Here is my presentation. (AU email sign-in required)
Here is my poster.
I met with Prof. Field on January 19, and the meeting lasted about 15 minutes. The purpose of this meeting was for me to articulate to Prof. Field for the first time the subject of the research I would conduct over the next four months. After asking me some questions to clarify the goals of my project, Prof. Field gave me the names of some faculty who might be able to help me if I ran into any specific dilemmas. At this point, this meeting was a helpful instance of pushing me to articulate my project in such a way that makes sense to someone familiar with the world of social science. My research question as it stood then, and still now, had changed substantially at the end of the fall semester, so I had not completely settled into at this point. Although I had a meeting with Prof. Mislan to discuss my new question prior to this meeting with Dr. Field, it was helpful to go through that same process with a second person.
I met with Prof. Mislan on March 26 to review my analysis draft with him just before the draft workshop for that section. This meeting lasted for about 25 minutes. This was the first time I had spoken to someone about my research in detail now that it actually, concretely existed, rather than just describing what I would do at some undefined point in the future. For this reason, the meeting began with me reciting to Prof. Mislan in a rather disorganized fashion what data I looked at and what I had found. As I had never checked this part of my research with anyone, my goal was to make sure that everything made sense and that nothing needed to be fundamentally reworked. After telling me that what I had told him was essentially sound, he told me to focus on articulating the most basic causal chain being evaluated by my research before going on to incorporate the data and how it actually applies to that chain. That suggestion influenced the final structure of my analysis very much.
I spoke with Prof. Mislan about my project on March 6. The conversation lasted for about a half hour, and it focused mainly on the characteristics of different types of case study research. This is obviously important for my piece, being a case study. Prof. Mislan explained to me the differences between structured, focused comparisons and process tracing. While structured comparisons definitely seemed easier to grasp at the early stages of my project, my puzzle and research question center definitively on a process that should be traced. For this reason, I will use process tracing in my final piece, and I will focus on the key differences between process tracing and structured comparisons, such as the centrality of timelines to process tracing.
Arendt and Jonas identify slightly different problems in their pieces, and an activist model for scientific research, whereby research is conducted and used with the explicit goal of affecting social outcomes, could address their concerns in part, but it is not the whole solution to any of the problems these authors raise.
Sarewitz, on the other hand, identifies a fundamental irreconcilability between politics and science. For that reason, it would not make much sense to evaluate activist research as the solution because that would only further such a division. For that reason, I will answer the question with regards to Arendt and Jonas.
Arendt is concerned, essentially, that science is advancing too fast for society to keep up. If scientific advances cannot be incorporated into social thinking through speech — or, more broadly, discourse — then they will press forward decoupled from the social world driven by such speech, removing the ability of society to navigate and make use of scientific advances. I am somewhat skeptical that the premise of Arendt’s argument is currently the case. To begin, her anecdote of Sputnik to demonstrate humanity’s previous ability to interact with scientific advances is not very convincing, in my opinion. I acknowledge that I only read the prologue to her book, where this point may have been established to a greater degree. But what was presented did not show that scientific advances had previously been as Arendt described, moving at just the right speed compared to philosophy, language, and the other pursuits. Of course there have almost always been scientific developments that are completely inaccessible to society. An example that persists today is the thought experiment surrounding Schrödinger’s cat, which was developed only two decades before the Sputnik launch. Even today, that thought experiment remains completely incomprehensible to practically all people, certainly not something that can be used by society in the way Arendt described.
However, Arendt may be correct in saying that such incomprehensible science, regardless of whether they have always existed, will become especially prominent in the near future. To that concern, I see a very limited solution presented by activist research. It could help insofar as its goal is to influence society, and thus it has an incentive to be socially accessible. However, the subjects researched by a scientists, activist or otherwise, will not simplify themselves because individual researchers change their goals or approaches. They will remain very hard to grasp. For this reason, the use of activist research to make science more socially accessible is limited.
Again with Jonas, I think his premise is not entirely accurate. There have always been scientific advances, and they have often had extraordinary effects on social interactions. For instance, agriculture fundamentally altered our species from one where everyone was a hunter into one where everyone had a different job and society was necessary. Yet through all of these advances, ethics has followed in a uniformly haphazard manner the whole way. While we have some new kinds of scientific advancements now, I don’t think these advances are so radically different as to pose a new burden to ethics. For this reason, I think activist research plays the same role here as it did for Arendt.
Bacon and Weber insist on a division between the sciences and fields such as theology, philosophy, and ethics — which we can call normative fields — both because of their limitations and because of the expediency of such a division. Regarding their limitations, Weber, Bacon, and modern neopositivists hold that scientific methods of observation and analysis are not equipped to answer normative questions. They can address how the natural world and society function, what makes tangible things tick. But science, in their argument, cannot determine what values people ought to hold. Those questions are left up to the normative fields. According followers of Bacon and Weber, this division allows for science to achieve its ends of greater human agency over the surrounding world. Once the values are posited (hence “positivism”), science can determine, as a matter of fact, how to make those ends real. In short, science and normative fields are divided because they are designed to answer different questions.
