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POLS 373 Foundations of Comparative Politics Research Traditions: Rationality, Structure, and Culture January 30, 2008 Timothy C. Lim California State.

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Presentation on theme: "POLS 373 Foundations of Comparative Politics Research Traditions: Rationality, Structure, and Culture January 30, 2008 Timothy C. Lim California State."— Presentation transcript:

1 POLS 373 Foundations of Comparative Politics Research Traditions: Rationality, Structure, and Culture January 30, 2008 Timothy C. Lim California State University, Los Angeles

2 ______________________ A Primer on the Rational Choice Approach in Comparative Politics ______________________ A Primer on the Rational Choice Approach in Comparative Politics micro-level

3 3 A Basic Question What does it mean to act in a rational manner? Answer: Those who act rationally are assumed to be acting in their own self-interest This is the basic assumption from which rational choice analysis begins The rational choice approach begins with the presumption that Saddam was a rational actor HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E Example

4 4 Defining Self-Interest To act consistently in relation to one’s preferences  “Preference” can be for wealth, political power, survival, status/prestige, and so on Also known as Utility Maximization Different people have different preferences, different ways to “maximize utility”; this explains the rationality behind different choices, such as the choice to purchase a Hummer vs. the choice to purchase a Toyota Prius HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

5 5 Utility Maximization In the real-world, utility maximization can complicated the concept of self- interest Examples: Those individuals who give higher utility to “helping others” or to “defending the nation” are also acting rationally; they are maximizing their personal utility HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

6 6 Complicating Factors of Rationality Rational action is complicated by a number of other factors, including: 1. Strategic Calculation 2. Strategic Interaction HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E The scale illustrates the concept of strategic calculation, which is discussed in more detail on the following slide

7 7 Complicating Factors of Rationality Strategic calculation is a fancy way of saying that any decision is based on a calculation of costs and benefits A Simple Example: Deciding to attend or skip class; deciding to prepare for today’s quiz Your decision is based on a weighing of the costs and benefits; most decisions, from the biggest to the smallest, involve this type of “strategic calculation” HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E Hmm … should I go to class or go skate boarding? I have a quiz, but skate boarding’s a lot more fun

8 8 Complicating Factors of Rationality Strategic interaction Most decisions are not made in isolation; that is, many decisions involve two or more “players” In these cases, we can say that individual decisions are generally part of an interactive process, in which one player’s decision is influenced by the existence of another player In chess and football, strategic interaction is integral to the dynamics and outcome of the game; players/coaches on both sides are engaged in a process of strategic interaction HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

9 9 Complicating Factors of Rationality What is the significance of strategic interaction? When more than one player is involved, the “payoffs” (or the benefits) of any decision will depend on what the other player does or does not do To determine what is rational, therefore, each player needs to “guess” how another player might act The right “strategic” moves in football will lead to a touchdown; the right moves in chess will lead to checkmate. The wrong move, however, may result in defeat HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

10 10 Summing Up Thus Far Utility maximization, strategic calculation and strategic interaction can make “rational decision- making” much more complex than it appears on the surface In this scenario, the final outcome (e.g, “mutually assured destruction”) is the product of a process of rational decision-making shaped by strategic calculation and interaction. NOTE: The final result is not necessarily “optimal” HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

11 11 Key Assumptions of Rational Choice Rational choice scholars tell us that we should always assume that the large majority of decisions are rational One of the major tasks of rational choice, therefore, is to uncover the underlying dynamics of the decision making process, even when or especially when decisions seem irrational In rational choice, insane “decision-makers,” such as the fictitious Hannibal Lecter, are the rare exception, rather than the rule. It is assumed that most decision-makers, especially those occupying positions of responsibility, are generally rational. HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

12 12 HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E Are they all just crazy, evil, or obsessed? Key Assumptions of Rational Choice Consider the following questions:  Why did North Korea’s Kim Jong Il decide to conduct a nuclear test?  Why did Saddam launch an invasion of Kuwait?  Why did George W. Bush launch a “pre- emptive” invasion of Iraq in 2003?

