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Here is my poster.
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.
For my project, one dataset I would use is the Polity database. Its citation is as follows:
Gurr, Ted and Monty Marshall. Polity Data Series, Political Instability Taskforce. Updated June 2014.
The Polity dataset is a widely used source of data on the level of democracy in governments around the world. To produce a government’s final score (from 10 for a full democracy to -10 for an autocracy), the dataset uses six “component variables, which are as follows:
The dataset covers all states with populations above 500,000 in every year since 1800. All together, there are 17,061 cases in the set.
The limitations of the dataset can be found primarily in the process of transferring the data into a coherent understanding of democracy. Although the variables used are extensive in nature, they could probably never be extensive enough to capture the entire picture of a state’s level of democracy. And the collection of data also poses a challenge. Many of the variables may depend on records kept of elections, which may be unreliable or nonexistent in many countries.
For this article comparison, I continued with the theme of US military interventions to promote democracy, although I am still not entirely resolved to take my research puzzle in that direction. Specifically, I will compare two articles that examine the actual efficacy of American military intervention in promoting democracy. The articles come to largely opposite conclusions about these effects. This is an important theoretical debate because the question of results — whether American strategies, in this case military, can change other governments — is the motivating factor behind the actual deploying of such policies. One of these articles is a statistical analysis of US military interventions that emphasized the operationalization and measurement of democracy, and the other is a historical narrative of a few cases that emphasized the political preconditions necessary for a successful intervention.
The first article was the statistical analysis by Hermann and Kegley (1998). Analyzing the Polity III democracy and autocracy scores for a large set of countries in which the United States intervened, they found that intervention increased the level of democracy in the targeted country under almost all circumstances, and they then applied different variables to determine which factors impact the outcome most. Their main contribution is the breadth of their analysis and their answer as to whether the interventions succeed in the first place. The most useful item they provide to my own research is a great deal of data about US military democracy promotion.
Art (1991) produced a narrative detailing America’s interventions in German, Japan, Nicaragua, Chile, Grenada, and Panama to identify the impact of the specific conditions in each country had on the efficacy of the intervention. He concludes that the benefits of military intervention almost never justify the harms, and that interventions only reach such a level of net success when ” the nation invaded is small and militarily weak, the intervention is welcomed by the bulk of the populace, the costs in American casualties are relatively low, and the probability of success is high” (p. 43). His main contribution is the identification of those four factors, and that is also his largest contribution to my research.
Most obviously, these two articles, and their schools of thought, disagree on the conclusion. Whereas Hermann and Kegley found that military intervention had a positive effect on democracy, Art found no such benefit, and concluded that the costs are overwhelming. Methodologically, the number of cases examined in each article is of importance. Hermann and Kegley could say that Art’s research is biased because he focused so exclusively on the most expensive (German and Japan) and least successful (Chile and Nicaragua) cases, while Art could say that Hermann and Kegley’s inclusion of more than 60 cases prevents them from really examining important factors in individual states.
Moving forward in my research, these articles moved up one particular puzzle on my hierarchy of interest, that being how the level of organization of democratic movements in individual countries affects the success of US democracy promotion. I very well may end of researching that, whether I choose the military route or not.
Art, Robert. “A Defensible Defense: America’s Grand Strategy after the Cold War.” International Security 15, no. 4 (1991): pp. 5-53.
Hermann, Margaret G. and Charles W. Kegley Jr. “The U.S. use of military intervention to promote democracy: Evaluating the record.” International Interactions 24, no. 2 (1998): 91-114.
I want to study the 1994 American invasion of Haiti because I want to find out why it seems more successful than other democracy-promoting interventions in order to help my reader understand the broader context of military democracy promotion strategies.
The first point to establish is that the Haiti intervention was more successful than other interventions. It is important to note that this case be the case even if Haiti did not completely fulfill the intentions of its designers. When spearheading the effort, President Clinton focused his public justification on “restoring democratic government in Haiti,” as he stated in a national speech he gave regarding the invasion.  By that metric, the intervention has had mixed results. Jefferies (2001) finds that although the immediate democratic failings that led to the invasion were corrected, the intervention has also worked to weaken the institutions on which Haitian democracy would rely.  The event that precipitated the invasion was a military coup which ousted President Jean Baptiste Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected leader in decades, from power. Three years after that coup, the invasion did bring Aristide back to power. However, Haiti has remained plagued by governmental issues in the intervening years. Haiti has had a number of presidential elections since the invasion, and almost none of them have been recognized as legitimate by all participating political parties. The most recent elections, originally scheduled for December 2015, had to be postponed several times due to massive protests before it took place in November 2016.  Clearly, even though the invasion restored a democratically elected leader in Haiti, it did not “restore democratic government,” in part due to the fact that very little democratic government existed there to begin with.
