Tag Archives: political science

The Language of Theory, or, How to Escape the Humanities Ghetto

This morning I read an article by Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Daniel Nexon, titled “Paradigmatic Faults in International-Relations Theory.” This piece originally appeared in a 2009 edition of Internaionl Studies Quartlerly.

I like when people agree with me, so when I saw my words echoed across time (it’s as if Jackson and Nexon read my post, built a time machine, and told their former selves what a great idea they read on tdaxp). Yesterday, I said it was riduclous to describe the International Relations cliques of “Realism,” “Liberalism,” and such as paradigms. I wrote:

The highlighted passage, originally by Daniel Maliniak simply means that empirical research is increasing, and that non-empirical research is declining, within political science. But Maliniak, and thus Walt and Mearsheimer, bizarrely use “paradigmatic” to refer to less paradigmatic (that is, less capable of progress) fields, and “non-paradigmatic” to more to more paradigmatic (that is, more capable of progress) fields.

Political science has been in the fever swamp for so long that the notion of progress as an outcome of normal science has almost entirely been lost. If Walt and Mearsheimer had their way, it might be lost, and the field simply divided into a stationary oligarchy of old boys network.

As Jackson and Nexon write:

The terminology of ‘‘paradigms’’ and ‘‘research programmes’’ produces a num-ber of deleterious effects in the field. It implies that we need to appeal to criteria of the kind found in MSRP in order to adjudicate disputes that require no such procedures. In order to do so, we spend a great deal of time specifying the ‘‘boundaries’’ of putative research programmes and, in effect, unfairly and misleadingly holding scholars accountable for the status of theories they often view as rivals to their own.

Perhaps the most well-known instance of this kind of boundary-demarcation occurs in the debates surrounding ‘‘realism’’ in international relations theory. The proliferation of countless lists of the ‘‘core commitments’’ of a realist ‘‘paradigm’’—by adherents and critics alike—shifts the focus of scholarship away from any actual investigation of whether these commitments give us meaningful leverage on the phenomenal world, and instead promotes endless border skirmishes about who is and is not a realist (Legro and Moravcsik 1999), whether predictions of balancing are central to the ‘‘realist paradigm’’ (Vasquez 1998:261–65), and so forth. Such debates and demarcations not only distract us from the actual study of world politics, but also harm disputes over international relations theory by solidifying stances that ought to remain open to debate and discussion.

So I enjoyed Jackson’s and Nexon’s takedown of the so-called “paradigms” in International Relations.

But they don’t go far enough.

Their piece ends with an appeal to Max Weber (how non-progressive can you get?!?) and an unfalsifiable taxonomy that I won’t go into


A more useful conclusion to the paper would have been to recognize that statistics is the language of theory, the language of modeling. Instead of inviting international relations scholars to chase their own tale and bow to Max Weber and the dead, how much more useful would a positive theory of research programs in International Relations have been? For instance, consider a citation indexing method, such as PageRank [pdf] to determine if they are “clusters” PageRank sets in which certain articles were influential (exemplars?) and others were not. Did Jackson and Nexon really have no one availability to sketch even a proposed methodology for testing their claim?

The answer is probably “no.” My purpose isn’t to pick on Jackson and Nexon, but to point out the weakness of International Relations as a whole. In a related post by Patrick Musgrave, titled “The Crass Argument for Teaching More Math In Poli Sci Courses“, the following diagram showing is shown:


Which clearly displays a “humanities ghetto,” that includes political science.


How can this be, if International Relations is the disciplined extraction of meaning from data, which is the same focus as the high-paying, well-employed fields?

The obvious answer is that International Relations does not teach actually useful methods for the disciplined extraction of data. It does not teach critical thinking or logical reasoning. It teaches something that apes these skills, a rhetorical ability that impresses old scholars and does not help society.

International Relations is a non-progressive field where, by and large, it sucks to be young.


In an evocative comment that ties the article and the blog post together, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson states:

I don’t think that it is our job as university faculty to increase students’ future earning potential. Nor do I think that it is our job in teaching PoliSci undergrads to make sure that they can read APSR in the 1980s and 1990s. Our job is to teach students to think critically about politics, and while I am perfectly fine with the suggestion that some statistical literacy can be useful to that end, I am not prepared to give that higher pride of place than things like reading closely, writing cogently, and disagreeing with one another civilly.

