Saturday, August 25, 2012

Publishing 2: Selecting A Paper, Schedule, Writing Site and Obstacles

Continuing yesterday's post, today I will be posting advice from Belcher (2009) on identifying and selecting a  paper to edit for publication, establishing a more realistic, productive and encouraging schedule, choosing a writing site and responding to common obstacles.

I. Identifying and Selecting a Paper for Publication 

Potential candidates for a publication paper

1. Praised paper - professor saying a particular paper should be published or feedback that it is particularly good and insightful. My own brilliance was never spotted by a professor :), so does not work for me. Some of my friends got a 'publish' feedback from a professor, decide on your own story

2. "Pleasure"-ful paper - any paper that was fun or enjoyment ro write and is gratifying to re-read. I, personally, don't have any paper I really enjoyed writing more than I enjoyed doing something else. If you have untraditional feelings towards your papers, maybe this will work for you

3. Relevance - a paper relevant to current debates and dialogue in the discipline. Or when you read something in a journal or a professional list and think of a paper that would add to the dialogue. I also saw some people re-doing or re-considering their papers in light of current events (Syria, Mubarak's fall, Russian protest dynamics) and then putting it on MonkeyCage or writing an open-ed in NYT or Washington Post and then getting huge attention. The latter part of this might be more relevant for Krugman or something, but not for a junior faculty or a graduating PhD, though there are notable exceptions.

4. Findings - strong or unusual findings or an original insights

5. Conference paper - seems to be a more common track for papers to be published

6. MA or PhD thesis - parts of it might be relevant as a publication. The keyword is parts and it would take considerable revising. My own MA is better left ntouched in the library archives. Maybe yours is a better case. As for a PhD publishing chapters from it are, in my view, the essential source of one's first publications to get the necessary record to apply for a job. Moreover, writing dissertation parts with publication in mind is an additional quality assurance mechanism and might serve as an external deadline. But here again, the kayword is parts and there is a lot of revising to be done.

7. Rejected article - to be resubmitted to some other journal. Might be the easiest track.

Candidates for papers that can be scrapped right away (according to Belcher. I think some of this stuff she discourages from submitting for a review, I still can get away with and publish).

Broad surveys of the literature - Belcher claims they are better done by veterans that have observed teh evolution of a discipline for a longer time. She still thinks you can put parts of it as an introduction in some other article. Two personal caveats are in order: I have a friend who published a literature review in a computer science journal, a place where one would think no one publishes that. He did some original work though, which was to typologize and classify literature according to some novel technique. I still want to go ahead and get my LR published, and the way I see forward is to organize the literature in some novel way. At the very least, Belcher says, you can write a review essay, which I think I would keep as a plan B. If you LR is rejected choose four or five books and write an informed review of then united by a single theme. You know those review articles in journals that review three or four thematically united books?

Research that is purely theoretical (no quant data or case studies), outdated, outside the discipline (don't publish a film critique term paper if you are a polisci student) and polemical (better published as an op-ed) is discouraged from being submitted to publication.

II. Choosing a Writing Site

It is recommended that writing becomes a habit that you practice for shorts amounts of time, but do daily. To encourage this habituation it is recommended that writing is done at a writing site - a special space designated for writing, which is comfortable and non-distracting. The most popular seem to be workshops and it is advised to change them if needed.

It is recommended that a writing cite has no internet/email and cell phone coverage. One extreme example from the book was a coffee shop or McDonalds which had renovation works going on and which had to wifi because of that and which was so loud you could not hear your cell phone ring. Email/Facebook/Twitter were said to be expecially distracted.

My own problem is staying close to sources - be it paper (library) or electronic (internet connection). The advice that Belcher gives is that it is better to leave out segments of text that you have to re-check through books or internet and carrying on. This is claimed to be very productive and to improve the quality of scholarship - I will definitely try it.

III. Schedule

The widespread belief is that you need big chunks of time to write and you need good ideas to begin. Both are attacked in the book as wrong. This book is built on the premise that writing for thirty minutes a day is much better in terms of quality of scholarship and much more productive that writing in big chunks of time (more than four hours).