13 13 Key Assumptions of Rational Choice Close examination of foregoing questions will likely lead to the identification of an underlying rationality To discover the underlying rationality, paying attention to utility maximization, strategic calculation and strategic interaction is critical Almost assuredly, as each of these pictures suggest, Kim, Saddam, and Bush all have/had rational reasons and clear objectives for their decisions … HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

14 14 Key Assumptions of Rational Choice No “Perfect Information”  Rational  Rational actors don’t have access to “perfect information”  People,  People, unlike God, are not omniscient, all-knowing beings  This  This means that rationality is bounded HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

15 15 A Simple, but Critical Lesson The complexity of strategic interaction, imperfect information and other factors means that not not all rational decisions are good decisions Consider the Iraq War: A classic example of a rational decision leading to a “sub-optimal” outcome HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

16 16 The Strategic Environment RationalityRationality is also affected by the larger “strategic environment” in which decisions are made WeWe cannot make any choice we please: Because of environ- mental constraints, we are sometimes “pushed”to make certain choices, or forced to choose from only a handful of relatively unattractive options HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

17 17 The Strategic Environment There are two major types of constraints  Scarcity (material constraints)  Institutional constraints Having no money severely limits the choices you can make Arnold Schwarzenegger learned first-hand about the power of institutional constraints in California state politics HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

18 18 Some Key Questions to Ask in Rational Choice Analysis: Who are the main actors? How are their interests defined? What information is available to them? What type of constraints do they face? How do the constraints influence their actions? What are other important elements of the strategic environment? HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

19 19 Repeating, Restating, Reiterating a Key Point: To use rational choice to explain social, political or economic phenomena, you need to go well beyond simply asserting that actors are rational You must take account of utility maximization, strategic calculation, strategic interaction, actors’ knowledge, and the impact of the strategic environment HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Rationality E

20 __________________________ A Primer on the Structural Approach in Comparative Politics __________________________ A Primer on the Structural Approach in Comparative Politics macro-level

21 Structures: The Shaper of Our Lives Structural approaches are based on the idea that human actions are partly and even largely determined by underlying, sometimes invisible forces, over which individuals-- acting alone or in groups-- have little or no control An analogy: analogy: Consider the structure of DNA and its affect on our individual lives HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Structure E

22 22 The Impact of Structure: An Example Feudalism was a powerful social structure; it shaped, in profound ways, the lives of millions of people and of whole societies for centuries To be born a peasant in feudal society meant you would die a peasant; your position in the social hierarchy was key HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Structure E

23 23 Key Assumption in Structural Approach The Centrality of Relationships Structuralists assume that central to any structure are relationships, which themselves exist within a broader framework of action Examples: Examples: Consider the relationship between women and men men in a patriarchal structure, the relationship of workers to capitalists capitalists (or the rich and poor) in a capitalist structure, the relationship of slaves to masters in a structure of slavery, and so on HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Structure E

24 24 Key Assumptions in (Historical) Structural Approach  Structures  Structures are enduring, but not permanent contain their own logic and dynamic create particular relationships  The  The fate of individuals, groups, and societies are largely determined by their position within a structure HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Structure E Feudalism was a powerful social structure, but it eventually collapsed after more than 500 years

25 25 Structures as Deeply Embedded Games Another way of understanding the structural approach HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Structure E

26 26 Some Key Questions to Ask in a Structural Analysis WhatWhat is the overarching structure and what are the key relationships within that structure? HowHow does the structure “work” or operate? What is the internal logic and basic dynamic of the structure? WhatWhat are the (structural) rules of the games, who are the key players and what are their roles within the structure? HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Structure E

27 ____________________ A Primer on the Cultural Approach in Comparative Politics ____________________ A Primer on the Cultural Approach in Comparative Politics meso-level

