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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.
Scholars have heatedly debated whether and how culture impacts and shapes a state’s foreign and security policy in particular as well as international relations (IR) in general. The cultural approach to the studies of foreign policy has experienced two major waves since the end of the Cold War. We saw a revival of cultural studies in national security and foreign policy with the rise of constructivism in international relations in the 1990s, while into the 2000s, the culture approach focused on terrorism and globalization. Despite its achievement, the cultural approach continues to face theoretical and methodological challenges in conceptualization, measurement, and generalizability. Therefore, the cultural approach to foreign policy needs to work on demarcating the boundary of “cultural variables,” focusing on mid-range theorizing and placing the cultural variables within a context.
Torbjørn L. Knutsen
Statesmen, salesmen, soldiers, and scholars have discussed international relations for hundreds of years—at least since sovereign states consolidated their presence along the North Atlantic rim. The Renaissance saw the rise of such discussions, triggered by gunpowder-based armies in Europe and discoveries of new lands in extra-European regions. The Reformation added arguments about the role of religion in interstate affairs—arguments echoed in peace treaties like those signed in Augsburg (1555) and Westphalia (1648). The Enlightenment brought more systematic efforts to explain the causes of war and the preconditions of peace. Two different arguments were drawn more sharply after the Wars of the Spanish Succession and the peace conference of Utrecht (1715): one argued that international order could be maintained by an equilibrium of power; another claimed that peace could be created through diplomatic cooperation and international law. Both arguments were elaborated during the Napoleonic Wars and informed the peace treaties signed at the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815).
In the wake of World War I, when the academic discipline of international relations (IR) was established—when scholarly institutions were sponsored for research and education about international issues—there existed a rich literature on the causes of war and the preconditions for international peace. It is argued here that this literature has not been managed particularly well. Few IR scholars have mined this literature systematically. New generations of IR scholars have been more preoccupied with current events than with recurrent patterns. They have been more busy with contemporary theories than with systematically arranging and assessing explanations from the past. If IR wants to become a social science, marked by progress and accumulation of knowledge, it is necessary to catalogue and manage its scholarly heritage in more systematic ways.
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.
Three successive parts are presented within this article, all intended to raise the visibility and show the utility of classical geopolitics as a deserving and separate international-relations model: (a) a common traditional definition, (b) relevant theories that correspond to that definition, and (c) applications of certain theories that will delve at some depth into three case studies (the Ukrainian shatterbelt, contemporary Turkish geopolitics, and a North American heartland).
The placement of states, regions, and resources, as affecting international relations and foreign policies, defines classical geopolitics. This definition emphasizes the application of spatially composed unbiased theories that should bring insight into foreign-affairs events and policies. Specifically, a “model” contains theories that correspond to its description. A “theory” is a simple sentence of probability, with “A” happening to likely affect “B.” Importantly, models are passive; they merely hold theories. In contrast, theories possess their own titles and perform actively when taken from such models.
Various methodological challenges are presented: (a) combining concepts with theories, (b) estimating probability for testing theories, (c) claiming the “scientific,” (d) accounting for determinism, (e) revealing a dynamic environment for geopolitics, (f) separating realism from geopolitics, and (g) drawing classical geopolitics away from the critical. Certain theories that are placed within the geopolitical model are examined next: (a) heartlands and rimlands, (b) land and sea power, (c) choke points and maritime lines of communication, (d) offshore balancing, (e) the Monroe doctrine, (f) balances of power, (g) checkerboards, (h) shatterbelts, (i) pan-regions, (j) influence spheres, (k) dependency, (l) buffer states, (m) organic borders, (n) imperial thesis, (o) borders/wars, (p) contagion, (q) irredentism, (r) demography, (s) fluvial laws, (t) petro-politics, and (u) catastrophic events in nature. Additional theories apply elsewhere in the article as well.
Of the three case studies, the Ukrainian shatterbelt represents the sole contemporary geopolitical configuration of this type, a regional conflict coupling with a strategic rivalry. Here, partisans of the civil war between the eastern and the western sectors of the country have joined with the Russians against the Europeans and Americans, respectively. Next, Turkey’s pivotal location has afforded it both advantages and disadvantages, a topic discussed at some length earlier in the article. Its “zero-problems” strategy of seeking positive relations with neighbors has now been forced to change tactics, reflective of new forces within and beyond the country. Finally, a North American heartland compares nicely to Halford Mackinder’s earlier Eurasia heartland thesis, with the American perhaps proving more stable, wealthy, and enduring, based in large part on its stronger geopolitical features.
Defining and Operationalizing Context Through a Structural Political Geography for International Relations
Colin Flint and Raymond J. Dezzani
A structural understanding of the contextualized behavior of states is introduced and operationalized. Context is a central theme of the discipline of geography and identifies context specific, rather than universal, social behavior. Social behavior is both defined by and creates contexts in a constant recursive interaction. Context is defined through a geographic perspective on world-systems analysis, and we focus on the behavior of states. States are central actors because, through territorial sovereignty, they are able to define key social relations and economic flows. The idea of context is developed in a way that extends the key International Relations (IR) concepts of milieu and opportunity and willingness.
The recursive interaction between agency and context is conceptualized in a relational way as maneuver, the process by which the aggregate behavior of elites define state-level choices and behaviors that are made by considering the contextual position relative to all other states in the capitalist world-economy. In turn, the decision by any one state changes the behavior of other states so that context and state-level decisions interact and are constantly in flux. The elements of context include the position of a state in the hierarchy of the capitalist world-economy as well as regional and local interstate relations, some of which may display path dependency.