But at the same time, other democracy promoting military interventions have been far less successful than the Haiti invasion. The two interventions that were clearly justified along the same democratic lines as Haiti were the second Bush administration’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Whereas Haiti’s most significant governance problem appears to be disputed elections, the governments installed by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan currently lack control over large parts of their own territory. Bridoux and Russell (2012) find that a main cause of Iraq’s domestic unrest is the poorly functioning democratic government set up in the wake of the 2003 invasion.  When disputed politics in Iraq causes the essential lack of a state over much of the country’s territory, this clearly signals that the intervention was less successful than Haiti’s.
This topic is significant first of all because of the gravity of the content. Military invasions to alter the government of countries carry monumental importance for both sides, particularly the country being remodeled. It is imperative to understand the subject as long as it has a possibility of happening. This particular topic can also help readers add nuance to their understandings of why such interventions work the way they do, and which conditions affect these outcomes. Although in all three cases — Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan — the United States invaded a country in order to establish a democratic government, the Haitian intervention had different results. It appears that there is some larger trend at work here. I would hypothesize that the strength of preexisting democratic alternatives can help explain the difference. Whereas Bill Clinton was essentially just returning a leader to power once he had already been elected, the two Bush/Obama interventions attempted to create a new democratic government in each country after eliminating a previously entrenched non-democratic one.
Before I draft some questions, I should note that I do not currently foresee choosing this case study, or the general topic of military regime change, to be the topic I finally choose. I am researching more subtle, non-military methods of democracy promotion. But until a puzzle arises in that area, the Haiti example is something I know some background about.
For a specific question I could research, “Why does the 1994 American intervention of Haiti seem more successful than other US democracy promoting interventions?” More broadly, I could research “How does the strength of pre-existing political institutions affect the outcome of external democratic regime change?”
When reading through the introduction to these philosophical debates, I fell firmly on what I’ll call the “universal” side of all of them. That is, those sides of each debate which held that generalizeable research could be done and facts could be pulled closer to our grasp, even if we never achieve absolute certainty. (I.e. – realism, transcendentalism, etc.) After looking at some research and participating in our discussions, I am still confident in this position.
Coming from that base, I do think objective social research can be done. It can be noted here that I did not directly answer this question the way it is posed in the assignment — ” do you think you can be an objective observer of the social world?” This question looks in the wrong place. It looks at the researcher instead of the research. Humans definitely have biases and deficiencies. The proper reaction to this when preforming and consuming research is to consider it and adjust your evaluation of the research accordingly, not completely abandon the concept of capital-f Facts altogether. Some things are true, period. Some truths are universal, period. The difficulty of finding those universal truths may be beyond articulation, but that does not mean that good research cannot pull us ever closer.
In my estimation, researchers can make knowledge claims about any factual propositions. Whether these knowledge claims are valid depends on the veracity of their contents, and the reach of valid claims advances with our capabilities as researchers. If we can identify 500 variables that make parliamentary elections in Ghana different than those in Belgium, our research will be more valid, more capable of revealing a better picture of universal truths, than if we can only identify 10.
In making an ultimate evaluation of this philosophical debate, it is important to define the terms. This debate is about fundamental differences, not gradient differences. Possible versus impossible is a fundamental difference. Easier versus harder is a gradient difference.
Non-univseralists (constructionists, etc.) propose that social science is fundamentally difference than natural science — that universal facts can be determined in natural science but not in social science. The justification is that researchers (being human) are a part of society, and thus can’t objectively study it. But this ignores that researchers are also part of nature. No one would say that Einstein’s research on the physics of the solar system was not actually True because Einstein lived in the solar system. No one would say that biologists can’t make universal discoveries about cells just because they are themselves made of cells. There is not a fundamental difference. Humans are a part of society just like they are a part of nature. As a matter of fact, human society itself is a part of nature. The difference we observe is a gradient one. It is harder to find facts in social science because there is more stuff going on, as it were. But at a fundamental level, the possibility is still the same.
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. The 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.