The dichotomy that Jackson notes is entirely false. In his own piece, he was not able to express a constructive critical thought about paradigms — the original Nexon and Jackson article is devoid of the model specification or operationalization that would needed to turn his criticisms and taxonomy into something capable of progress. Any competent graduate from the humanities ghetto can read “closely” or write “cogently.” That’s needed is to think usefully, and for this statistical literary is required.

Science, Paradigms, and the Old Boy Network

On Facebook, Daniel Nexon pointed me to this post by Steve Saideman, titled “Lamenting The Loss of the Light, The Ebbing of Grand Theory and The Decline of Old Boy Networks.” Saideman’s post itself is a commentary on Stephen Walt‘s and John Mearsheimer‘s ridiculous article, “Leaving Theory Behind: Why Hypothesis Testing Has Become Bad for IR,” which will soon appear in the European Journal of International Relations.

Walt and Mearsheimer’s article is absurd on many levels. But I mention it for how well it reflects my post, “Progress, Science, and Exemplars — or — When It Sucks to Be Young.”

In that post, I mention that it is horrible for your career to be young in a science with loose exemplars — that is, in a field that is “non-paradigmatic” or a “revolutionary science.” The more revolutionary the science, the looser the exemplars, the more “knowledge” and “experience” are both measured in years. The less things change — the less progress is made — the less youth matters relative to years of experience.

Or in diagrammatic form:


What’s bizarre is that Walt and Mearsheimer agree with me! But this makes them sad. Walt and Mearsheimer would rather political science stay as anti-youth and revolutionary as possible, so that their power and influence could remain strong:

Over time, professions also tend to adopt simple and seemingly objective ways to evaluate members. Instead of relying on “old boy” networks, a professionalized field will use indicators of merit that appear to be impersonal and universal. In the academy, this tendency leads to the use of “objective” criteria—such as citation counts—when making hiring and promotion decisions. In extreme cases, department members and university administrators do not have to read a scholar’s work and form an independent opinion of its quality; they can simply calculate the “h-index” (Hirsch 2005) and make personnel decisions on that basis.22

The second part of the paragraph is literally incoherent, attacking the use of an h-index by arguing it’s a raw count of citation. Walt and Meirsheimer seem unable to do math, and so their inability to understand even basic fractions should not surprise you. What should be surprising is they are so openly defending the power aristocracy that comes from using subjective scores and the “old boys” network!

In fairness to Walt and Meirsheimer, the intellectual poverty they confess through their incoherent ramblings is not entirely their fault. Political science has been so revolutionary, so paradigmatic, so subjective for so long that few may know what a science actually is, or even understand the terms used to describe science.

Consider this earlier passage in Walt and Meirsheimer’s article, in which the “worse than wrong” passage is intended to be uncontroversial:

Indeed, some senior IR scholars now rail against the field’s grand theories. In his 2010 ISA presidential address, for example, David Lake described the “isms” as “sects” and “pathologies” that divert attention away from “studying things that matter” (Lake 2011: 471). Thus, it is not surprising that “the percentage of non- paradigmatic research has steadily increased from 30% in 1980 to 50% in 2006” (Maliniak et al 2011: 439). Of course, one could advocate for middle range theories while disparaging grand theories, and indeed Lake does just that. The field is not moving in that direction, however. Nor is it paying more attention to formal or mathematically oriented theories (Bennett et al 2003: 373-74). Instead, it is paying less attention to theories of all kinds and moving toward simplistic hypothesis testing.

The highlighted passage, originally by Daniel Maliniak simply means that empirical research is increasing, and that non-empirical research is declining, within political science. But Maliniak, and thus Walt and Mearsheimer, bizarrely use “paradigmatic” to refer to less paradigmatic (that is, less capable of progress) fields, and “non-paradigmatic” to more to more paradigmatic (that is, more capable of progress) fields.


Political science has been in the fever swamp for so long that the notion of progress as an outcome of normal science has almost entirely been lost. If Walt and Mearsheimer had their way, it might be lost, and the field simply divided into a stationary oligarchy of old boys network.

