Research Blog 6

This post (which was supposed to be posted last week) mainly focuses on gathering the final sources needed for the individual case studies in my paper. I will be pulling information from the following books and journal articles:

Brophy, David. 2016. Uyghur Nation: Reform an dRevolution on the Russia-China Frontier. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Hillman, Ben, and Gray Tuttle. 2016. Ethnic Conflict and Protest in Tibet and Xinjiang. New York: Columbia University Press.

Li, Junpeng. 2014. “The Religion of the Nonreligious and the Politics of the Apolitical: The Transformation of Falun Gong from Healing Practice to Political Movement.” Politics and Religion 7: 177-208. doi: 10.1017/S1755048313000576.

Combined with the previously mentioned articles that explore the role of external actors (NGOs, individual rights groups), these sources are coming together to form the bulk of my argument, and to answer the question of whether vociferous external oppositions encourage moderation and restraint in authoritarian regimes, and if so, to what extent. Considering that the first version of the rough drafts are due on Wednesday, I suspect that it may be helpful to meet with Dr. Kendhammer briefly to identify and address any weaknesses of my argument.


3/20 Blog Post

The articles for today’s class demonstrate the nefarious ways in which candidates can skew election results in their favor. Gist explores the Adams County fraud case, in which votes were openly bought and sold. Early 1900’s Kentucky saw similar voting fraud, as state representative Arthur Wallace manipulated the secret voting method and engaged in violence, intimidation, and voting delays to ensure votes did not go to the opposition party. Finally, the Shapiro article explores the case of Matthew Weaver, the university student who used keyloggers to steal university login information from public computers in order to cast votes for himself in the upcoming (profitable!) class president election. Thus, we see clear instances of both the suppression and addition types of voting fraud.

The question posed by the prompt for today is an interesting one. While it feels wrong to say conclusively which method of voting fraud is worse, I get the impression that suppressing vote totals for opponents is slightly more harmful than increasing the amount of votes overall. Fraud that actively takes away votes from a candidate (through any one of the repertoire of methods exercised by Arthur Wallace and his goons) seems to diminish the most basic and sacred elements of elections. Rerouting a vote would completely do away with the competitive aspect of elections, as one cannot have an election without competition. On the other hand, while inflating the overall vote totals does not take away votes from the opposition party, it does still cast false votes towards the corrupt party. This is a difficult question to answer, as both are detrimental to the full realization of the democratic voting system.

3/13 Blog Post

Bueno de Mesquita and Smith provide a compelling account of the dynamics of power accumulation and retention in both autocracies and democracies. They begin the book by explaining the three tiers of people in a given political landscape: the nominal selectorate (the people who have some degree in deciding political matters, such as the total voting pool), the real selectorate (the group that actually decides the state’s leader), and the winning coalition (the group the leader needs to appeal to in order to retain power) (4-5). Autocrats depend upon the upper tier of this system, while democrats draw support from the bottom. As such, leaders of both systems of governance must provide incentives to different portions of the population in order to securely remain in office.

One interesting aspect of their argument is that democratic leaders do not provide public goods and services because of their own sentimentality; rather, the provision of these goods that we often attribute to benevolence is primarily done for the sake of attracting the proportion of votes necessary to achieve/ retain power.

Through reading Bueno de Mesquita and Smith’s book, one can draw several conclusions regarding the future of democratizing authoritarian regimes. First and most obviously, it would seem prudent to reduce the size or scope of the winning coalition. Since the very existence of many autocrats is dependent upon a small group of powerful people, undertaking measures to either reduce the size of the winning coalition or to undercut its loyalty to the leader. Once this key support is diminished or gone entirely, potential alternative leaders will emerge and assume office (through election or through violent coup). However, simply reducing the loyalty of the winning coalition does not guarantee democratization. For this reason, heavy emphasis must be placed upon education. There is an unequal distribution of top universities between democracies and autocracies which can be attributed to the insecurity of the autocratic leader. “Educational opportunity should be not so extensive as to equip ordinary folks, the interchangeables, to question government authority…highly educated people are a potential threat to autocrats, and so autocrats make sure to limit educational opportunity” (108-09
). Educational reforms present the opportunity to engage average citizens in the political process that was previously unavailable to them (at least in the authoritarian context).

