IR Coffee Readings Archive

(February 3, 2017)
Samii-2016.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Samii, Cyrus. (2016) "Causal Empiricism in Quantitative Research." JOP 78(3):941-955.

Abstract: Quantitative analysis of causal effects in political science has trended toward the adoption of "causal empiricist" approaches. Such approaches place heavy emphasis on causal identification through experimental and natural experimental designs and on characterizing the specific subpopulations for which effects are identified. This trend is eroding the position of traditional regression studies as the prevailing convention for quantitative causal research in political science. This essay clarifies what is at stake. I provide a causal empiricist critique of conventional regression studies, a statement of core pillars of causal empiricism, and a discussion of how causal empiricism and theory interact. I propose that the trend toward causal empiricism should be welcomed by a broad array of political scientists. The trend fits into a broader push to reimagine our discipline in terms of collective research programs with high standards for evidence and a research division of labor.

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(January 23, 2017)
Agents-without-Agency.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Côté, Adam. (2016) "Agents without agency: Assessing the role of the audience in securitization theory." Security Dialogue 47(6):541-558.

Abstract: This article assesses the role of the audience in securitization theory. The main argument is that in order to accurately capture the role of the securitization audience, it must be theorized as an active agent, capable of having a meaningful effect on the intersubjective construction of security values. Through a meta-synthesis of 32 empirical studies of securitization, this article focuses on two central questions: (1) Who is the audience? (2) How does the audience engage in the construction of security? When assessed against the theoretical works on securitization, this analysis reveals that the manner in which the audience is defined and characterized within securitization theory differs with the empirical literature that investigates securitization processes. Where the empirical literature suggests securitization is a highly intersubjective process involving active audiences, securitization theory characterizes audiences as agents without agency, thereby marginalizing the theory's intersubjective nature. This article sketches a new characterization of the securitization audience and outlines a framework for securitizing actor–audience interaction that better accounts for securitization theory's linguistic and intersubjective character, addresses this theoretical/empirical conflict, and improves our understanding of how groups select and justify security priorities and costly security policies.

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(January 16, 2017)
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Citation: Mao, Andrew, Lili Dworkin, Siddharth Suri, and Duncan J. Watts. (2017) "Resilient cooperators stabilize long-run cooperation in the finitely repeated Prisoner's Dilemma." Nature Communications 8, article 13800, doi: 10.1038/ncomms13800.

Abstract: Learning in finitely repeated games of cooperation remains poorly understood in part because their dynamics play out over a timescale exceeding that of traditional lab experiments. Here, we report results of a virtual lab experiment in which 94 subjects play up to 400 ten-round games of Prisoner's Dilemma over the course of twenty consecutive weekdays. Consistent with previous work, the typical round of first defection moves earlier for several days; however, this unravelling process stabilizes after roughly one week. Analysing individual strategies, we find that approximately 40% of players behave as resilient cooperators who avoid unravelling even at significant cost to themselves. Finally, using a standard learning model we predict that a sufficiently large minority of resilient cooperators can permanently stabilize unravelling among a majority of rational players. These results shed hopeful light on the long-term dynamics of cooperation, and demonstrate the importance of long-run experiments.

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(January 12, 2017)
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Citation: Watts, Duncan. (2017) "Should social science be more solution-oriented?" Nature Human Behaviour 1, article 0015, doi:10.1038/s41562-016-0015.

Abstract: Over the past 100 years, social science has generated a tremendous number of theories on the topics of individual and collective human behaviour. However, it has been much less successful at reconciling the innumerable inconsistencies and contradictions among these competing explanations, a situation that has not been resolved by recent advances in 'computational social science.' In this Perspective, I argue that this 'incoherency problem' has been perpetuated by an historical emphasis in social science on the advancement of theories over the solution of practical problems. I argue that one way for social science to make progress is to adopt a more solution-oriented approach, starting first with a practical problem and then asking what theories (and methods) must be brought to bear to solve it. Finally, I conclude with a few suggestions regarding the sort of problems on which progress might be made and how we might organize ourselves to solve them.

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(January 10, 2017)
Fukuyama_2016.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Fukuyama, Francis. (2016) "Governance: What Do We Know, and How Do We Know It?" Annual Review of Political Science 19: 89-105.

Abstract: The term governance does not have a settled definition today, and it has at least three main meanings. The first is international cooperation through nonsovereign bodies outside the state system. This concept grew out of the literature on globalization and argued that territorial sovereignty was giving way to more informal types of horizontal cooperation, as well as to supranational bodies such as the European Union. The second meaning treated governance as a synonym for public administration, that is, effective implementation of state policy. Interest in this topic was driven by awareness that global poverty was rooted in corruption and weak state capacity. The third meaning of governance was the regulation of social behavior through networks and other nonhierarchical mechanisms. The first and third of these strands of thought downplay traditional state authority and favor new transnational or civil society actors. These trends, however, raise troubling questions about transparency and accountability in the workings of modern government.

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(December 3, 2016)
Larson_Lewis_AJPS.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Larson, Jennifer M., and Janet I. Lewis. "Ethnic Networks." Forthcoming, American Journal of Political Science.

