"Introduction" – Example Political Science Literature Review and Research Design

Note: This is part of an example political science literature review and research design. An abstract and table of contents are also available.

The fall of the Soviet Union and of Communism generally created many post-Communist states, from the Mediterranean Sea to across Asia. These states now range from liberal democracies, to authoritarian dictatorships, to “Communist” countries that have abandoned the socialist economic model. Some have experienced strong economic growth and democratic normalization, while others are mired in poverty and autarchy. One approach is to look at a state’s access to the sea as a factor in economic and democratic development. A study will be devised to examine the possibility that post-Communist states which do not have access to the sea, which are “landlocked,” will have less economic and democratic development than other post-Communist states. This is the literature review for that study.

Geography as an important factor in economic and political development has an old history. As far back as 1938 Spykman examined geography as a “conditioning factor” in foreign policy, and later Dahlberg noted that a land’s ultimate carrying capacity is important (1983). While even earlier Williams looks at the geography of Nicaragua as a cause of political corruption and repression around Bluefields, an eastern coastal region of that country (1927). Literature of this kind steadily expanded leading Lewthwaite to survey many interpretations of geographic determinism that had since developed (1966). While geographic determinism is not universally accepted — Sprout (1963) emphasized technology as far more important, it should be considered an important part of analysis.

Likewise, a large if more recent body of work exists on development in post-Communist states. Most relevant to this study are prior examinations of the post-Communist economic-political nexus, whether generalized through a region (Mishler and Rose 1994, Duch 1995) or limited to specific countries (Powers and Cox 1997, Bartlett and Seleny 1998). Even economically transformed but nominally communist states such as China are examined (Huang 1995, Jennings 1997). The field has been widely developed even beyond these, to questions of the fate of the Communist political parties (Ishiyama 1995) to smaller sub-regions (King 1997) to more strictly political concerns during the transition from Communism (Janos 1991).

A rare synthesis on democratic and geographic factors is provided by Midlarsky (1995). Heavily relying on Wittfogel’s writings on hydraulic governments, Midlarsky examined how democracy, rainfall, and seaborders intertwined as factors in warfare. While this study will not be as broad as Midlarsky’s — it examines only post-Communist states and excludes rainfall — it also looks at geographic or “environmental” influences on development. However, while this study does not go into details such as rainfall, it looks at both the political and economic dimensions of development.

Both of these research fields, geographical and post-Communist effects on development, will be surveyed in this literature review. Specific attention will be paid to the geography and the environment because less has been written in this area, and so the material is likely to be less familiar than the effects of Communism.

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