Research Journal 9

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate the naming and shaming literature into a study of human rights reform in China. While some of the literature points to the strategy being effective in autocratic regimes, I have found weak evidence that this holds true in the Chinese case (especially in the context of Xinjiang and Tibet). To try and account for this rift between theory and reality, I’ve been considering possible explanations for exactly why this is. One possible reason (and the evidence I’ve encountered points to this as the strongest) is due to China’s involvement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Central Asian security organization headed by Russia and China. All states in the organization have problems with specific ethnonationationalist and separatist groups, and have framed the discourse around human rights to reflect a broader security risk for the state. Considering China has re-framed its domestic issues in Tibet and Xinjiang to fit within the broader context of the global war on terror post 9-11, it seems that the SCO provides an insular environment to promote less-than-democratic norms and to reject Western influence in the region. SCO member states all fall under “authoritarian” or “competitive authoritarian” categories (China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan), so it seems that the organization provides its members a degree self-made legitimacy. Interestingly, the SCO regularly conducts “peace missions” (not to be confused with the UN’s peace keeping operations, although China participates in those too), which consist of military exercises that simulate terrorist and separatist crises.

So, it seems that the SCO postures itself as an alternative to the liberal democratic structures in the West, which by definition offers its member states a degree of insulation from attempts at naming and shaming. As I’m getting deeper into writing the analysis, I’m finding that exploring situations in which the processes of democratization have stalled can contribute to the overall understanding of the rise of competitive authoritarianism.

Final Prompt

My views on Democracy have absolutely changed since taking this course. It wasn’t really a thing I thought about critically beforehand. I just assumed it was an overall positive system of governance and that it will inevitably be adopted by any educated and prosperous country. That is obviously not the case, its amorphous, ambiguous, and riddled with nuance. This class was very dense and pretty difficult but I learned more from it than my other classes especially in an analytical and critical thinking capacity.

The most insightful takeaway I have is a better ability to define the parameters of the democratic/authoritative spectrum. I am more readily able to understand moves in the contemporary political landscape that are reflective of an autocrat (such as the elimination of legislature in Venezuela) or moves that further democracy (which unfortunately has not been a trend in 2017). I am very happy I took this course and i think the insights I have gained have outweighed the stress the course load gave me. Global democracy is seemingly under threat by the rise of far-right populism, most of the countries undergoing this trend already have an established democracy. If the people want to save democracy then they have to get off teh couch and use it.

Final Prompt

My views on Democracy have absolutely changed since taking this course. It wasn’t really a thing I thought about critically beforehand. I just assumed it was an overall positive system of governance and that it will inevitably be adopted by any educated and prosperous country. That is obviously not the case, its amorphous, ambiguous, and riddled with nuance. This class was very dense and pretty difficult but I learned more from it than my other classes especially in an analytical and critical thinking capacity.

The most insightful takeaway I have is a better ability to define the parameters of the democratic/authoritative spectrum. I am more readily able to understand moves in the contemporary political landscape that are reflective of an autocrat (such as the elimination of legislature in Venezuela) or moves that further democracy (which unfortunately has not been a trend in 2017). I am very happy I took this course and i think the insights I have gained have outweighed the stress the course load gave me. Global democracy is seemingly under threat by the rise of far-right populism, most of the countries undergoing this trend already have an established democracy. If the people want to save democracy then they have to get off teh couch and use it.

 

Research Journal #12

This week I spent some time reading Brinks and Coppedge’s article “Diffusion is no illusion,” which provided a broader approach to understanding the diffusion theory.  Though many of the past works I’ve read regarding the diffusion theory have articulated the role of neighboring countries, this article took a much broader approach, arguing that international bodies, as well as regions in general, can affect the possibility of democracy failing or succeeding.  As I continue with my initial rough draft, I have realized that the diffusion theory does in fact apply to Gambia – wherein previously I didn’t think it had in this most recent election – due to the role of ECOWAS, and the spread of democracy within Eastern Africa within the most recent years.  The article also highlights the importance of strong historical ties to neighboring countries, dictating which countries play the largest role in affecting democratic change.  Additionally, the authors point to various factors which come into play, namely development levels, presidentialism (e.g., the overall type of existing government), and regional difference.  Once again, I will need to take into account these factors within Gambia, particularly the regional difference, in ultimately explaining why the diffusion theory allowed for Gambia’s recent elections to be enforced.  This article provides several impacting factors which I had not considered, and provides specific details to include in my argument.