Moreover, it is claimed that working on a single project is a bad idea and that it is better to diversify work on several projects. This has been my own experience as well. Writing a single paper the whole day I get burned out, too distracted, unproductive and what not. I tried to divide up the 4-6 hours every day I sit on computer writing and getting distracted into chunks of 1.5 hours and found out that working on two simultaneous projects made me much more concentrated and productive.

Regarding ideas being born before writing, both this particular author and many other people I have consulted told me that the best way to get ideas is to actually write, write whatever that is, criticuq of other people's work, blog posts and what not. In my own experience, one of the more important parts of my Dissertation Chapter 1 i started as a one-page reaction i wrote to myself on a news story.

it is also claimed that writing daily in small chunks of time (15-30) mins keeps one much more focused. Writing more than that is actually discourage, even when you have 'a flow' because, again, the book is based on the premise that writing is a regular unemotional exercise and not a bolt of insight.

The only thing is that planning and goal setting has to be there, so that at some point a writer will stop and submit his paper to a journal instead of waiting for a perfect paper to come out in three more years of regular wrting.

IV. Obstacles

I will list all obstacles that Belcher listed, but will only discuss those that I found common and my own. If you want more, let me know I will scan those sections to you or something. j

So the obstacles are:
1. I am really busy - you really really have no time, because you are so overloaded. Belcher's advice (and my own experience and advise) is that you have to seriously review your priorities and time management. It is just abnormal. Many 'too busy' people are actually 'too busy' to follow this advice of Belcher, so it is kind of a trap.

2. Teaching prep takes too much of my time
3. I'll start as soon as __________________
4. Too depressed to write
5. I will make writing my number one goal in life - that is just abnormal, as well as counterproductive
6. Could get to my writing site - print out a draft of your paper and work on it where you are in your limbo
7. Still reading up and review the literature - this is my personal problem as well and it is aggravated by all th online research tools that give you references, quotes, similar articles, suggestions and what not. The great advice given in this book is that you have to start writing to find out what exactly you have to read up on. To pu tit differently, leaving holes in the draft text keeps the literature review much more focused and narrow, saving tons of time. With the current amounts of literature it is impossible to skim everything. The mastery, Belcher's argument goes, comes from writing, not reading.
8. Can't get started
9. My topic too emotional or controversial
10. If I screw up my early publications it will hurt me later, when I become an established scholar
11.Not in the right mood
12. Kids
13. Can't work on this project any more - don't. Switch to other project or other type of writing (grant application, other article, chapter of the dissertation. In my personal experience this even works with sections of the paper. I could not finish a section of the paper in a very long time, so I just dropped it and moved to the other one, to come back in a couple of days and move it forward considerably.
14. My idea sucks - still write it down and you will see where exactly it sucks and what can be done baou tit. Good ideas are born in writing, they don't precede writing.
15. My supervisor is an obstacle with his critique
16. Can sit still - write in small chunks of time, put alarms and tie yourself to a seat with a belt (the last one is an anecdote from the book)
17. Feel guilty about not writing
18. Write slowly and don't get much done - that's normal, that's how the industry works
19. Long productive day and burn-out the next day - don't have a long productive day, limit your writing efforts so that there is no burnout. The book reports that some over-writers who used this advice found it helpful.
20. Don't want to change my writing habits.
21. Want to write but don't have scholarly or material resources. I come from this background. The advice given in the book is that you can have comparative advantage by having unique data, because those who don't have access to resources are usually on the ground, so they have better access to data and texts (as well as people, I should say).
22. Several projects with similar deadlines, I am in panic - that is actually good. I have this thing right now and I found that several projects simultaneously makes me more productive and focused.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Publishing: some tricks and report from the field. 

I have not published a single article in an academic journal (yet). I have my own reasons for that, part real (I prefer to get paid for writing and submit my texts to journals that pay for them), part imaginary (1. can't finish a paper due to constant revising and updating 2. 'really busy' writing my dissertation and conference papers).But I have about five papers which I am now working on and hope to get them in for review by the end of the year.

So I was really happy a couple of weeks ago when a school I am currently at announced two workshops, publication workshop and dissertation workshop. The first one is a writing group, essentially, where we submit and discuss our potential publications and work alongside a well-defined timeline and the second one is another writing group where we discuss content, style and 'angle' of our dissertation chapters.

