87% of presidential ads) on air since 2006. Parties and interest group sponsors are more likely to air negative advertising by candidates, but candidates do not refrain from going negative. In fact, candidate negativity comprises roughly half of all negative ads on air. Negative ads are more likely to cite specific sources and therefore are generally considered more substantive. TV advertising is unlikely to contain partisan or ideological cues, in part, because it is targeted at swing voters.
Early studies of advertising cast doubt on their effectiveness, but more recent work suggests that advertising effects are small (mattering at the margin in the most competitive contests) and often conditional. That is, advertising effects often vary in relation to characteristics of the messages being aired, the individuals who view them, and contextual factors relating to the campaign more generally. Scholarship suggests that advertising has persuasive but short-lived influence on citizens and that advertising volume and negativity may aid mobilization efforts (although the influence of negativity may be conditioned upon ad characteristics and timing).
Technological advances in the way TV advertising is deployed is increasing campaigns ability to target citizens in a fashion similar to online advertising, which has implications for how well researchers can continue to study it. Scholars have made considerable progress in studying 21st-century advertising effects, but a number of logistical hurdles and unanswered research questions remain.
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.
The Council of Ministers, officially known as the Council of the European Union (EU), is a single legal composition of national ministers who meet in policy-specific formations to negotiate and adopt EU policies and laws. The Council is more than just the ministers; they depend on an infrastructure of preparatory bodies and specialist working groups, as well as rotating and permanent leadership positions and an internal bureaucracy, the General Secretariat of the Council (GSC). Over time, the Council has undergone formal restructuring, such as sharing colegislative authority with the European Parliament (EP), now called the “ordinary legislative procedure” (OLP), and redesigning how majority voting works. The Council has also witnessed informal organizational change, especially in internal pecking-order dynamics and techniques to reach consensus-based outcomes.
EU Council research has documented formal and informal decision-making dynamics, especially related to voting and consensus practices, although there is no real agreement on how formal and informal rules interact to influence the context of negotiations. There is still a divergence of interpretation in how the Council actually works, such as whether consensus is a “culture” of mutual accommodation subject to group standards or is instead a façade of relative power. As an institution, the Council deliberately promotes clublike networks of like-minded national policy specialists and experts who meet in repeat, face-to-face interactions and make collective decisions in mostly nontransparent (in camera) settings of insulation from domestic audiences. However, in the post-Maastricht era of EU politics since the early 1990s, the way the Council works is also increasingly debated in terms of transparency, accountability, and legitimacy.
Richard Ned Lebow
Counterfactuals seek to alter some feature or event of the pass and by means of a chain of causal logic show how the present might, or would, be different. Counterfactual inquiry—or control of counterfactual situations—is essential to any causal claim. More importantly, counterfactual thought experiments are essential, to the construction of analytical frameworks. Policymakers routinely use then by to identify problems, work their way through problems, and select responses. Good foreign-policy analysis must accordingly engage and employ counterfactuals.
There are two generic types of counterfactuals: minimal-rewrite counterfactuals and miracle counterfactuals. They have relevance when formulating propositions and probing contingency and causation. There is also a set of protocols for using both kinds of counterfactuals toward these ends, and it illustrates the uses and protocols with historical examples. Policymakers invoke counterfactuals frequently, especially with regard to foreign policy, to both choose policies and defend them to key constituencies. They use counterfactuals in a haphazard and unscientific manner, and it is important to learn more about how they think about and employ counterfactuals to understand foreign policy.
Jun Koga Sudduth
Political leaders face threats to their power from within and outside the regime. Leaders can be removed via a coup d’état undertaken by militaries that are part of the state apparatus. At the same time, leaders can lose power when they confront excluded opposition groups in civil wars. The difficulty for leaders, though, is that efforts to address one threat might leave them vulnerable to the other threat due to the role of the military as an institution of violence capable of exercising coercive power. On one hand, leaders need to protect their regimes from rebels by maintaining strong militaries. Yet, militaries that are strong enough to prevail against rebel forces are also strong enough to execute a coup successfully. On the other hand, leaders who cope with coup threats by weakening their militaries’ capabilities to organize a coup also diminish the very capabilities that they need to defeat their rebel challengers.
This unfortunate trade-off between protection by the military and protection from the military has been the long-standing theme in studies of civil-military relations and coup-proofing. Though most research on this subject has focused primarily on rulers’ maneuvers to balance the threats posed by the military and the threats coming from foreign adversaries, more recent scholarship has begun to explore how leaders’ efforts to cope with coup threats will influence the regime’s abilities to address the domestic threats coming from rebel groups, and vice versa. This new wave of research focuses on two related vectors. First, scholars address whether leaders who pursue coup-proofing strategies that weaken their militaries’ capabilities also increase the regime’s vulnerability to rebel threats and the future probability of civil war. Second, scholars examine how the magnitude of threats posed by rebel groups will determine leaders’ strategies toward the militaries, and how these strategies affect both the militaries’ influence over government policy and the future probability of coup onsets. These lines of research contribute to the conflict literature by examining the causal mechanisms through which civil conflict influences coup propensity and vice versa. The literatures on civil war and coups have developed independently without much consideration of each other, and systematic analyses of the linkage between them have only just began.