At one point in their article, Walt and Meirsheimer say that “the creation and refinement of theory is the most important activity in [social science].” This is nonsense. The most important activity in science is the prediction, control, and improvement of behavior. Theory can help, diagram can help, interviews can help, process tracing can help. But the paen to old boys network, and the nonsense that Walt and Mearsheimer try to pass off as a scholarly article, certainly doesn’t.

The Coburn Amendment on Political Science

Folks are pretty riled up that Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced a floor amendment to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding research on political science.*

Now, before I go on, I should point out that I have a political scientist on my dissertation committee!

Now, that said, Senator Coburn’s argument makes sense for anyone who has been following this blog:

When Americans think of the National Science Foundation, they think of cross-cutting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Most would be surprised to hear that the agency spent $91.3 million over the last 10 years on political “science” and $325 million last year alone on social studies and economics….

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are the future of education in America. Coburn is trying to focus the National Science Foundation like a laser on STEM. Good for him.

That said, Coburn’s amendment is misplaced for four reasons.

1. As a matter of policy, I trust NSF bureaucrats** to set NSF priorities more than I do politicians
2. Generally, while STEM is the foundation of a modern education, political science is heavily scientific and mathematical. Coburn is thinking about STEM from a student’s perspective, not a practitioner’s perspective
3. There is only one natural world out there. Pretty much any breakthrough has consequences for political science and political behavior.
4. Senator Coburn is confusing punditry (which is a form of entertainment, on an intellectual par with docudramas about famous sluts) with political science.

While I understand Coburn’s concerns, he should withdraw his amendment.

Notes: The Obama administration has published new rules for bloggers, that are designed to allow easy prosecution of bloggers that the administration does not like. Specifically, the Administration has let it known that those who accept gifts and favors cannot blog about topics that concern the sources of those gifts and favors without full disclosure. Again, the obvious purpose of this is to use this as a “gotcha” way of throwing the book at someone who publishes something embarrassing to the President in the future. Nonetheless, this one time, I will comply out of a sense of my deep respect for Obama administration bureaucrats

* One of whom is on my dissertation committee
** One of whom drunk me under the table in Beijing.

New Blog: polisci

It’s a wonderful new year for new blogs. I’ve already sun the praises for Dreaming 5th Generation War, Small Wars Journal Blog, Soob de Jour, and Quiet Thoughts. Now I am thrilled to introduce polisci.

polsci is written by a colleageu of mine at the Unviersity of Nebraska, who shares my interest on how genes influence human behavior. Thus our subject matter is often similar, with the different this his writing is far more scholarly, precise, and knowledgeable than mine.

Two of his best:

Welcome to the blogosphere, John!

Boydian Orientation as a Political Science Paradigm

The Origin of Politics: An Evolutionary Theory of Political Behavior,” by John Alford and John Hibbing, Perspectives on Politics, Vol 2. No. 4, December 2004, 707-723, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=266160.

Today’s notes are from the John R. Alford and John R. Hibbing piece that preceded their piece “Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?,” which was featured on the tdaxp post “The DNA of Politics.” In this earlier work they tie together wary cooperation and multilevel selection” to propose a new paradigm for political science. It’s so good, it’s dangerous.

As with the other work, a finding is that political beliefs are more genetically-based than personal attitudes.” As Alford and Hibbing write:

A 1986 study by Martin and colleagues of over 3,800 Australian and British twin pairs reported the following estimates of heritability (on a scale of 0 to 1.0) for the following items: death penalty, 0.51; white superiority, 0.40; royalty, 0.44; apartheid, 0.43; disarmament, 0.38; censorship, 0.41. The heritability estimate for pajama parties, on the other hand, was a mere 0.08. The comparable estimates for the influence of shared environment were: death penalty, 0.00; white superiority, 0.09; royalty, 0.14; apartheid, 0.05; disarmament, 0.00; censorship, 0.03 (but pajama parties, 0.44). (Alford and Hibbing 715)

These can be mapped onto the Orientation stage of John Boyd’s OODA Loop


like so:

The three categories allowed by the analysis of twin studies are genetic factors, which are very high for political issues but lower for moral issues and tastes

Social factors, which are very low for political issues (especially hot buttons like the death penalty and the then-issue of South African ) Apartheid but a significant factors in the appropriateness of pajama parties

If there is an uplifting, ennobling finding here, it is the important of non-shared environmental factors, what Boyd would have termed new information, previous experiences, and analyses/synthesis.