Both groups have people with similar interests, but also from neighboring fields (I work on authoritarianism and regime breakdown, but there are people working on social capital, euroregions and higher education quality assurance). It has been amazingly productive, I never had such a productive time and so much encouragement and constructive feedback. Moreover, people don't have to be from the same field as yours or know your literature to give good feedback. Highly recommend to everyone.

On a side note, we are also reading a text by Wendy Belcher on how to publish a journal article in 12 weeks. Though the book might not answer your immediate and particular concerns (after all it is a generic manual for all people and an average writer, not a genius like yourself :), it is still very very very useful and I found that some of the advice the book provides was not given to me before during the numerous and great 'how-to-publish' workshops I attended (here's a link to a presentation from one of them, Benjamin Sovacool, that guy really publishes a lot!).

So I thought I should take notes on the book and also post it here, so that others can also benefit from some of the advice the book gives. I will also benefit because as I write this, I reflect on it and internalize the ideas better.

Wendy Laura Belcher, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, Sage, 2009. 

Part of Chapter 1 is called Keys to Positive Writing Experiences

Four of them are identified (I list the first three, rename them a bit and add some of my own experience)

1. Write 
The most common excuse is that people are busy. Though a minority might really be, the majority are busy because they do not write, and not vice versa. It is possible to finish a journal article in 12 weeks by writing 15 mins a day, the argument goes. So one really just needs to take an old paper, old idea, draw a schedule, choose a writing 'site' and start working alongside the timeline. I always thought timelines were for idiots and buraucrats, and only recently did I start realizing their great potential.

No waiting for inspiration or big blocks of free time to concentrate on writing. All you need is a plan (timeline) and a habit of writing a bit everyday.

2. Socialize Writing
No matter what we think or might believe, writing is a social activity, even for the smartest ones (yes, I have you in mind, the one who thinks everyone else is an idiot, you still need to write in the language and at the level  idiots can understand).

I would love to be working in isolation for fifteen year and coming out like Niklas Luhmann with a groundbreaking thing, but most of the good publications I saw were 'polished' with a host of graduate students in a class, at a bunch of conferences and were even co-authored.

My own experience is the same. People gave me advice on how to rearrange my ideas to make them less confusing, how to name sections or specific phenomena I had in mind and also how to put the arguments and infographics in the best possible way. I have done the same for others.

Socialized writing strategies might include the following:

1. Start a writing group, like my school did, preferably with a writing instructor or an assistant professor.
2. Take a writing class, the one specifically aimed at supervising through the whole process and not a one day seminar where you would be handed in a book and will only finish your thesis statement and abstract by the end of the course (some of my classmates know what I am talking about)
3. Convince another student to co-write an article with you - it works best when both share the same timeline and can meet in person to concentrate and write together. if physical presence is impossible try skype. I tried working on Google Docs with editing and commenting an essay and it was superb.
4. Conferences and seminars. Not only do they push one to write because of the deadlines, but also give a superb contact opportunity. I don't mean big shots, I mean our peers who work on similar things and share similar awkwardness and need for collaboration. One advice given to me about conferences was 'small is good' in terms of finding a collaborator and getting good feedback on your paper, as well as staying updated on the state of the narrow field of yours. I was advised to approach assistant professors and post-docs instead of big guys, since it is these people slightly senior than you that are engaged in most projects and will be more keen to draw you inside to work with them. And they are also happier to be recognized and appreciated than big fat ivory tower geeks.
5. Discussion lists - I don't know of any particular discussion lists, but I found blogosphere most rewarding. The blog I read to follow up on the latest stuff in my field is The Monkey Cage. Their comments section is a great venue for discussions, I always enjoy reading stuff from there and occasionally do contribute. They are also great for staying updated on the latest debates, theories and concepts in the field and really make one relate his argument to the overall discourse.
6. Introducing oneself to academics - I have never found this one comfortable and hated to be looking like a brown-nose or invading someone's email space or stealing his time. The claim made by Belcher is that established people actually are interested in meeting junior colleagues and are usually grateful for others' taking the first step. Also, many others enjoy giving advice. I had to ask for advice from a couple of academics I never met personally - all answered my emails and gave good advice. The ones who did not write back turned out to be busy, but none seemed to be offended or irritated by someone contacting them. Now with twitter, facebook and blogs it became much much easier, especially with the younger generation of bright and technically advanced academics.