2/27 Blog

In the readings for today, Olson provides a fascinating account of the ways in which race was used to expand citizenship for some while denying it outright to others. This process occurred in two main steps. First, it was determined that owning slaves was the most cost-effective form of plantation labor. Olson points to early Virginia legislatures tinging slavery with racism, as the discriminatory laws passed solved the “problem of how to efficiently and peacefully get the workers– slave and free– to work” (Olson 37). Once this new social arrangement was put in place, poor Englishmen began to participate by setting themselves against the black slaves. By identifying as primarily “white,” the economically disadvantaged were able to align themselves with the power-holding upper echelons of early American society (Olson 38). By setting themselves against the noncitizen slave class, they were able to distinctly identify themselves as citizens. So, while racial equality was simply out of the question during this period, an expansion of white citizenship did take place.

Behrens et al. continue Olson’s work by identifying racial inequalities in the felon population. Although the language used in felon disenfranchisement laws is race-neutral, the authors note that race is still tied to criminal punishment in the United States (Behrens et al. 560). Their findings conclude that states with a higher nonwhite prison population are more likely to adopt more restrictive felon disenfranchisement laws than those without (Behrens et al. 596). Thus, we see a continued denial of one of the basic tenets of citizenship based on race.

The conclusions the authors draw yield useful insights for the process of democratization; namely, that the disenfranchisement of one group within a society can lead to the rapid granting of rights to a separate group. While I am in no way saying that slavery in the United States was a positive thing, it is still interesting to trace the processes that reduced the rights of African-Americans while simultaneously expanding the base of citizenship.

Research Journal #5

This week’s research update is brief, but continues some of the research outlined in my previous journal. In sharp contrast to the Falun Dafa Association, Uyghur and Tibetan rights groups regularly lobby the American and various European governments, in addition to making regular appearances at the UN. These two groups demonstrate a high degree of cohesiveness, as evidenced through their political dealings and individual mission and goals listed on their websites.

As I get further into researching this topic, I am beginning to see the varied responses the CCP has to the three groups. This partly has to do with each group’s standing within China: both Tibet and Xinjiang are autonomous regions, and Tibetans and Uyghurs hold official minority status that carries with it equal rights on par with China’s dominant ethnic group, the Han (at least in theory– more on that in future posts). Falun Gong practitioners, on the other hand, do not currently hold any legal protections in Mainland China. The religion is banned outright; as a result, we see harsh rhetoric from the CCP such as the following article:

I found this article to be particularly interesting because it responds to the Shen Yun performance that I mentioned in my previous post. Next week, I will focus on gathering more information on CCP responses to the Tibetan and Uyghur lobbies, something that I suspect will be different than responses to Falun Gong because of their respective minority statuses.


2/13 Blog Post

The readings for today’s class discuss varying viewpoints that address the debate surrounding Islam and the degree to which it is compatible with democracy. Taheri adopts a firm position in denying any sort of compatibility, arguing that Islam is clear in its segregation of certain groups in society; therefore, democracy is fundamentally incompatible with its tenets. Furthermore, these teachings are rigid and are not subject to human interpretation. In this view, the rule by God is far superior to rule by man . On the other hand, Dr. Kendhammer’s book chapters on attitudes towards Islam and sharia law explore the dynamics of a democracy with a large Muslim constituency. From reading the interviews conducted with Muslim Sokoto residents, I took away two general inclinations: one, that non-Muslims and the upper echelons of society are the root of evil and inequality in Nigeria and would be forced to “play by the rules,” so to speak, under sharia legal code. Two, democracy is the best system through which to obtain the “fair share” owed to the Muslim population. We see here the ways in which Islam is adapted to fit a democratizing, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious society.

I do not find it particularly useful to consider this debate only in absolute terms. As the readings for today show, multiple interpretations that vary in their degrees of stringency and liberalism exist in all religions, not only Islam. In practice, the degree to which the “traditional” approach advocated by Taheri is implemented depends highly on the conditions of the individual state. Societal conditions in Nigeria differ wildly from those in, say, Saudi Arabia. While I do not yet have a concrete answer for how to reframe this question, I would agree with the Graham Fuller’s idea that Dr. Kendhammer quotes in his book: “…it’s not ‘what Islam is’ that will determine democracy’s future in the Muslim world, but ‘what Muslims want'” (Kendhammer, pg. 31).