The rest of the notes are mad cool, dealing with group selection, problems a SysAdmin force may face, some cool simulations, and other amazing nifty things. They’re below the fold.

Most important, the theory should not be dismissed because of an unscientific aversion to its implications. (Alford and Hibbing 707)

Multilevel selection begins by recognizing the ubiquity of selection pressure. … The genes themselves are, after all, merely survival machines for the complex proteins that make up genetic material. At this deeper level, it is the complex proteins that are selfish, and their survival machines—the genes—may behave in ways that seem highly inconsistent with selfishness.11 In terms of human behavior, if we think of groups as survival machines for collections of individuals, then selection pressures that lead individuals to behave selfishly may well be in conflict with selection pressures that favor groups of individuals that behave in concert. (Alford and Hibbing 708)

In that spirit we offer our own theory of “wary cooperation” drawn from the work of leading scholars in evolutionary psychology and experimental economics. The theory may be summarized as follows. Humans are cooperative, but not altruistic; competitive, but not exclusively so. We have an innate inclination to cooperate, particularly within defined group boundaries, but we are also highly sensitive to selfish actions on the part of other group members. This sensitivity leads us to cease cooperating when that cooperation is not reciprocated, to avoid future interaction with noncooperators, and even to engage in personally costly punishment of individuals who fail to cooperate. (Alford and Hibbing 709)

Our genetic composition is to some extent the product of conditions faced by our hunter-gatherer predecessors of perhaps 100,000 years ago. One of the keys to an individual’s survival was being a respected part of a viable group. The central insight of a behavioral theory built on evolutionary biology is that the desire for group life is a fundamental human preference. What kinds of behaviors optimally promote belonging to a viable group? (Alford and Hibbing 709)

To sustain group membership, individuals must
1. cooperate with others in their in-group;
2. dislike those in out-groups;
3. punish or banish uncooperative in-group members;
4. encourage others through norms, institutions, or moral
codes to (1), (2), and (3);
5. be ever sensitive to status, payoffs, and reputation relative
to other in-group members;
6. cease cooperating if the noncooperation of other members
goes unpunished. (Alford and Hibbing 710)

In addition to expecting cooperative behavior in some circumstances, our theory also expects—and empirical studies have proven it to be the case—that people mindlessly conform, passively obey authority figures, are competitive to the point of taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others, initiate hostilities toward those people in outgroups, construct out-groups for the sake of having them, and are disconcertingly enthusiastic about punishing those not perceived as living up to the group’s behavioral standards, especially when personally victimized. (Alford and Hibbing 710)

For example, it is now thought that children learn languages more quickly than adults in part due to their limited memories. Limitations constrain solution space, allow a scaffolding to guide learning, and suggest patterns. Neural networks designed to simulate language learning actually learn more quickly with less memory—more is not always better. (Alford and Hibbing 710)

As stated by Cosmides and Tooby, “ ‘[R]ational’ decision-making methods . . . are computationally very weak; incapable of solving the natural adaptive problems our ancestors had to solve reliably in order to reproduce.” They conclude that, from an evolutionary point of view, human mental capacities, far from preventing rational thought, actually allow us to be “better than rational.” (Alford and Hibbing 710)

For example, when experimental subjects are shown pictures of individuals and told their names along with a single fact about them, subjects are better at remembering the names of those who had been connected with a social fact (Sally helped a neighbor paint his house) than a nonsocial fact (Tom has an old refrigerator), and they are best at remembering those who had been connected to a negative social fact (Harry did not return a CD he borrowed from his friend). (Alford and Hibbing 711)

People are initially helpful and cooperative, even at some personal expense, but they are hypersensitive to the possibility that someone might take advantage of their generosity. (Alford and Hibbing 711) (SysAdmin implications?)