Final concerns,

1. Many feel uncomfortable networking and contacting others - everyone does. Step out of the comfort zone with tact and persistence.
2. Many people are horrified of sharing their work, because this will make them seem idiots or they are afraid of negative comments. I had some stupid ideas shared with others, but my happy and very encouraging finding was that people actually never read them as stupid and fill stupid ideas with their own 'smart' content, thus adding to the process and upgrading the initial argument. So there is very little cost and very large benefits, why not take a shot? Moreover, many people actually hate giving negative feedback, even if the paper sucks. So there is really little chance that a shared paper will be 'raped'
3. Many will till the paper is complete to share it - very very very wrong. The purpose of sharing is improving, not showing off. so sharing at an earlier stage saves a lot of stupid ideas, re-writing time and even gets the 'sharer' organized, so that the rest of the paper will flow faster and more efficient.
4. Many fear a shared idea will be stolen. That might be the case, but sharing it actually protects the original proprietor - there are many witnesses to attest that it is you who publicized it first. I had a fear of sharing my stuff over Social Science Research Network and losing my credit to plagiarists, but now I think I will go ahead and post some of my papers there.

3. Persist despite Rejections

Review, I was told, is very subjective and conditional on things that have nothing to do with the quality of the article. The way we are doing it in the publication workshop is to select two journals - one top and the other second tier and submit it to top first and, if necesary, second tier second. We were advised to study journals for editors, submitting authors (whether there are PhDs or just big names), frequency of publication etc. I will be posting more stuff on selecting journals later. 

Hope this helps and good luck! Please let me know if this was helpful or if I made any terrible omissions or mistakes. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Transitions from Neopatrimonialism

Place your favorite transition on this typology and see if Snyder's 1992 theory works. For me worked on one country, failed on another. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

IMT-Lucca School of Advanced Studies PhD Call

this is carbon-copied from IMT webpage, more information available at: 

IMT Ph.D. Program Call Application
is now OPEN

Deadline: September 26, 2012 at 18:00 (Italian time).
The call for applications for admission to the IMT Ph.D. Program is now open. 
Download the full call (only in Italian). 

The Doctoral program is divided into four tracks:
Computer, Decision, and Systems Science (CDSS) 

Director:Rocco De Nicola
The Track in Computer, Decision, and Systems Science (CDSS) aims to equip researchers and professionals with a wide knowledge of the theoretical foundations of computer science, informatics and system analysis applicable to a large variety of real-life problems of industrial, managerial, economic, and societal interest. Such elements include control systems, management science, optimal decision making and numerical optimization, image analysis and pattern recognition. The objective of the program is to provide Ph.D. candidates with the necessary scientific competence to master the theoretical aspects of the discipline, to propose original research ideas, and to develop numerical algorithms, managerial solutions and software tools for applying the new concepts to practical applications. The Track in Computer, Decision, and Systems Science is organized into four main curricula:
  • Computer Science
  • Control Systems
  • Image Analysis
  • Management Science

Director:Fabio Pammolli
The Track in Economics trains researchers, professionals and experts in political economy, applied public economics, industrial economics, with a focus on comparative institutional analysis, on the empirical analysis of real and financial markets, on macroeconomic policy. With its theoretical, quantitative and institutional approach, the program meets the increasing demand for highly qualified professionals, too analyze, plan, and manage concrete applications of political economy.
Management and Development of Cultural Heritage 

Director:Maria Luisa Catoni
The program aims at providing prospective professionals operating in the field of management of culture and cultural heritage with specific know-hows.
It also promotes research offering the students a lively contact with different research approaches and methodologies applied in the research fields related to cultural heritage and art history.
Political History 

Director:Giovanni Orsina
The Track in Political History aims to provide students with the most advanced and update-to-date theoretical and methodological instruments for the historical study of nineteenth and twentieth century politics, policies, political institutions and political ideas. The program aims in particular at bridging two divides: that between the theoretical approach of social scientists (political scientists and theorists, economists and anthropologists, global) and the idiographic approach of historians; and that between national and non-national (international, cross-national, transnational) political histories. By focusing on the theoretical competences necessary to understand political history, the core courses will aim especially at overcoming the first divide. By comparing national experiences, focusing on transnational phenomena and analyzing the interplay between national and supra-national arenas, the core seminars will especially aim at overcoming the second divide.
Duration: 3 years 

Language: Courses and seminars are held in English. Foreign Ph.D. students are required to attend an Italian Language and Culture Course. 