Research Journal 10

I am almost done with the literature review on the Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. I have found a very useful book on challenges of reintegration in post-conflict states by McMullin (Thanks to Fatma!). He identified five sets of challenges of reintegration –  programmatic, security, political, structural, and ideational. I am going to finish the paper by analyzing which challenge(s) triggered for Nepal.

Reflections back on the USA

What was the most interesting/useful/surprising thing you learned in this class? Have your views on democracy changed since we started, and if so, how?

Definitely a softball, but I have a strong answer. For me, Democracy has never been difficult to define. It is a governing system where power rests, ultimately, with the people. But now I know better; and now I am more confused than ever, both good feelings to talk away from a class with. First, I understand now that democracy is a process more than a structure. I have reverence for the documents that provide the scaffolding for democracy, which have intricacies worked in that display a stunning intuition for human behavior. I also have more patience now for the messy flow of change, a patience that I didn’t have just a few months ago. Given that I may one day enter into politics, having a respect for democracies ebbs and flows could not be more important.

The most important reading that I *personally* did for this class was not actually assigned reading. I read both Gene Sharp’s “From Dictatorship to Democracy” and Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.” These two books pushed my understanding of citizen power and expanded the way in which I think about civilian interactions with the government. While not assigned reading, the two books guided how I read other literature for the course and added a lens of community organization (that naturally works with democracy) which is otherwise unexplored. Of the assigned reading, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule was just fascinating. Case studies illustrated why democracy is tough to define and to build.

The most challenging piece of this class was the Democracy Index project. I do not dislike argumentation or complex discussions in class, but the project was clearly built for us all to finish with a shaky final production. Perhaps that was the point. Still, frustrating for students who desperately want to impress.

I am looking forward to using my (slightly more) developed perspective of democracy and international development (from last semester) for good out in the world. In this country specifically, I am interested to see where my knowledge can play a positive role improving our civil society and democratic culture. What is abundantly clear, though, is that good is relative and clearly positive gains are hard to pinpoint. At the very least, after taking this class, I am more ready to accept that democracy (and development) take time, and it is ok to just be a small part of a large, fascinating flow.

Thank you!

I think that over the course of this class, the readings and the classroom discussion but most of all Dr. Kendhammer’s critiques helped me understand that democracy is not a one faceted concept, it is not ideal but it is proved to be the most convenient system of governance so far.

The highlight of the semester was the democracy index. I learnt a lot in the process especially that I have never done something similar before. Despite from being a great practice, it made me rethink how measurements are being implemented arbitrarily.

Until I came to this realization, I had a lot of pride seeing that Tunisia is green (Free)on the Freedom House Index. Now I know that we are far from democratizing but we’re on the way (maybe). As we discussed in class, a thicker understanding of democratization following an authoritarian prevalence entails getting rid of the world order. So no more unenlightened pride for me!

One other concept that we focused on is Political participation and democratic knowledge. While all notions of democracy assume an informed and participatory citizenry, and that means discussion of democracy must include a discussion of media. And here where the trick was! Because news coverage is all about what is going on in the parliament and the capital, I had to call in and ask my family and friends who is the mayor of my hometown and if anyone attended a city meeting. And to my surprise, little is known about these two. However, everyone is up-to-date about what is going on the bigger political scene.

Finally, I think as someone who believed in change, I figured that I am seeing things from one perspective. Our conversation about the enfranchisement is one that I found very compelling. If knowing that a fast scale moving forward the enfranchisement and an expansion of the rights will lead to a massive outbreak of violence and Unintended consequences, then that would explain the reluctance in bringing forth these changes at once.

So take a class with Dr. Kendhammer or keep trying to understand complex political, social and economic concepts in the simplest and most hilarious way possible!