Since in this view, the conflict of war is a group-level phenomenon, group-level factors become particularly salient. Markers of in-group–out-group boundaries, for example (e.g., borders, language, ethnicity, race, religion, citizenship) should assume exaggerated importance in both the development and prosecution of war. (Alford and Hibbing 712)

Americans’ primary source of dissatisfaction with government is not that it makes bad decisions, but rather that it makes decisions for self-serving rather than common-good reasons. (Alford and Hibbing 712-713)

Reformers would do well to realize that people do not wish to be in control of the political system; they only want those who are in control to be unable to take advantage of their positions. If people were confident that existing constraints prohibited such self-interested actions, they would pay even less attention to the political arena than they do now. For most people, involvement in politics is driven not by a desire to be heard but by a desire to limit the power of others. Current American foreign policy might be improved, for example, if decision makers realized that, like Americans, people in Afghanistan and Iraq do not crave democratic procedures. Kurds simply do not want to be dominated by Sunnis; Sunnis do not want to be dominated by Shiites; Uzbekis by Tajiks; and Tajiks by Pashtuns. People often express a desire for participatory democracy when they really just want to avoid being victimized by a more powerful group. (Alford and Hibbing 713)

Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace worked out the details of natural selection at roughly the same time and were in remarkable agreement—with one vital exception. Darwin was completely consistent and contended that natural selection applied to behavioral as well as physical traits. Wallace, on the other hand, drew a bold line between the two, positing that the mental realm was immune to evolution and was instead the purview of ethereal religious uncertainties. (Alford and Hibbing 713)

The most developed examples come from studies of the heritability of traits such as conservatism and altruism. These behaviors have been studied in different twin populations in different countries by different researchers over the last twenty years. All of the studies reach the same conclusion: a predisposition to conservatism is genetically heritable. (Alford and Hibbing 714)

This is not incompatible, and in fact substantially supports Elazar’s basic thesis; moreover, it could help account for the fact that, unlike purely learned orientations, these deeply rooted attitudes might prove surprisingly resistant to the rise of a generic national culture in an era of mass communication and rapid travel. (Alford and Hibbing 716)

If these two individuals happen to be political scientists, we would not be surprised if we found that because they viewed and explained human behavior in starkly different terms, they would largely be talking past each other—as has all too frequently been the case for behavioralists and rational choicers. This suggests that differences in methodology within and across disciplines may derive at least in part from heritable differences in brain physiology. (Alford and Hibbing 716-717)

The most interesting and numerous genes in human beings are not structural (blue eyes or brown), but regulatory. Regulator genes allow an organism to respond to its environment; they are the genes that turn on and off the transcription of other genes (or themselves). (Alford and Hibbing 717)

Interestingly, the computer simulations that we discussed above have demonstrated that (under reasonable assumptions) a population consisting of two types roughly compatible with mildly autistic individuals and wary cooperators, respectively, can reach a stable equilibrium with the larger part of the final population composed of wary cooperators and the smaller remainder behaving more like the mildly autistic. (Alford and Hibbing 717-718)

Part of the problem may be that the last time biology came to the attention of political scientists (in the 1970s, after the publication of E. O. Wilson’s Sociobiology), they believed that advocates were saying that behavior was determined by biology. If that was ever the position of biology proponents, it is no longer. (Alford and Hibbing 718)

"Post-Communism" – 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.

A useful segue between geographic and ex-Communist factors is found in Teune (1995). Teune surveys the rise of local governments relative to centralizing governments, using the declining influence of Moscow over eastern Europe and Russia as examples. In contrast to Williams who sees local differences as a cause for oppression and autocracy, Teune sees local power as very strong and democratic. Territoriality matters, says Teune, “even after the gradual opening of national borders in the second half of the twentieth century and the near encapsulation of the entire world in a single trading system.” Additionally, territorially based localities lean democratic.

The linkage between local government and democracy is based on the proposition that political participation is meaningful insofar as it deals with the familiar, a tenet of the Federalist Papers. Another aspect of this argument is that the incentives for participation are stronger locally than nationally in that visible consequence are more visible and immediate on the local level. There are two supporting propositions for this part of the argument: the larger the political unit, the longer it takes to form a democratic political coalitions; and the larger the unit, the greater the diversity of the groups and individuals required for compromise, the less likely decisive action will be taken at all, frustrating the collective aspirations of the many.” (Teune)

Teune’s argument thus runs counter to the thesis of this study. Elsewhere in this article, Teune combines these factors with technological change and connectivity in a way which implies greater communication with the outside world will retard democratic evolution. Specifically, he argues that the more diverse the influences on a population, the harder it will be to form a governing coalition and accomplish anything meaningful. In Teune’s eyes, this undermines democracy and the intent of the federalist papers. However, Teune’s conclusion here is far from universal; it famously contradicts Madison (1787).