Classes starts in February 2013.

 Scholarships and Facilities  

  • 36 Ph.D. positions are covered by scholarships in the gross amount of 13,638.47€ /year (≅ 12,378.30 €/year net).
  • A limited number of additional positions without scholarships may also be offered.
  • Ph.D. students have tuition fees waived.
  • Ph.D. students who are granted a scholarship have free accommodation in shared double rooms in the School residence halls (with the exception of students whose permanent residence is within 30km of IMT).
  • Ph.D. students have free access to the canteen services.
  • Ph.D. students are covered by insurance against any accident and/or injury that may occur while they carrying out their Ph.D. activities.
For more information please visit the Scholarships, Fees and Services page.


Applications are open to candidates who meet the below requirements, without regard to religion, nationality, age or gender.
  • Proficiency in English is compulsory.
  • The candidate must have completed and obtained a degree equivalent to at least 4 years of university studies


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Research Grants - Violence and Aggression

The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation welcomes proposals from any of the natural and social sciences and the humanities that promise to increase understanding of the causes, manifestations, and control of violence and aggression. 

Deadline August 1, more information here:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

CfA PhD Program GSSPS Uni Milano

Through APSA Polmeth list:
The Call
for Applications of the Graduate School of Social and Political Studies for the
Academic Year 2012-3 is now OPEN.

13 Ph.D.
Scholarships available
GSSPS – University of Milan

for Academic year 2012-2013

The University of Milan is pleased
to announce that the Call for application, based on qualifications and
interviews, for admission to the Graduate School
in Social and Political Sciences (GSSPS) for the following Ph.D.

Ph.D. in Labour Studies – Coordinator:
Prof. Lorenzo Bordogna
Ph.D. in Political Studies – Acting
Coordinator Prof. Francesco Zucchini
Ph.D. in
Sociology – Coordinator: Prof. Luisa Leonini

is now available in Italian and in
English here .

Click here to read more about the
GSSPS downloading the 2012 School brochure

For the academic year 2012/2013 the GSSPS will assign a total of 27 places, 14
with scholarship and 13 without scholarship.

14 places with scholarships will be assigned as follows:
Ph.D. in Labour Studies – 4 University of Milan scholarships
Ph.D. in Political Studies – 5 University of Milan scholarships
Ph.D. in Sociology – 4 University of Milan scholarships + 1 "Centre
for Study and Research on Women and Gender Differences"
scholarship funded by "Structural Transformation to Achieve Gender
Equality in Sciences - STAGES" - European FP7

13 places without scholarship will be assigned as follows:
Ph.D. in Labour Studies – 4 places without scholarship
Ph.D. in Political Studies – 5 places without scholarship
Ph.D. in Sociology – 4 places without scholarship
All applications must be submitted online via SIFA Servizi ON LINE

(Servizi di Ammissione) starting from 18th June 2012.

For further details please write to GSSPS Secretariat, University of Milan,
via Pace 10, 20122 email

for application is strictly 31st July 2012.


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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

О простоте языка в академическом письме

Я могу быть неправ, поправьте меня, пожалуйста, если это так. Русский язык богат и могуч, но это не означает то, что научный аргумент на этом языке должен быть изложен так сложно и завихристо, что среднему, образованному читателю не понять ничего из той белиберды которую несут некоторые ученые.

Лично меня наставники-корифеи воспитывали по англо-саксонской академической традиции, где приветствуется предельная простота изложения и четкая структура аргумента. Сейчас я много читаю русскоязычную академическую литературу. Русский конечно не мой родной язык, но я считаю что я на нем сносно выражаю свои мысли. И меня бесит когда плохие ученые скрывают свои неинтересные, очевидные и скучные аргементы за фасадом заумной писанины. Не позорьте политологию. Если не можете обьяснить на доступном языке свой аргумент - милости просим из этой сферы.

Между прочим, это не касается словарного запаса - используйте богатый язык и терминологию нашей дисциплины. Но не надо заворачивать аргумент так, что его надо перечитывать раз пять чтобы понять то, что вы просто ничего не излагаете по существу. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mini Marshall Plan for Central Asia?