This second reason for the division also serves to explain the advantage of the division. Dividing intellectual labor into different disciplines allows those disciplines to specialize in the pursuit of their designated answer. Scientists can ostensibly be more productive in their search for means if they don’t also have to go through the work of determining the proper ends.
My own project definitely fits into that neopositivist framework because it doesn’t tread on any questions of values. My project does revolve around one small part of democratization, and there is scarcely a topic more value-laden, on both sides of the debate, than that of democracy. Readers of my piece could hold personally that it is optimal for people to be able to remove illiberal leaders, but my piece does not touch that question on its own; it only discusses under what conditions that outcome is more likely to happen. If I did not observe the Bacon/Weber distinction between normative fields and science, I imagine that a large part of my paper would be devoted to determining whether democratization by ad hoc revolt was actually a desirable outcome. And then had I determined that it actually was not as a result of that examination, the rest of the research — that is, the whole of it as it present stands — would be effectively obsolete.
Contemporary political scientists were puzzled by the wave of pro-democracy revolts in the former Soviet Union now known as the Color Revolutions. These events confounded existing theories, and researchers have been working to catch up ever since. But the literature as it currently stands has some shortcomings. First, researchers have had a tendency, when analyzing the cause of the Color Revolutions and their path, to only look at those revolts that were effective in changing the government they targeted. If less effective movements are analyzed, they are treated as a separate kind of event than the successful Color Revolutions. This same false categorization can be seen in literature on what factors led to these movements’ success or failure. There is bountiful research examining diffusion of tactics and personal leadership, and other literature analyzing the role of foreign democracy assistance. My research intends to bridge this gap by examining the impact of US and European democracy assistance, and the lack thereof, on revolt leaders in Ukraine and Belarus. Examining contemporary news reports and data from NGO’s dedicated to monitoring civil society, I argue that governments who successfully contained or prevented foreign democracy assistance were able to effectively resist the revolts that targeted them. Hopefully this research can aid policy makers and academics interested in protest movements and democratization.
Because my project examines democratization, the most immediately obvious of the questions presented for this post is whether it, or I, assume that democracy is normatively good. As far as I can see, my research does not. It does recognize that democracy is something that some people pursue, and it evaluates how effective they are in one facet of that pursuit, but it does not tread on whether they should be pursuing democracy. As a personal matter, I think that democracy and its pursuit are both normatively good, but my research question and design don’t include my opinion on the matter. With a research design in the same vane as my current one, I could also study the effectiveness of people pursuing illiberal and undemocratic governance. In that case, even though my research design flipped, my own opinion of democracy’s normative value would not.
There is also a normative question of whether my research, or I, believe that the United States should pursue the policies I am studying, as my research is related to specific US foreign policy programs. It is not reasonable to answer that question until I complete my research. If it happens that the US policy was inconsequential, the policy evaluation changes.
I am researching this topic because it combines two broad areas of international studies that I am most interested in: comparative politics and US foreign policy. Within comparative politics, I am particularly interested in democratization. It could be the case that these areas interest me because of my normative/political interest in international liberalism. Being the least objective observer possible when discussing the source of my personal interests, it is hard for me to say whether this is the case. If it is the case, my normative/political values are secondary motivators, more removed from the research itself. My attraction to this topic is informed by my interest in the issues it touches, and that interest may or may not in turn be caused by my personal views.
My main methodological choice so far has been slightly influenced by my personal interests as well. This is my selection of revolts in Ukraine and Belarus as my main cases. Over the past year or so, I have taken more interest in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Within my degree program, Europe and Eurasia is my regional focus, and I began studying the Russian language in the past academic year.
Dr. Mislan and I met on December 14 for approximately 30 minutes. Our discussion focused on my research design and how it evolved through the various methodological modules. Prof. Mislan was interested in my question, and I thought the best use of the meeting would be for him to point out anywhere where he thought my research design could be strengthened as I put finishing touches on the final narrative paper. After hearing the logic behind my case selection, Prof. Mislan suggested that I need to account for the fact that the government of Ukraine had been somewhat more liberal than that of Belarus since the fall of the Soviet Union, and that they each had slightly different trajectories of democratization leading up to the color revolutions. While he noted that no two cases can be perfectly comparable, I will make effort to reconcile that prior difference in liberalism as I work on my research next semester. To that end, it is a good idea for me to read about those trajectories of democratization — that is, about the government and politics of Ukraine and Belarus — between 206 and 306.