Research Journal #4

This week’s research progress has largely been centered on exploring the literature on the impact of the media and INGOs on human rights. Four articles in particular are forming the theoretical framework of my argument:

Apodaca, Clair. 2007. “The Whole World Could Be Watching: Human Rights and the Media.” Journal of Human Rights 6:147-164. doi: 10.1080/14754830701334632.

Davis, David R., Amanda Murdie, and Coty Garnett Steinmetz. 2012. “‘Makers and Shapers’: Human Rights INGOs and Public Opinion.” Human Rights Quarterly 34:199-224.

Hendrix, Cullen S. and Wendy H. Wong. 2012. “When Is the Pen Truly Mighty? Regime Type and the Efficacy of Naming and Shaming in Curbing Human Rights Abuses.” The British Journal of Political Science 43: 651-672. doi: 10.1017/S0007123412000488.

Hill, Daniel W. and Zachary M. Jones. 2014. “An Empirical Evaluation of Explanations for State Repression.” American Political Science Review 108: 661-687. doi: 10.1017/S0003055414000306.

This week has also focused on exploring the techniques of the Uyghur, Tibetan, and Falun Gong organizations. One interesting observation is that the Falun Dafa Association sponsors the Shen Yun performances that take place across the world annually. The performances are marketed as being celebrations of thousands of years of Chinese culture, dance, and music; however, the dance routines are punctuated by prominent monologues that heavily criticize the CCP for its human rights violations and erasure of traditional Chinese culture. In this way, Falun Gong is interwoven with the traditional arts: to have one is to have both. Having attended one of these performances myself, I can attest to Falun Gong practitioners using arts performances to advance Western understanding of their cause.

2/6 Blog

After reading Lipset and Huntington for today’s meeting, I am convinced that wealthier societies have a higher likelihood of retaining democratic systems of governance than poorer societies. However, the mere existence of an economic advantage is not sufficient to guarantee democracy. Both authors make a case for the importance of strong institutions, which promote stability (Huntington 12; Lipset 84). However, they differ in their posited relationships between economic and political growth.

Lipset describes a set of universal norms that are born out of a higher level of wealth, which in turn shape a more effective bureaucracy (Lipset 84). Furthermore, he holds a strong educational system as invaluable in promoting political stability, as “the higher one’s education, the more likely one is to believe in democratic values…” (Lipset 79). I find this argument particularly compelling, as a higher education would mean a more skilled workforce, which in turn would help to bolster the middle class and raise the standard of living in a given state. While I am sure that human greed plays a role in every society, regardless of the level of economic development, it does seem plausible that a patronage system would be less likely to take hold in a highly developed democracy. In order to avoid situations such as those described in A Man of the People, one could reasonably assume that a higher degree of wealth would help prevent such a bloated system from developing in the first place.

Huntington, meanwhile, is explicit in his criticism of promoting democracy through economic development. The assumption that economic growth initiates democratic political growth and stability is flawed, he explains, as the two “are independent goals and progress toward one has no necessary connection with progress towards the other (Huntington 6). With the two concepts separated, authority is instrumental in retaining public order (Huntington 8). In this argument, institutionalized authority is the primary barrier to the social turmoil that rapid economic advancement can create (Huntington 57-61). Although his argument takes a different path than Lipset’s, Huntington does raise valid points concerning the ways in which economic development can become detrimental to a stable system. Too much of a good thing, I suppose.

Research Journal #3

Early this week, I made the decision to alter the groups on which I am focusing. I exchanged the Hui for Tibetans and Falun Gong practitioners, and retained the Uyghurs. I am now analyzing their lobbying techniques abroad, as none of the three have the opportunity to do so within the PRC’s borders.

The lobbies themselves are found at the following websites:

An interesting report on China from Human Rights Watch that discusses all three groups:

Additionally, per Dr. Kendhammer’s comments on my project proposal, I am now forming the theoretical framework for the paper. I have the article “Sources of Authoritarian Responsiveness: A Field Experiment in China” by Jidong Chen, Jennifer Pan, and Yiqing Qu to begin, but will need to focus on finding sources on external lobbying for next week’s research journal.