Archive for the ‘just theory’ Category
We often hear that democracy is under threat. But is that true? In 2005, Adam Przeworski wrote an article in Public Choice arguing that *wealthy* democracies are stable but poor ones are not. He starts with the following observation:
No democracy ever fell in a country with a per capita income higher than that of Argentina in 1975, $6055.1 This is a startling fact, given that throughout history about 70 democracies collapsed in poorer countries. In contrast, 35 democracies spent about 1000 years under more developed conditions and not one died.
Developed democracies survived wars, riots, scandals, economic and governmental crises, hell or high water. The probability that democracy survives increases monotonically in per capita income. Between 1951 and 1990, the probability that a democracy would die during any particular year in countries with per capita income under $1000 was 0.1636, which implies that their expected life was about 6 years. Between $1001 and 3000, this probability was 0.0561, for an expected duration of about 18 years. Between $3001 and 6055, the probability was 0.0216, which translates into about 46 years of expected life. And what happens above $6055 we already know: democracy lasts forever.
How does one explain this pattern? Przeworski describes a model where elites offer income redistribution plans, people vote, and the elites decide to keep or ditch democracy. The model has a simple feature when you write it out: the wealthier the society, the more pro-democracy equilibria you get.
If true, this model has profound implications of political theory and public policy:
- Economic growth is the bulwark of democracy. Thus, if we really want democracy, we should encourage economic growth.
- Armed conflict probably does not help democracy. Why? Wars tend to destroy economic value and make your country poorer and that increase anti-democracy movements (e.g., Syria and Iraq).
- A lot of people tell you that we should be afraid of outsiders because they will threaten democracy. Not true, at least for wealthy democracies.
This article should be a classic!
The purpose of Ruling Oneself Out is to understand when political groups, or coalitions, literally vote themselves out of power, often with disastrous consequences. Today, I’ll briefly describe the historical cases and tomorrow I’ll discuss the theory Ermakoff uses to explain things.
The first example is the Reichstag’s March 1933 vote to give Hitler broad power. Essentially, the Reichstag abolished democratic controls over the chancellor by giving the chancellor and the cabinet the ability to pass laws with the Reichstag’s approval. Most historians concur that this was the effective end of the Weimar state. It was replaced by a Nazi party state that dispensed with republican institutions.
What is crucial for Ermakoff is that the Nazis won because they had the backing of various Center and right parties, including some who were very suspicious of Hitler. Communists had been banned from the vote and only the Social Democrats voted no.
Ermakoff’s other case is the French government’s vote to give Petain power in 1940. The complete disaster of the French war effort completely destabilized French state, resulting in the withdrawal of the government from Paris, the resignation of the leadership, and the creation of German dominated Vichy France.
In reviewing these two events, Ermakoff wants to criticize a number of explanations offered for the surrender to Nazism. For example, it is often argued that coercion was the main explanatory factor. Non-Nazi parties were justifiably fearful of violence and relented. But Ermakoff notes that this is an incomplete explanation. First, there was actually a fair amount of resistance to Nazi violence. Second, the Center party, which went all in for Hitler, actually was internally split and many seemed able and willing to resist. In France, Ermakoff shows that voting for the Vichy State was not associated with being from an area that would be under German occupation, and thus subject to more violence. Similarly, Ermakoff closely examines the evidence for other theories of abdication, such as the hypothesis that Nazi ideology contaminated its opponents. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss Ermakoff’s alternative theory.
CALL FOR ABSTRACTS
2016 Junior Theorists Symposium
August 19, 2016
SUBMISSION DEADLINE: February 22, 2016
We invite submissions of extended abstracts for the 10th Junior Theorists Symposium (JTS), to be held in Seattle, WA on August 19th, 2016, the day before the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). The JTS is a one-day conference featuring the work of up-and-coming sociologists, sponsored in part by the Theory Section of the ASA. Since 2005, the conference has brought together early career-stage sociologists who engage in theoretical work, broadly defined.
We are pleased to announce that Mounira Charrad (UT Austin), Ann Mische (Notre Dame), and Tukufu Zuberi (UPenn) will serve as discussants for this year’s symposium. In addition, we are pleased to announce an after-panel on the relationship between theory and method featuring Christopher Bail (Duke), Tey Meadow (Harvard), Ashley Mears (Boston University), and Frederick Wherry (Yale), as well as a talk by 2015 Junior Theorists Award winner Claudio Benzecry (Northwestern).
I am knee deep in institutionalism. I intend to write a few posts next week laying out where I think we are:
- The split between the institutional work/inhabited institutions crew and institutional logics.
- What was lost in the transition to organizational institutionalism in org studies.
- What “other fields” (e.g., movement research or race) do when they interact with institutionalism.
- Comparison of field theories. Mainly McAdam/Fligstein/Bourdieu vs. John Levi Martin.
As a bonus round, we’re “going full Ermakoff” on Friday.
Last week I was finishing up a volume introduction and it prompted me to catch up on the last couple of years of the institutional logics literature. This gave me some thoughts, and now I can’t sleep, so I’m putting them out there. This is long so it’s broken into three parts. The first two reflect my personal saga with institutional logics. They set up the rest, but you can also skip to the third and final section for the punchline.
John Levi-Martin is one of sociology’s most fertile thinkers. His book, Social Structures, was discussed at length on this blog and The Explanation of Social Action was a well discussed investigation of how social scientists try to approach causality. His new book, Thinking Through Social Theory, is a tour of foundational issues in social science and should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand current debate over the status of social explanation.
Roughly speaking, there is a long standing dispute among scholars about what constitutes a proper explanation of social action. The argument has many facets. For example, there is a dispute over realism, the view that people have fairly direct access to reality which can the be leveraged into causal explanation. There is a related argument about social norms and whether it makes sense to say that a rule “caused” or “forced” someone to act. And of course, there are arguments over the sufficiency of various schools of thought like functionalism, rational choice, and evolutionary theory.
Thinking Through Social Theory is Levi-Martin’s review of these issues. It not only summarizes the landscape, but offers answers drawn from one of his most theoretically rich articles, “What is Field Theory?” It is truly difficult to summarize this tome (e.g., there is multi-page analysis of the “gentlemen open doors for ladies” custom) but I can indicate some high points. First, there is a good review of the issues surrounding realism. And no, he does NOT side with those pesky critical realists. Second, there is an examination of two theories (rational choice and evolutionary psychology) that try to offer “ultimate” accounts of human action. Third, Levi-Martin offers a field theoretic alternative to theories of action that are found in schools as diverse as functionalism, institutionalism, and Swidlerian toolkit theory. The basic intuition is that individuals aren’t carrying around norms, but they are working in fields of action that push people into situations that generate behavioral, or even cognitive, regularities. Sounds like actor-network theory to me, but more meso-level.
So who is this book for? I see a few good audiences. One are social theory grad students. After marching PhD students though the history of soc up the present, it is good to sit back and think about the (lack of?) progress that has been made in building social theory. I also think that the philosophy of social science crowd would enjoy this, as would scholars in cultural sociology who often run into the issue of motivation. Thumbs up.