Abstract: Active research on a wide range of political contexts centers on ethnicity's role in collective action. Many theories posit that information flows more easily in ethnically homogeneous areas, facilitating collective action, because social networks among coethnics are denser. Although this characterization is ubiquitous, little empirical work assesses it. Through a novel field experiment in a matched pair of villages in rural Uganda, this article directly examines word-of-mouth information spread and its relationship to ethnic diversity and networks. As expected, information spread more widely in the homogeneous village. However, unexpectedly, the more diverse village's network is significantly denser. Using unusually detailed network data, we offer an explanation for why network density may hamper information dissemination in heterogeneous areas, showing why even slight hesitation to share information with people from other groups can have large aggregate effects.
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(November 29, 2016)
Yarhi-Milo-et-al-2016.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Yarhi-Milo, Keren, Alexander Lanoszka, and Zack Cooper. (2016) "To Arm or To Ally? The Patron's Dilemma and the Strategic Logic of Arms Transfers and Alliances." International Security 41(2):90-139.

Abstract: In this article, we offer a unified strategic logic that explains how patrons calibrate the provision of arms and alliances. We argue that patrons make such decisions primarily on the basis of two factors: first, the extent to which the patron believes that it and its client have common security interests; and second, whether the patron believes that its client has military capabilities sufficient to deter its main adversary and prevail should deterrence fail. These two variables interact to shape the bundle of security commitments—arms and alliances—that the patron offers to its client. Our analysis reveals when patrons use these security goods as substitutes and complements. We shed light on how patrons manage the alliance dilemma by using arms transfers to affect the behavior of their clients. We show that arms and alliances can help to reassure clients and mitigate their fears of abandonment by complementing existing alliances while minimizing entrapment risks. Simply put, the patron's dilemma revolves around how best to use arms transfers to address the alliance dilemma.
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(November 4, 2016)
Reus-Smit-2016.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Reus-Smit, Christian. (2016) "Theory, history, and great transformations." International Theory 8(3):422-435.

Abstract: In International Relations arguments about historical origins provoke theoretical debates, as origins assume an emergent theoretical unit of inquiry – an international order, system, society, etc. – while at the same time defining its core properties and dynamics. By boldly casting the long 19th century as the origin of global modernity and, in turn, the modern international order, Buzan and Lawson’s The Global Transformation challenges the romance with Westphalia that undergirds so much of our theorizing. Yet, the contributions to this symposium push deeper than usual, challenging established ways of conceiving change, and suggesting very different models of proper theorizing. While all of the papers ostensibly debate large-scale systems change, three modes of change are in contention: breakpoint, evolutionary, and processual. The further one pushes towards the latter, however, the more elusive the idea of ‘system’ becomes, eroding the fundamental boundary condition that undergirds the systemic mode of theorizing that dominates the field. Similarly, a persistent theme in these contributions is Buzan and Lawson’s purported failure to theorize change. But instead of offering rival theories, contributors advance very different conceptions of theorizing, from pre-observational conceptualization to causal explanation. This not only challenges the field to reflect more systematically on the process of theorizing, but to acknowledge forms of theorizing that it currently brackets.
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(October 31, 2016)
1502.full_.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Wang, Wei, Ryan Kennedy, David Lazer, and Naren Ramakrishnan. (2016) "Growing pains for global monitoring of societal events." Science 353: 1502-1503.

Abstract: There have been serious efforts over the past 40 years to use newspaper articles to create global-scale databases of events occurring in every corner of the world, to help understand and shape responses to global problems. Although most have been limited by the technology of the time, two recent groundbreaking projects to provide global, real-time "event data" that take advantage of automated coding from news media have gained widespread recognition: International Crisis Early Warning System (ICEWS), maintained by Lockheed Martin, and Global Data on Events Language and Tone (GDELT), developed and maintained by Kalev Leetaru at Georgetown University. The scale of these programs is unprecedented, and their promise has been reflected in the attention they have received from scholars, media, and governments. However, they suffer from major issues with respect to reliability and validity. Opportunities exist to use new methods and to develop an infrastructure that will yield robust and reliable "big data" to study global events—from conflict to ecological change.
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(October 21, 2016)
Kertzer-2016.pdf download View | Download
Citation: Kertzer, Joshua. (2016) "Microfoundations in international relations." Forthcoming, Conflict Management and Peace Science.

Abstract: Many of our theories of international politics rely on microfoundations. In this short note, I suggest that although there has been increasing interest in microfoundations in international relations (IR) over the past 20 years, the frequency with which the concept is invoked belies a surprising lack of specificity about what microfoundations are, or explicit arguments about why we should study them. I then offer an argument about the value of micro-level approaches to the study of conflict. My claim is not that all theories of IR need to be developed or tested at the micro-level in order to be satisfying, but rather, that many of our theories in IR already rest on lower-level mechanisms—they either leave these assumptions unarticulated or fail to test them directly. In these circumstances, theorizing and testing micro-level dynamics will be especially helpful. I illustrate my argument using the case of resolve, one of the central explanatory variables in the study of international security. I argue that the absence of microfoundations for resolve is one reason why IR scholars have had difficulties testing whether resolve has the effects we often claim, and sketch out a two-stage research design political scientists can use to study unobservable phenomena.
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