Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 June 2011
The recent trend toward democratization in countries across the globe has challenged scholars to pursue two potentially contradictory goals. On the one hand, they seek to increase analytic differentiation in order to capture the diverse forms of democracy that have emerged. On the other hand, they are concerned with conceptual validity. Specifically, they seek to avoid the problem of conceptual stretching that arises when the concept of democracy is applied to cases for which, by relevant scholarly standards, it is not appropriate. This article argues that the pursuit of these two goals has led to a proliferation of conceptual innovations, including numerous subtypes of democracy—that is to say, democracy “with adjectives.” The article explores the strengths and weaknesses of alternative strategies of conceptual innovation that have emerged: descending and climbing Sartori's ladder of generality, generating “diminished” subtypes of democracy, “precising” the definition of democracy by adding defining attributes, and shifting the overarching concept with which democracy is associated. The goal of the analysis is to make more comprehensible the complex structure of these strategies, as well as to explore trade-offs among the strategies. Even when scholars proceed intuitively, rather than self-consciously, they tend to operate within this structure. Yet it is far more desirable for them to do so selfconsciously, with a full awareness of these trade-offs.
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2 A parallel expression, “democracy without adjectives,” appeared in debates in Latin America among observers concerned with the persistence of incomplete and qualified forms of democracy. See, for instance, Krauze, Enrique, Por una democracia sin adjetivos (Mexico City: Joaquin Mortiz/Planeta, 1986)Google Scholar.
4 Along with the qualitative categories that are the focus of this discussion, valuable quantitative indicators have been developed for comparing recent cases of democratization. Ultimately, it will be productive to bring together insights about the strategies of conceptual innovation employed in these alternative approaches. However, an essential prior step, which is our present concern, is to learn more about the conceptual innovations introduced by scholars who employ qualitative categories.
5 We are thus not primarily concerned with the literature on advanced industrial democracies, although this literature is an important point of reference in the studies we are examining. In a few places, we have included recent studies of countries that are not actually part of the current episode of democratization, but whose relatively new democracies are a point of comparison in the studies under review, for example, Colombia. We also include a few references to other historical cases that have been used in recent scholarship as important points of analytic contrast.
6 Sartori (fn. 1), 1039.
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15 Sartori (fn. 1), 1040, actually refers to a ladder of “abstraction.” However, because the term abstract is often understood in contrast to concrete, this label can be confusing. We therefore find that “ladder of generality” expresses the intended meaning more clearly.
16 Sartori (fn. 1), 1041.
17 We refer to these as classical subtypes because they fit within the “classical” understanding of categorization discussed by such authors as Lakoff (fn. 10), 9 and passim; and Taylor (fn. 10), chap. 2.
18 In referring to the root definition, we do not imply that it is the “correct” definition of the relevant concept (in this case, of democracy). It is simply the definition that, for a particular author, is the point of departure in forming the subtype. We will occasionally use the expression “root concept” to refer to the concept (again, in the present context, democracy) that is the point of departure for the various conceptual innovations analyzed here.
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22 The idea of diminished subtypes builds on the discussion of radial concepts in Collier and Mahon (fn. 1), 850–52. See also Lakoff(fn. 10), chap. 6.
23 Because they are less than complete instances, it might be objected that they are not really “subtypes” of democracy at all. Drawing on a term from cognitive linguistics, one can refer to them as conceptual “blends” that are derived in part from the concept of democracy. However, to avoid referring repeatedly to “subtypes and blends,” it seems simpler in the discussion below to call them subtypes. See Fauconnier, Gilles and Turner, Mark, “Conceptual Projection and Middle Spaces,” Report no. 9401, Department of Cognitive Science (San Diego: University of California, San Diego, 1994)Google Scholar.
24 This subtype is understood to have the meaning explained above in the discussion of Figure 1.
25 Regarding illiberal democracy, see Figure 3. Two further points about diminished subtypes should be underscored. First, if scholars fail to identify the root definition of democracy in relation to which they form subtypes, it is difficult to determine whether a given subtype is classical or diminished. Second, the fact that a subtype refers to what might be understood as a “problematic” feature of democracy does not necessarily mean that it is a diminished subtype. For example, O'Donnell's concept of “delegative democracy,” which refers to cases with weak horizontal accountability among the branches of government, in fact meets his minimum definition of democracy, given that he does not include horizontal accountability in the definition. See O'Donnell (fn. 8), 56. Hence, in his usage, delegative democracy is a classical subtype. For a discussion of subtypes that refer to “problematic” democracies, see a longer version of the present analysis in Collier, David and Levitsky, Steven, “Democracy ‘with Adjectives’: Conceptual Innovation in Comparative Research,” Working Paper no. 230 (Notre Dame, Ind.: The Kellogg Institute, University of Notre Dame, 1996), 20–26Google Scholar. The above characterization of delegative democracy as a classical subtype should be understood as correcting the assessment of this subtype presented in Collier (fn. 10), 147–48.
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34 On the problem of unsettling the semantic field, see Sartori (fn. 28), 51–54.
35 Jennifer Whiting, personal communication, suggested this term.
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38 See again references in note 10.
39 For a reminder of how important vivid labels can be, one need only look at the impressive evolution of game theory, with its codification of different patterns of political interaction designated by such labels as “prisoners’ dilemma,” “chicken,” “stag hunt,” “slippery slope,” and “battle of the sexes.”
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