Mike Rossi


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Courses » Theories of Democratic Transition

Content: Theories of Democratic Transition

Table of Contents


This tutorial seeks to provide undergraduate students with advanced theoretical, historical, and comparative studies of social and political transitions from authoritarian rule. While the majority of case studies will focus on formerly communist regimes of Eastern Europe, it will also consider more general theories of post-authoritarian transition in Western Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

Included in this systemic study on post-authoritarian transitions are a number of sub-themes:

  1. Empirical theories and popular understandings of “democracy” as both a unit of collective action for group rights and privileges and a frame of mind for individual liberties and securities.
  2. Institutional and cultural conditions of states and societies on the eve of transition, the “legacies” of the authoritarian period, and the “paths” available for each state’s development towards socio-political pluralism.
  3. The role of social and political elites in shaping, or at the very least influencing, the nature of a new political order that leads to either full democratic consolidation or remains in some proverbial “halfway house” between full democracy and full authoritarianism.
  4. Post-transition issues including policies of reconciliation between previously contentious social, political, and cultural communities, ongoing narratives of nationalism and ethnocentrism, and strategies for crafting new narratives of multiethnic citizenship.

This course also serves to break down a number of assumptions and misconceptions of democracy as being coterminous with liberalism. A number of examined cases will show that democracy as a political mechanism can operate, quite successfully, alongside limited civil liberties and co-fraternal citizenship. A final objective of this course is to examine a particular quality of “liberal democracy” as the most mature and developed form of democratic politics.

Target Group

This is an upper-level tutorial class that provides the same types of research as a formal senior seminar. As such, it is designed for juniors and first semester seniors who are interested in studying different aspects of regime change and the transitional processes from authoritarian government to some type of political pluralism. While there are no formal prerequisites to the course, it draws heavily from elements of previous courses such as Intro to Comparative Politics, Introduction to International Relations, European Politics, and Politics and Culture. Students who have taken any of these classes prior will find at least some of the material familiar, though it is covered in greater depth. Additionally, students who took classes on the politics and society of Latin America or the Middle East would also find compatible material here.

Course Structure

This is a research intensive course that requires the student to engage in a semester-long research project of a one or two case country study based on one or more of the theoretical approaches of democratic transition covered in class. While the paper effectively counts as their "final exam", they must begin their research early and provide an annotated bibliography and at least one rough draft of their paper for review. Both are graded to ensure the student is working on this project longer than the last two weeks of the semester.

Alongside the semi-independent research project, students must write at least two short papers based on the weekly or bi-weekly section topics. This not only ensures students are keeping up with the assigned readings, but that they understand the topics covered and are already developing frames of argument for their papers. It also provides one component of class participation, which is a steep 20% of one's grade. These small papers are graded on a 5 point scale. Students need to accumulate a total of 10 points to fulfill the short paper requirement and can write as many papers as necessary to reach the maximum. Most students accomplish this in three papers.

Work Material

The readings are numerous per section, but are selected for what I feel are their clarity ability to convey its points to undergraduates. There is no primary text that the class is based on, as might be the case in other courses. Rather, I have chosen to cover a series of approaches and studies in defining the different degrees of democracy, issues of political economy, cultural and institutional legacies, elite bargaining, post-conflict reconciliation, nationalism, identity, electoral populism, and citizenship.

Like other upper level classes, I have also included a list of recommended readings for each section that students can use as extra material for their research papers and future studies.

Author Bibliographic Data
Brubaker, Rogers 
Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town. Princeton University Press, 2006
-- Ethnicity without Groups. Harvard University Press, 2004b [Bru04]
Collin, Matthew Guerrilla Radio: Rock ‘n’ Roll and Serbia’s Underground Resistance. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2001 [Col01]
Dahl, Robert On Democracy. Yale University Press, 1998 [Dah98]
Diamond, Larry “Can the Whole World Become Democratic? Democracy, Development, and International Politics”, Paper presented at the Center for the Study of Democracy: University of California, Irvine (April 10, 2003)
Edles, Laura Desfor “Rethinking Democratic Transition: A Culturalist Critique and the Spanish Case”, Theory and Society, vol. 24, no. 3 (June 1995), pp. 355 – 384 [Edl95]
Encarnación, Omar G. “Reconciliation after Democratization: Coping with the Past in Spain”, Political Science Quarterly, vol. 123, no. 3 (2008), pp. 435 – 459 [Enc08]
Gagnon, V.P. The Myth of Ethnic War: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s. Cornell University Press, 2004 [Gag04]
Havel, Václav Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Hvíž?ala. New York: Vintage Books, 1990 [Hav90]
Kitschelt, Herbert, Zdenka Mansfeldova, Radoslaw Markowski, and Gábor Tóka, Post-Communist Party Systems: Competition, Representation, and Inter-Party Cooperation. Cambridge University Press, 1999 [Kit99]
Kubik, Jan “Cultural Legacies of State Socialism: History Making and Cultural-Political Entrepreneurship in Postcommunist Poland and Russia”, in Capitalism and Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe: Assessing the Legacy of Communist Rule, Grzegorz Ekiert and Stephen E. Hanson eds. Cambridge University Press, 2003: 317 – 351 [Kub03]
Kubik, Jan and Amy Linch “The Original Sin of Poland’s Third Republic: Discounting ‘Solidarity’ and its Consequences for Political Reconciliation”, Polish Sociological Review, vol. 153, no. 1 (2006), pp. 9 – 38 [KuLi06]
Levitsky, Steven and Lucan A. Way “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism”, Journal of Democracy vol. 13, no. 2 (April 2002), pp. 51 – 65 [LeWa02]
Linz, Juan J. and Alfred Stepan Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996 [LiSt96]
Ottaway, Marina Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism. Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2003 [Ott03]
Petro, Nicolai Crafting Democracy: How Novgorod has Coped with Rapid Social Change. Cornell University Press, 2004 [Pet04]
Przeworski, Adam, Michael E. Alvarez, Jose Antonio Cheibub and Fernando Limongi Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950 – 1990. Cambridge University Press, 2000 [Prz00]
Ratesh, Nestor Romania: The Entangled Revolution. Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1991 [Rat91]
Ross, Marc Howard Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict. Cambridge University Press, 2007 [Ros07]
Rustow, Dankwart A. “Transitions to Democracy: Towards a Dynamic Model”, Comparative Politics vol. 2, no. 3 (April, 1970), pp. 337 – 363 [Rus70]
Seleny, Anna “Old Political Rationalities and New Democracies: Compromise and Confrontation in Hungary and Poland”, World Politics, vol. 51 (July 1999), pp. 484 – 519 [Sel99]
Suny, Ronald Grigor “Constructing Primordialism: Old Histories for New Nations”, The Journal of Modern History, vol. 73, no. 4 (December 2001), pp. 862 – 896 [Sun01]
Tismaneanu, Vladimir Fantasies of Salvation: Democracy, Nationalism, and Myth in Post-Communist Europe. Princeton University Press, 1998 [Tis98]
de Tocqueville, Alexis Democracy in America. Penguin Books, 2003 [Toc03]
Varshney, Ashutosh “Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society: India and Beyond”, World Politics, vol. 53 (April 2001), pp. 362 – 98 [Var01]


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