More narrowly, Duch (1995) examines the observed behavior of post-Communist in maintaining economic and political development. Specifically, Duch examined how fragile economic progress was in a democratically progressing states. For example, if a new post-Communist democracy experienced steep economic decline, would its democracy level also fall accordingly? Duch’s surprising answer is no:

In the early reform period, perceptions of a declining economy promoted support for both free markets and Democracy in the former Soviet Union. And while there is some evidence in Latin America supporting the association of economic crisis and coups d’etat, the recent wave of democratization in Latin America during a period of economic crisis challenges this economic determinism argument). Political experience of the 1980s indicates that, even in Latin American countries facing serious economic and political crises, citizen attachments to democracy institutions are not undermined by acute economic crisis. Also challenging conventional wisdom, Zimmerman in Sallfeld present European historical evidence for the 1930s suggesting that economic chaos had little direct or indirect effect on the survival of democratic regimes in that period. And while many students of Eastern and Central European democratization have argued that political and economic reforms are seriously threatened by the economic chaos that has accompanied the reform process, the reforms are proving resilient.

Duch’s perspective informs this study. Because economic and political progress do not have to be correlated (that is, democratic progress can continue while economic decline is experienced), both are meaningful dependent variables. More troublesome, it also raises questions of whether the economic deprivation of being landlocked would negatively effect democratic development; if this is true, the central idea of this study is negated.

Mishler and Rose (1994) explore six Eastern European countries: Bulgaria, the old Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Slovenia, as well as Austria to examine the stability of democracy several years after the end of Communism. They use the “New Democracies Barometer,” a “multinational survey of post-Communist countries of central and eastern Europe” to provide a standard gauge of democratic norms in those states. Assuming a strong relationship between economic growth and access to the sea, at least one of Mishler’s and Rose’s findings should support the thesis that landlocked ex-Communist states will have less economic and political development:

Arguably the most cosmopolitan citizens in the survey include the very small number in each country (less than 15% overall) who — whatever other identities they might have — also think of themselves as Europeans. European identifiers are significantly more likely to be Confident Supporters [of parliamentary government] than Hopeful Authoritarians, by a ratio of more than 5:1. These individuals also have higher educations and incomes.

At the same time, however, the lack of statistical significance and widespread support of democracy in many areas imply that the relationship will not be found, as they write:

The data confirms that members of traditional subgroups, including older citizens, residents of smaller towns and rural areas, and those with strong religious ties, are more likely to support the suspension of parliament. However, these relationships are consistently weak and inconsistently significant. Even among groups whose opposition to parliament is strongest, the majority of citizens are Confident Supporters and less than one-quarter are Hopeful Authoritarians. The largest difference in these regards are those associated with church attendance… however, even among frequent church attendees, Confident Supporters outnumber Hopeful Authoritarians by more than 2:1 (52% to 21%).

Besides the Eastern European ex-Communist states, this analysis will also examine the former soviet socialist republics in Central Asia. It is assumed that the trend between connectedness to the sea and development will be further shown here, as the Central Asian states are all landlocked.

As the plight of the Central Asian states were specifically mentioned by Haussman in the comment that inspired this study, seeing whether their economic and democratic development correlates with their landlocked status will be interesting.

"Geography" – 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.

Before the ample literature on economic and political freedom in post-Communist societies is examined, some work on geographic determinism will be reviewed. Specifically, an overview of geographic determinist viewpoints will be presented, examples of geographic determinism with respect to democracy earlier in the literature will be highlighted, and an interesting synthesis on geography, democracy, and war will be examined.