V.Ivanov (Photo by
A leading Russian business daily Kommersant and Rossiyskaya Gazeta report here (in Russian) and here  on a curious document submitted by Russian drug control czar Viktor Ivanov to the Government. The paper calls for the creation of what seems to be a Russian CA development agency. The document was floated by Ivanov's agency probably because Russians want to frame it as part of their comprehensive approach to drug control in Central Asia and new drug policy.

Claiming that 40% of GDP in some Central Asian states comes from drug trade (never clarified which one, hugely improbably number anyways), Ivanov proposed to kill illicit economy by encouraging legal economy. Apparently the way Russians see it is not through micro-credit and encouragement of small entrepreneurship, but through huge Russian state corporations taking over largest projects in the region and creating new ones.

Russian Corporation for Cooperation with Central Asian Countries, as the proposed agency is officially called, will be founded as a joint stock company with 51% of shares going to the Russian Government and 49 to Russian companies, mostly Russian state corps like RosNeft, VTB, GazProm, VEB, RosAtom, RJD and Inter RAO EES, Rostehnologii and Sberbank. From the private sector only Sistema and Alfa Group are mentioned.

List of proposed projects is very entertaining. Russians are proposing to take over hydroenergy constructions at Kambarata and Rogun, re-create Soviet energy distribution systems and add a new water pipe from Siberia to Fergana Valley. Also envisioned is construction of atomic energy plant in the region and of a big poultry production plant. Beside such big projects, creation of a university specializing in development education does not seem that fantastic (no one seems to have been interested whether development oriented schools already exist in the region).

The whole initiative is based on a number of very shaky assumptions.
First, it is somehow assumed that Central Asians will meet the alarmingly ambitious development initiative with joy and open embrace. This is not going to happen, regional elites are very wary of Russians' real motives.

Second, it is assumed that drug trafficking in Central Asia is done by impoverished individuals, much like the image of a poor and desperate Afghan farmer who plants poppy because there is nothing else to plant. To me at least it seems that a typical Central Asian drug trafficker is not that destitute and has ample income opportunities were he/she willing to take them up.

Moreover, it is assumed that the way to lure traffickers out of the drug game is not by giving 'em cheap credit to open up firms, but by building huge plants where they most probably be employed.

Third, Russians pretend they have extra cash to spend. The initial project cost is Rbl 2 billion (about USD 64 mln) and annual salary expenses will amount to USD 6 mln, and all expenses will surely be higher than that. Where is the money coming from, is the question to the Government of D.Medvedev that has yet to pay off the promised pension increases.

Russian drug agency planners also have very curious notions of public-private partnership. Given the list of proposed participants, public-private for Russian drug people means partnership of the state and state-run corporations. very is odd the promise that local firms will be allowed in the future.

Journalists claim this is all not more than a 'retirement project' for Ivanov that has very little chances of success, at least in the form declared. I agree. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fun Stats: Dictator Tenure and Kick-out

Milan Svolik of University of Illinois studied 316 dictators who held power for at least one day between 1945 and 2002. Out of those 316, 13 stepped down in an unclear way, so he ignored them. The resulting is a pretty cool table which ascertains:
1. that 22% of them don't even make it till a year
2. coups d'etat hve been the most widespread way a dictator was taken down unconstitutionally, foreign intervention - least widespread

It would be interesting to see how the share of each path is changing from decade to decade...

Here is a gated link to the paper

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Arab Spring - liberation technology?

Those of us who are ardent supporters of 'liberation technology,' Lisa Anderson, currently President of American University in Cairo, seems to counter with this curious example:

In Tunisia, protesters escalated calls for
the restoration of the country's suspended
constitution. Meanwhile, Egyptians rose
in revolt as strikes across the country
brought daily life to a halt and toppled the
government. In Libya, provincial leaders
worked feverishly to strengthen their
newly independent republic.
It was 1919.
That year's events demonstrate that
the global diffusion of information and
expectations-so vividly on display in Tahrir
Square this past winter-is not a result of
the Internet and social media. The inspirational
rhetoric of U.S. President Woodrow
Wilson's Fourteen Points speech, which
helped spark the 1919 upheavals, made its
way around the world by telegraph. The
uprisings of 1919 also suggest that the calculated
spread of popular movements, seen
across the Arab world last winter, is not a
new phenomenon.

