Theories of Democratic Change II (2017)

Phase 2: Paths Away from Authoritarianism

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Principal Investigators:

Despite the global spread of democracy following the end of the Cold War, dictatorships still rule about one-third of the world’s countries. The persistence of authoritarian governments poses a challenge for the international community on a variety of fronts: dictatorships are more likely to repress their citizens, instigate wars, and perpetrate mass killing, among others. This challenge is even more pressing given the gradual decline in the number of democracies worldwide over the last decade. Practitioners confront critical questions about which strategies are likely to pave the way for democratization versus which are likely to stifle it.

Through a research grant funded by USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance (the DRG Center), under the Institute of International Education’s (IIE’s) Democracy Fellows and Grants Program, a research team from Michigan State University worked with the DRG Center to organize and evaluate the body of current academic scholarship that can contribute to understanding how and why countries move on paths from authoritarianism to democracy. The publication was informed and vetted in two peer review workshops by a group of democratization scholars from American University, Brown University, Columbia University, George Washington University, Harvard University, Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University, and the University of Chicago.

The publication begins by providing an overview of the concept of democratization and the difficulties of identifying and defining it. The theories related to democratization are offered in a simple theory matrix, allowing practitioners to quickly and easily:

  • Survey the body of academic work dedicated to democratization through a succinct presentation of 34 theories organized within seven thematic theory families;
  • Interpret the cause-and-effect relationships that academic research identifies through the presentation of brief hypotheses;
  • Understand how scholars evaluate the strength and reliability of each hypothesis through a brief summary of the research team’s assessment of causal arguments and evidence; and
  • Explore how each theory can support the assessment and design of development programs, through basic questions that offer guidance for how to determine the relevance of that theory’s specific cause-and-effect pathway to a particular context.

Organizing the theories into seven thematic families enables a close comparison of related theories on democratization and clear distinctions to be drawn among them. The researchers note, however, where ideas overlap across these theory families.

USAID Democracy Fellows and Grants Program

Democracy Fellows and Grants Program