Without getting bogged down into the morass of terminology that Lewthwaite (1968) explores, it is important to say that geography is an important factor in development without being the only factor. As Spykman (1938) writes

It should be emphasized, however, that geography has been described as a conditioning rather than as a determining factor. The word was chosen advisedly. It was not meant to imply that geographic characteristics play a deterministic, causal role in foreign policy. The geographical determinism which explains by geography all things from the fourth symphony to the fourth dimension paints as distorted a picture as does an explanation of policy with no reference to geography. The geography of a country is rather the material for, than the cause of, its policy, and to admit that the garment must ultimately be cut to fit the cloth is not to say that the cloth determines either the garment’s style or its adequacy. But the geography of as state cannot be ignored by the men who formulate its policy. The nature of the territorial base has influenced them in that formulation in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

Understanding the conditioning effect of geography, one may look at previous studies of how geography impacted the development of certain states.

The field is limited for detailed geographic-political examinations of specific states. Williams (1927) is an example of this literature. While not ignoring the effects of illiteracy, ethnicity, regionalism, and political culture, Williams examines geographic factors that led to corruption and lack of freedom for the east coast of Nicaragua. “[O]ne of the prime purposes of thus making the [east coast]‘s head an appoint of the central government is to overcome the centrifugal influence of difficult transportation and so to furnish a federal or national “safety-first…”. After some further exposition, where he looks at a geographic-taxation nexus, Williams looks at corruption:

From this same geography of isolation there follows another factor which causes discontent and instability not only in Bluefields and on the coast, but in many other isolated parts of the almost roadless nation. His usual remoteness from the capital not only permits but practically forces the Commandante or district governor to demonstrate the absolutism of a Spanish regent, rather than the leadership of a republic’s civil servant. All the difficulties of the jungle forbid his getting daily orders, just as they make extremely unlikely any sort of check-up of his actions by the distant federal powers which appointed him. The natural result is that every province is likely to feel — and fell in proportion to the square of the distance — the pressure of the Commandante’s belief that his services are wroth considerably more than his regular monthly salary.

An inspiration for this paper is a comment made by Ricardo Hausmann in 2001. While outlining his theory of latitude dependency in development, Hausmann notes:

Nations with populations far from a coastline also tend to be poorer and show lower rates of economic growth than coastal countries. A country whose population is farther than 100 kilometers from the sea grows 0.6 percent slower per year than nations in which the entire population is within 100 kilometers of the coast. That means, for example that the post-Soviet republics will experience as much difficulty battling their geographical disadvantages as they will overcoming the aftereffects of communism…

This study will look at the absence of sea borders, or being landlocked, instead of the more precise measure of distance from a coastline. However, the theory is the same: lack of access to the ocean retards commercial interchange with the rest of the world, slowing growth and reducing a population’s exposure to political norms such as democracy.

While looking at earlier research on the development of Democracy, Midlarsky (1995) highlights the importance of sea-borders on the development of democracy. These reasons are relevant, because they point to problems that states without sea-borders, those that are landlocked, would have. Midlarsky relates that an earlier quantitative study has demonstrates that democratic outliers, that is “those countries least well explained by domestic variables” were highly connected to the sea. States like Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Ireland, and Greece were much more democratic than predicted by existing models. However, these same states were islands (and so the opposite of land-locked) or peninsulas.

Another argument is that sea borders minimize the threat of war. That is, the more land borders a country has the more its chances of war are maximized (Starr and Most 1978). Summarizing the first study that found this, Lewis Richardson‘s Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, Starr and Most explain:

Although Richardson reports a positive association between borders and war and eventually concludes that the relationship operates from frontiers toward war, he fails to develop explicit hypotheses or a theoretical explanation about why this relationship should be expected to exist. And an explicit level, however, Richardson’s argument appears to develop in two stages. First, he conceptualizes frontiers as creating opportunities for internation interaction. Quite simply, nations with large numbers of borders have greater opportunities for interacting with other countries than those countries which have only a few borders. Going a step further, Richardson then draws an analogy between war and murder. Asking why nationals tend to slay each other rather than foreigners, he concludes that the explanation lies in the very simple fact that nationals have few contacts with foreigners. One is most likely to be murdered by one’s close relatives and friends because close contacts and high levels of interaction provides opportunities for such actions. Returning to the problem of the border / war relationship, Richardson then makes the obvious linkages: if frontiers create opportunities for interaction, and the greater the opportunities the greater the level of actual interaction, then the greater the number of frontiers the greater the probability of war.