28 28 A Caveat, A Warning! Using culture to explain social, political or economic phenomena may seem easy and intuitive, but it’s not “Cultural arguments” are often very bad arguments, because the people who use culture do so in a crude, naïve, and sloppy manner! HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

29 29 Introduction: Some Basic Points The cultural perspective is a complement to, rather than a substitute for, other explanatory accounts of social, political or economic phenomena. We can also say that … “ … the cultural perspective is aimed at providing researchers with a frame of reference within which they can see how values, attitudes, and practices [i.e., the general elements of culture] have influenced … countries.” HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

30 30 Introduction: Some Basic Points Culturalists (or those who use culture in their analysis) believe that culture can and does have an important, although not always obvious or measurable, effect on social, political and economic processes Culture, in short, “matters” Saying culture matters, however, is not enough: We also need to determine how it matters, to what extent it matters, and in what context it matters--needless to say, none of this is easy to do HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

31 31 Introduction: Some Basic Points Cultural arguments are probably the most maligned (by social scientists) and the most misused approach, especially by pundits and other “arm-chair” analysts But even seasoned comparativists can seriously misuse or misunderstand culture On the surface, there’s an obvious reason for this, which is simply that the cultural perspective seems cut-and-dry, but really is much more complicated and nuanced than it appears HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

32 32 Introduction: A Question How could we use culture to explain the lack of democracy in the (Arab) Middle East? HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

33 33 A “Bad” Cultural Argument Here’s an example of “bad” cultural argument purporting to explain the lack of democracy in the Middle East: “There is a reason political pluralism, individual liberty and self-rule do not exist in any of the 16 Arab nations in the Middle East. Cultural traditions there tend toward anti-intellectualism, religious zealotry and patriarchy, values which provide little fertile ground for progressive thinking” What’s wrong with this argument? HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

34 34 A “Bad” Cultural Argument The problem with the foregoing argument can be summed up very simply: It assumes that culture is essentially fixed, monolithic, and one-directional Fixed: Cultures don’t ever change Monolithic: Within a culture, there is but a single, unchallenged and unquestioned “voice” One-directional: Culture is either an obstacle to change, or it’s not; it is either progressive or regressive, but cannot be both To this list, we can also add a fourth flaw: it is fatally simplistic HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

35 35 Culture: The First Basic Lesson To properly use culture in comparative analysis, we must begin with the assumption that culture is highly malleable, multivocal, and multidirectional (with regard to causation) Malleable: Cultures can and do change, both quickly and slowly Multivocal: People of a “single” culture can and do disagree, sometimes in a fundamental manner Multidirectional: Culture can have contradictory and complex effects; in different contexts, at different times, culture may block change or it may be a source of change HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

36 36 Culture: The First Basic Lesson Culture, in sum, is complex and highly contingent Okay. But what is culture? How should culture be defined? HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

37 37 What is culture? A Basic Definition Culture is a shared, learned, symbolic system of values, beliefs and attitudes that shapes and influences perception and behavior -- an abstract “mental blueprint” or “mental code.” Culture is mutually constructed and inherently intersubjective. It is generally internalized Shared by members of a society; no “culture of one” Learned: Culture is not transmitted genetically, but must be passed down and learned Culture is symbolic as opposed to tangible Mutually Constructed: Culture is not created through a one way process, but is a product of social interaction Intersubjective: Culture exists inside our “collective heads” Internalized: Culture is habitual, taken for granted, perceived as natural HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

38 38 What is culture? Repeating Key Points As shared, learned, symbolic system of values, beliefs and attitudes culture is inherently and unavoidably subjective (as opposed to objective) The subjective nature of culture means, to repeat, that culture has no concrete existence: culture is, to large extent, what we think it is (or want it to be) The intersubjective nature of culture means that it is subject to continual “negotiation” and (re)interpretation, since it must be reproduced over and over again Culture is here HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

39 39 The Significance of Culture Recognizing that culture is intangible and inherently subjective/intersubjective, however, does not mean that culture is unimportant or insignificant in human affairs This leads to a second basic lesson … HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