Final Takeaways

Overall, I think that my largest takeaway from this class is just how complex the authoritarianism vs democracy dynamic argument is. As an American, it is pounded into my head repeatedly that there are good democracies and bad dictatorships that should be democracies. However, with the failings of democracies across the world and the conditions in which authoritarian regimes arise show that things are much more complex than that. For example, it was because of being authoritarian that the conditions arose for states such as Taiwan and South Korea to develop into strong democratic states. However, proponents of authoritarianism might look at the success of the Chinese Communist Party. As an individual with a Cold War mindset of free vs authoritarian, I’ve learned that there is a lot more gray area than one might initially think.

More so, my views on democracy have changed a bit now that I can fully grasp and respect just how contrast of a concept that democracy is. At a basic level, I understood that democracy exists under many conditions whether that be parliamentary versus presidential, direct vote versus single transferable voting, etc. However, as shown during our projects when we placed values on how we should measure how free a state actually is, opinions of what makes a democracy a democracy differs dramatically from person to person. Should there be a system of checks and balances? How do you measure how free a press is, is it corporate owned? Government owned? How do you measure a fair election, is having an overwhelming majority of seats owned by one party necessarily a bad thing? These are a few questions that show just how difficult it is to pinpoint what exactly constitutes a fully functioning and free democratic state.

Overall, this class challenged my basic understanding of democracy and how the principals of liberal democracy relates to authoritarianism. Upon more fully respecting the spectrum and vast amounts of gray area in between I can now effectively challenge my western understanding of these core topics.

Final Blogging Prompt, 4/19

The most surprising thing I learned during our course this semester was by how unsurprised/unfazed I was with a lot of the information we were learning. Although quite difficult and dense work, this course is definitely one of my favorites because of the fact that I was able to relate a lot of the concepts back to my own home country of Eritrea…

Although a political science major, I definitely struggle a lot with comprehending material. One of the reasons I am a poli sci major is because of the political climate of Eritrea right now (well, since 1991 actually). My parents are avid supporters of the dictatorship in place which has always fascinated (and irritated) me. In class, Dr. Kendhammer would sometimes joke for us to “think like a dictator” and I was always bemused that it came quite naturally to me. Even with a lot of my blog posts this semester, I seemed to agree or advocate for the authoritarian side because I tend to see a lot of logic with that form of government (not saying I don’t understand democracy at all – dictatorships, however, seem more easy to comprehend). I also specifically chose my discussion leadership presentation to fall on the week where we learned all about dictatorships and election fraud.

I think what this course has definitely done is reaffirm my ideas that both democracy and dictatorships are not all bad or all good… the idea of having it “just right” is frustrating, but I think that’s the point. There’s no one clear cut solution to politics. Maybe my viewpoint is a little too vague or even completely odd, but it’s definitely something I have always thought. This course has been one of the most helpful when it comes to me learning something that I could potentially apply in the future (hopefully when I’m the next president of Eritrea – or dictator, I haven’t decided yet).

In all seriousness, I think one of the reasons why I was able to stay afloat in this class as an undergrad is because of the fact that I could relate the content back to something that I am interested in (Eritrea). This course helped mold a more “devil’s advocate” side of me which I think is something that will be useful no matter what I am doing.

Thanks for a knowledgeable semester, truly.

What I learned about Democracy

This was my second political science course and first on democracy. My initial aim was to learn how the political scientists view and analyze any matter. I had the preconceived notion about democracy is that it is the rule by the majority.

The first interesting (but not surprising) lesson I learned that democracy has different versions and practices in different contexts and there has always been a tension between your perception versus mine.  This difference in perception came into the table during the Group Project on Democracy Index. It was fascinating to experience how the critical definitions and thick ideas could be narrowed down to measurement scale. As the course moved forward, I learned the messy history of U.S. democracy. There has always been specific reasons why democracy emerged in a certain way and then why changed routes over the time periods. After watching the video titled ‘Please vote for me’, I started to think, if people are given with this choice, is democracy something like a natural instinct to grow among themselves?

Being said that, the main contribution of this course to me is to teach students how to ask questions about a system. There were certain questions that we analyzed and reviewed based on scholars’ opinion and country context. These questions do not end with the course. These events do not stop. I believe this intension to ask specific questions is an enduring soft skill to learn from this course.