Source: Foreign Affairs, May/June 2011

The debate is much wider though, with cute cats theory by Ethan Zuckerman and scepticism of Malcolm Gladwell and Evgeny Morozov. And surely, it is not settled in any sense.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Stupid Mistake in Smart Writing

Two super respected people in a very respected journal make a bad mistake right in the abstract. Help me count the number of factors that are involved in the interaction they are talking about. Where is the missing fifth one?

I don't want to be a smart one, or the critical one going around and bugging people among typos they make. But this is just nuts when you are trying to summarize others' research or operationalize their explanations for a quantitative analysis. All the worse, the ideas laid out further are really good...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why social scientists should not comment in media

This Boston Globe editorial argues it is because journalists and audience don't want nuanced and complicated social science explanations, but easy oversimplified answers. My answer to the author would be that it is still better that social scientists give oversimplified answers (aware of nuances) than someone else does (unaware of nuances).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An easy way to distinguish regime types

Source: Howard and Roessler 2006, AJPS  50(2). NB: Guided by self censorship, I erased one of the paradigmatic cases for Hegemonic Authoritarianism, did not cause substantive change to meaning

Naming things right: Concept Building as a Shortcut to Good Social Science

During and after color revolutions (concept 1) many observers and commenters manipulated labels and meanings of these events as they saw fit. They were labelled revolutions (concept 2), coups d'etat (concept 3) and what not. There were orange, rose, tulip, yellow, apricot, cotton and what not revolution or revolution attempts. GW Bush went as far as calling intervention into Iraq and first elections held under American supervision 'purple revolution.'

Politicians can do whatever they want. What sucks is that lots of people caught these terms and started using them widely, including myself. Now I am reviewing scholarship on events that occured in Serbia in 2000, in Georgia 2003, Ukraine 2004 and Kyrgyzstan 2005 (I am deliberately avoiding to label them under a common concept).

I counted half a dozen or so labels including, but not limited to, color revolution, discontinuous political trajectory, revolutionary coup d'etat, electoral revolution, fourth wave of democratization, democratic breakthrough, modular democratic revolution, failure of authoritarian consolidation, cycles of patronal presidentialism, democratizing elections and liberalizing electoral outcomes.

I am sure this is not an exhaustive link. I am also sure that some of those definitions have been well defined and articulated. Finally I am sure that multiplicity of terms refers to the multiplicity of approaches authors take to this complex phenomena and that scholarly dialogue on the subject is ultimately good. However, I also want some conceptual clarity and discrimination/restriction. We can not nave twenty terms to denote a single event or class of events. If not narrowed down, rich dialogue on concept building will prevent formation of an effective toolkit to use such things in practice.

(Here is how a Cambridge scholar try to clarify the terms, I will need to expand this list and do it in a map/Venn diagram format. Source: Lane 2009, Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 25(2))

and introduce a new term (same source)

 Moreover, what is missing is a map of relationships between proposed concepts. My intuitive feeling is that related or competing concepts either address different aspects of the same phenomena or denote events that have family resemblance to each other. This is especially evident when one wants to use the fast growing literature on color revolutions and non-violent change on current events.

 Let's take the example of Russia, which had fraudulent parliamentary elections in December and will have presidential elections in 2012. What basically interests me is will Putin lose power. Which term should I use if I don't care much about the small 'lab rat' nuances of how he does that, and just want a practical, short crisp answer based on a theory or rather theories? I will be doing it and blogging about it, but first will need to get down with the while conceptual mess.

 My limited knowledge of social movement theory, for example, shows that social science can come up with handy, readily-usable and functional definitions of what they study without being too theoretically shallow. So why not do it for regime change/democratization/contention studies?

 So far I think the best, simples definition I came across in a book by Bunce and Wolchik published in 2011 (Defeating Authoritarian Leaders in Postcommunist Countries, CUP 2011). It is on the cutting edge of scholarship on these events and the two have commanded their immense resources in a really good way to come up with a really good book full of nice ideas. Their definition of these events is democratizing elections (those elections that happen in competitive authoritarianisms and in which challengers win) (page 17).

 In retrospect all that was needed to be done to build a good concept was to see whether the available concept capture the phenomenon under study. I am sure most of the times it does. I learned my lesson.