How do courts affect social policy? Answering this question is deceptively complex. Part of the challenge stems from the sheer scope of contemporary judicial policymaking, particularly in the United States, where litigation reaches into nearly every nook and cranny of the American welfare state and casts a shadow on policy issues ranging from marriage equality to healthcare reform. Another obstacle is that scholars remain deeply divided on fundamental questions about the nature of judicial decisions and how their policy effects should be studied. These disagreements, in turn, have engendered three very different approaches to studying the role of courts in social policy that often talk past each other. The dominant approach views judicial decisions as prescriptive rules—legal commands from the bench—and asks to what extent do judicial decisions change policy? This view implies that judicial decisions are “treatments” whose efficacy should be tested by measuring shifts in policy outcomes from the pre- to post-treatment period or across treatment and control groups. An alternative tradition envisages judicial decisions as a potential resource, which can be used by activists as leverage in building movements and pursuing agendas in multiple forums. Here, the core question is not whether court decisions produce abrupt policy shifts, but how activists use them to challenge the status quo, mobilize interests, and generate pressure for policy change. A third approach sees legal precedent as a constitutive framework that shapes and constrains policymaking and its politics over time. The test for whether law matters under this approach centers on the degree to which judicial decisions influence the developmental trajectories of policy and politics, which includes consideration of paths not taken in the policymaking process.
That is not to say that the literature is wholly discordant. Despite their significant conceptual differences, these approaches tend to converge on the general idea that judicial policymaking shares many attributes with other policymaking processes: the implementation of judicial decisions, like statues and regulations, is contested and subject to capture by sophisticated interests; litigation, like lobbying, is a form of mobilization that seeks to translate policy grievances into effective political demands; judicial precedents, like other policies, generate policy feedbacks. Identifying similarities among judicial policymaking and its counterparts is a signature achievement in the study of courts and social policy, which has largely dispelled the “myth of rights” and simplistic notions that the law is somehow removed from politics. Yet it arguably has an unintended effect. Normalizing judicial policymaking—making it seem like other types of policymaking—threatens to render it less interesting as a distinct topic for research. This article suggests the time has come for all of the various research traditions in the field to return to foundational questions about what makes judicial policymaking distinctive and systematically study how these particular tilts and tendencies influence the continuing colloquy that drives the policymaking process.
Timothy Hellwig and Dani M. Marinova
Connections between the economy and vote are commonly invoked to evaluate political accountability in representative democracies. A principal motivation for studying economic voting lies in its value as a gauge of whether democracy works or not. In recent years, however, researchers have cast doubt on the assertion that economic conditions influence voters’ evaluations of political incumbents.
Criticisms hail from several directions. Some, adopting a cross-national perspective, cite the instability problem as evidence against economic voting’s existence. That is, variance in the economy-vote relationship across different national contexts is sufficiently large so as to undermine claims that the economy registers a systematic effect. Other critics charge that the electorate lacks sufficient knowledge to incorporate economic conditions in their decisions at the polls. Still others remind us not to mistake correlation for causation. They charge that the voters’ perceptions of how well the economy is performing are viewed through a pre-existing partisan lens. All told, these and other reservations cast doubt on the use of economic voting as a means to evaluate accountability and, in turn, democratic performance.
These charges against the fidelity of economic voting require further examination. Rather than join a growing chorus of observers concluding that the economic vote is a chimera, this piece posits that recent critiques should push us to reconceive rather than discredit economic voting. Recent work in psychology and behavioral economics provides a basis for constructive and meaningful reinterpretations of the economy’s influence on voter decisions. These new directions include an emphasis on framing effects—be it on the part of strategic elites or from the media, an emphasis on what voters know about the economy, and a wider consideration of just which “economy” matters to which set of voters. While many in number, each of these new directions advance understanding by embodying deeper conceptions of voters and elected officials.
Why voters turn out on Election Day has eluded a straightforward explanation. Rational choice theorists have proposed a parsimonious model, but its logical implication is that hardly anyone would vote since their one vote is unlikely to determine the election outcome. Attempts to save the rational choice model incorporate factors like the expressive benefits of voting, yet these modifications seem to be at odds with core assumptions of rational choice theory. Still, some people do weigh the expected costs and benefits of voting and take account of the closeness of the election when deciding whether or not to vote. Many more, though, vote out of a sense of civic duty. In contrast to the calculus of voting model, the civic voluntarism model focuses on the role of resources, political engagement, and to a lesser extent, recruitment in encouraging people to vote. It pays particular attention to the sources of these factors and traces complex paths among them.
There are many other theories of why people vote in elections. Intergenerational transmission and education play central roles in the civic voluntarism models. Studies that link official voting records with census data provide persuasive evidence of the influence of parental turnout. Education is one of the best individual-level predictors of voter turnout, but critics charge that it is simply a proxy for pre-adult experiences within the home. Studies using equally sophisticated designs that mimic the logic of controlled experiments have reached contradictory conclusions about the association between education and turnout. Some of the most innovative work on voter turnout is exploring the role of genetic influences and personality traits, both of which have an element of heritability. This work is in its infancy, but it is likely that many genes shape the predisposition to vote and that they interact in complex ways with environmental influences. Few clear patterns have emerged in the association between personality and turnout. Finally, scholars are beginning to recognize the importance of exploring the connection between health and turnout.