40 40 Culture: The Second Basic Lesson Culture has power. The ideas, beliefs, values and identities of culture have power at both the individual and collective levels They can compel individuals and whole peoples to act and behave in certain ways, to make profound sacrifices and even give up their very lives for the sake of a larger good HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

41 41 Culture as a Political Resource The power of culture gives it huge potential as a political resource or asset Significantly, the power of an ostensibly single culture can be harnessed or co-opted by opportunistic leaders and others to achieve self-serving goals. Consider the importance of culture in … Bosnia Rwanda “Islamic terrorism” HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

42 42 In these three cases, political leaders co- opted culture to serve their own political ends. Culture and cultural “differences” were used to motivate collective action for horrendous political goals. HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

43 43 On the other hand, culture can serve as a rallying cry, a force of broad based mobilization, for progressive change. This was the case in the Philippines (the “People Power” movement), in Poland, in the former Soviet Union, and in the US with the Civil Rights movement HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

44 44 Intersecting Forces When attempting to incorporate culture into your analysis, it’s critical to remember that cultural forces can never never be understood without examining them within specific contexts Thus, it is more appropriate to see culture as intersecting with political, social, economic and other forces to produce specific outcomes in specific places and time periods Culture is one of many intersecting forces in the social world. It never acts alone or in isolation HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

45 45 Intersecting Forces Cultural forces Economic forces Institutional factors “Outcome” “ O u t c o m e ” Transnational factors HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

46 46 The Cultural Approach: Summing Up Culture is complex It is malleable Its effects are sometimes obvious, but frequently subtle and even hidden and contradictory Culture has power, but it is not always or necessarily a causal power; the power of culture, moreover, does not always flow in the same direction Culture does not act alone to produce outcomes HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

47 47 Culture: Some Criticisms Many social scientists dismiss culture because its causal power is difficult, even impossible, to evaluate Some argue that culture is simply a reflection of more basic forces Some argue that culture, at most, marginally affects the “framework of action” and is, therefore, only indirectly important Some argue that culture is simply irrelevant because it cannot be quantified or measured--in part because culture is inherently subjective; put another way, many social scientists dislike culture because it cannot be operationalized HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E Example: Structuralists Example: Rationalists Example: Empiricists

48 48 Culture as an Independent Variable The debate about culture’s causal powers cannot be resolved easily; however, one way to think about culture is to see it as both cause and effect In this view, culture is understood as a product of underlying social, economic or political forces, but once established, certain cultural practices and beliefs tend to perpetuate themselves from generation to generation Culture, in short, becomes “independent” over time: it takes on a “life of its own” and begins to operate as an autonomous or semi-autonomous force The expression, “The tail wagging the dog” means an item of minor importance (i.e. the “tail”) dominating a situation (i.e., the “dog). Modifying this expression, we might say that a when a variable turns from effect to cause, the “tail” becomes the “dog.” HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

49 49 Culture as an Independent Variable An example … In the Terminator, a computer network based on artificial intelligence is produced by scientists (i.e., it is the product of outside forces) HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

50 50 Culture as an Independent Variable Once created, however, it becomes sentient: it not only “thinks,” but acts to defend itself: It takes on a life of its own Although the analogy is not perfect, this is a useful way of understanding how a culture, once created by “outside forces,” can also take on a life of its own HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

51 51 Culture as an Independent Variable Key Points Once culture “takes on a life of its own,” it can be analyzed as an independent variable Remember, though, that culture is not static, nor is it tangible Thus, as an independent variable, it must be treated with extreme care HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E

52 52 The Cultural Approach: Conclusion Using culture in an analysis is not easy; indeed, it can be quite confusing The key is to avoid treating culture as an unambiguous set of unchanging values, norms and beliefs that define and unproblematically shape, and even determine, the social, political, and economic fates of individuals, societies and countries Instead recognize that culture is contested, profoundly political, and inherently fluid HYOR T The Three Research Traditions : Culture E


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