The operationalization of maneuver requires an understanding of states as signaling and learning entities and a set of modeling techniques that identify: (1) the degree of change within the system as a whole—or the degree of stability in the number and identity of states within particular positions in the hierarchy of the capitalist world-economy; (2) the maneuver of particular states—or which states change position (or not) within the hierarchy; and (3) the explanatory power of variables measuring political and economic interstate relations in explaining the maneuver behavior of particular states.
All protest campaigns move through cycles of escalation and de-escalation and ultimately demobilize. Some campaigns demobilize quickly as protesters reach their goals. The 2011 Egyptian uprising, when protesters left the streets after they brought down the Mubarak regime, for example, is a case of rapid demobilization. Others, like the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, demobilize over a longer time span before protests come to a complete halt. In Bahrain, the government first cracked down on the opposition by bringing in foreign troops and then continued to repress protesters until the protesters ended the campaign in 2012. Regardless of the length of time it takes for protesters to leave the streets and stop the protests, demobilization is a complex process. Numerous factors, such as severe repression, government concessions, countermobilization of opposition groups, leadership changes, or even unexpected events, can all bring about demobilization. These factors and strategies may occur simultaneously or sequentially, but usually one or a combination of them lead to the demobilization of a protest campaign. Moreover, demobilization is a dynamic process, as it continues to evolve out of the endogenous interactions among governments, challengers, bystanders, and, in some cases, as in Bahrain, external third-party actors.
Even though every protest campaign eventually demobilizes one way or another, the demobilization phase has generally attracted less scholarly attention than the onset and escalation of violent and nonviolent forms of collective action. For a long time, most scholars addressed demobilization indirectly within the context of the repression-dissent nexus as they explored why repression backfires and escalates dissent in some cases, while it succeeds in demobilizing the opposition in others. Nonetheless, factors besides state repression contribute to the demobilization of dissent. In other words, a state’s accommodative tactics, as well as individual, organizational, or even regional and systemic factors that interact with the state’s actions, have the potential to shape when and how political dissent demobilizes. More recently, scholars have begun to examine why and how protest campaigns demobilize by stepping out of the repression-dissent nexus and focusing on a variety of other factors related to organizational structures, regime types, individual-level constraints, and contingent events that affect the trajectory of campaigns. At the same time, recent studies on state repression have also begun to focus more heavily on the different causal mechanisms that explain how a state’s repressive tactics can lead to demobilization. While this new line of research has made significant contributions to our understanding of the demobilization of protests, we are still left with important questions about the demobilization process that have yet to be answered.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Scholarship on the relationship between domestic institutions and foreign policy is driven by the simple assumption that a state’s domestic political arrangement can explain important aspects of its foreign policy behavior. Democratic domestic institutions, in particular, are thought to be significant for explaining an important set of outcomes ranging from greater trade to the lack of war between mature democracies—the so-called Democratic Peace.
The study of the impact of democratic domestic institutions on foreign policy has developed along two broad lines. The first and most established approach is rooted in the basic distinction between democracies and non-democracies. In this view, democratic institutions—nearly universal franchise, regular and contested elections, et cetera—constrain leaders in a way that produces distinct democratic foreign policy patterns. Research shows, for example, that democracies cooperate with each other more often (and are also are more likely to uphold their commitments); face greater audience costs and thus make more effective threats; tend not to fight wars with each other (but do fight non-democracies quite frequently); and more often win the wars in which they are involved.
This approach has yielded a tremendous amount of research and insight into democratic foreign policy, but also suffers from several important critiques. One is that democracy tends to be correlated with a host of other variables, making it difficult to specify what exactly it is about democracy that explains certain foreign policy outcomes. A second and related critique is that this approach tends to treat democracy uniformly when in fact there is often great variation in democratic domestic institutions across cases.
In response to these challenges, a second approach has emerged in recent years that focuses on the differences among democracies and seeks to explain how this variation in turn creates variation in foreign policy behavior. Democracies differ in terms of their underlying institutional arrangements in a variety of ways, including whether they have presidential or parliamentary systems, proportional representation or single-member districts, strong or weak states, autonomous or constrained executives, and open or closed institutions to modulate the flow of information between leaders and citizens, among others. Even within a single democratic country, there can be a different set of institutional constraints depending on the given foreign policy instrument a leader seek to employ. Studying these variations and their impact on policy processes and outcomes provides great promise for further understanding the relationship between domestic democratic institutions and foreign policy.
Ömer Faruk Örsün, Reşat Bayer, and Michael Bernhard
Is democratization good for peace? The question of whether democratization results in violence has led to a spirited and productive debate in empirical conflict studies over the past two decades. The debate, sparked by Mansfield and Snyder’s foundational work, raised a challenge to the notion of a universal democratic peace and elicited numerous critical responses within the literature. One set of such responses has emphasized issues of replicability, mismatches between the research design and directionality of the proposed causal mechanism, the role of outliers, and model specification. In addition, two issues have not been discussed sufficiently in the existing literature. First, conceptually, is the issue of concept stretching, specifically the form Sartori labeled the “cat-dog” problem. While past criticisms were mainly about model specification, we debate whether Mansfield and Snyder’s findings can be seen as a product of concept misformation. Second, quantitatively, are conceptual and empirical issues that Mansfield and Snyder use to capture state strength in their most recent attempts to provide ongoing evidence for their theory. The most optimistic estimates show that even when democratization has a statistically significant association with war onset at lower levels of institutional strength, the effect is substantively insignificant.