To demonstrate his theory of geographical influences on development, Midlarsky first gives the standard explanations or why Britain developed a democratic culture, including high average rainfall, geographic safety, industrialization, and land inequality:

England may be the archetypical example of a country that experienced very early democratization and that also embodies the four principal variables examined here. Average rainfall is consistently high. As an island nation, especially after the subjugation of surrounding peoples such as the Irish, Scots, and Welsh, she was relatively free from the threat of war. At the very least, she had leeway in choosing her time of entry into continental wars and with force sizes pretty much at her own discretion. The English economy, of course, industrialized earlier than any other, leading to a very high gross domestic product (GDP) / capita (CAP) and consequent impact on democracy. Also, land inequality, especially in terms of land holdings by the nobility, was substantial. … “No Continental landed elite in the nineteenth century owned so large a part of its nation’s territory as did the English” … His explicit comparisons are with the French, Spanish, Prussian, and Russian elites, all of whose societies, of course, democratized at much later dates than did the English.”

Midlarsky also cites another state that also had high rainfall, geographic safety, and industrialization yet veered towards authoritarianism. This demonstrates the role of another important factor that is central to this paper: land borders

One of the closest counterparts to the English-landed elite in terms of residence patterns, political dominance of the local countryside and thence of the state, and inheritance laws that tended to maintain entire estates intact over time was the Prussian. And here, this basic similarity that might have led to a similar democratic evolution is vitiated strongly by the Prussian military tradition. Where as the English-landed elite opposed standing armies and evolved a strong libertarian tradition, it was said of the Prussian, “What they loved best next to their estates was an army and all that went with it — splendid uniforms, military pomp, and chivalric codes of honor”… What is obvious here is the critical role of the maximization of the threat of war by many land borders and its diminution of th positive impact of other variables on the evolution of democracy.”

This study seeks to go one steep beyond Midlarsky’s earlier work. Midlarsky was looking at land-borders from the perspective of being surrounded by the sea (either through being on an island or a peninsula). Other geographic-conditioning studies, such as Enterline (1998), also looked at neighboring states. This research, by contrast, will examine sea-borders from the perspective of being surrounded by land (that is, being landlocked). In order to make the examination more readily testable, the economic and democratic fate of the ex-Communist states will be compared with respect to their being landlocked or not

"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.

Example Political Science Literature Review and Research Design

When I posted my analysis of Midlarsky’s literature review, I got a lot of google hits from people looking for literature review examples.

As the Gods of Fate have conspired to make this week as busy as possible, I have decided to post a Literature Review & Research Design that I complete for my International Politics class. The paper, which explores the relationship between lack of sea access and post-Communism, will be added to this blog over the next several days. It is B+ quality for a first-semester international relations student, so be skeptical of the work quality. Still, for any students (like me!) who were assigned a political science research design and literature review and haven’t the faintest idea how to begin, this should help. Alternatively, check out my Computer Science graduate thesis.


This paper explores the role of geography in the democratic and economic development of formerly Communist states. An introduction to the paper is given, followed by discussions of both geographic determinism and the ex-Communist nations. A research design is included that outlines how the final investigation will be done. The paper ends with a conclusion and a bibliography.

Table of Contents

Biology + Politics @ UNL

Actually interesting:

Next Thursday (November 3) I will be giving a brown bag presentation in Oldfather 538 (at 11:30) to faculty, grad students, and other interested parties.

TITLE: Biology and the Future of Political Science ABSTRACT: Evolutionary and biological principles increasingly are being applied in the social sciences, particularly economics and psychology. Political science has been lagging behind but even this situation is changing rapidly. I [Dr. John Hibbing] will describe these principles and explain how I think they can inform our theoretical and empirical work. I will also describe the role I believe this movement could play in our discipline and in our department. Then, in the second half of the talk I will provide an example of empirical work I have done in this area–specifically, the extent to which political attitudes and social behaviors are influenced by genetics. In the process, I hope to assist skeptics in understanding how genes (sequences of nucleotides in our DNA) could filter through to such seemingly cerebral concepts as social behavior and political attitudes.

Update: Some of Dr. Hibbing’s findings (with my commentary!) are online.