Research Portfolio Post #1: Research Interests

The topic that I will be researching this year is the various methods of US democracy promotion, a topic I’m interested in for two reasons.

First, the expanding or declining trends of democracy worldwide have been a key theme of world history for the past few decades. The fall of the Soviet Union brought about democratization in Europe that helped expand the project of European economic and political integration started after World War II. TheĀ Arab Spring and subsequent faltering of democratic movements in the Middle East created new layers of instability in that region. And politics today in countries from Turkey to Russia to the Philippines is largely defined by increasing strength of authoritarian actors. Almost all current international events can be seen in part through a lens of forward or backward moving democratization.

And secondly, democracy promotion is a feature of US foreign policy that is often known a mile wide and an inch deep. Anyone who follows foreign policy knows that it plays a prominent part at least in the rhetoric of American leaders, and it was perhaps the most prominent element of the foreign policies of Presidents Clinton and Bush 43. (Its relative absence with Obama and Trump is equally notable.) However, while the basic concept of democracy promotion is widely known, the various methods remain largely untouched in conversations about the topic. When they are discussed, discussions revolve around large scale military intervention, which is important but excludes a large part of the policy. Smaller military action, commercial tactics, and the use of aid and diplomacy receive practically no mention or evaluation. With this research, I hope to make the conversation about democracy promotion more holistic.

The “puzzle” I used when applying for the program was to determine the effectiveness of the various methods of democracy promotion. I thought that such a question was probably too broad at the time, and I now think that even more so. To further focus my work, I could evaluate individual tactics or compare the democratization in countries targeted by America versus other democratizing countries, etc. I am still largely unsure of a particular direction I want to take the project.

2 thoughts to “Research Portfolio Post #1: Research Interests”

  1. Bobby — you have a promising topic area here and in this post you’ve done a good job of describing the background logic and in sketching out one potential direction for your research. As you keep thinking about potential research puzzles (hopefully meeting with your mentor soon to discuss these as well) I would perhaps nudge you away from an evaluation of tactics (remember the logic in the Jackson quote from last week re: *research* as something fundamentally different than evaluating social/political arrangements) such that you move towards more of an *explanatory* puzzle as discussed by Booth et al. and by Abbott. What is the concrete, yet puzzling, state of affairs or outcome or trend that you want to explain? What specifically makes it puzzling? What scholars have highlighted that puzzle as important? These are things to think about as you continue your background research!

  2. It sounds like you have chosen a topic with large implications and also one for which the scholarly research is somewhat lacking. I’m not sure that you are circling around any specific “puzzles” yet — look for things that are contradictory, counterintuitive, or strange about your topic. Perhaps you could analyze the recent failings of democratic movements (it seems to me that more recently, democratic movements have slowed and that the democratic movements that have at least succeeded in regime change have led to more instability and often more repression). I’m not sure if that’s the direction you were going for, but it’s an idea. That said, I’m sure that if you succeed in your research goals, you will certainly add to the knowledge of the phenomenon of democracy promotion, which could benefit future efforts.

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