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Political Contingency

Political Contingency: Studying the Unexpected, the Accidental, and the Unforeseen

Ian Shapiro
Sonu Bedi
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Political Contingency
    Book Description:

    History is replete with instances of what might, or might not, have been. By calling something contingent, at a minimum we are saying that it did not have to be as it is. Things could have been otherwise, and they would have been otherwise if something had happened differently. This collection of original essays examines the significance of contingency in the study of politics. That is, how to study unexpected, accidental, or unknowable political phenomena in a systematic fashion. Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated. Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait. Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. How might history be different had these events not happened? How should social scientists interpret the significance of these events and can such unexpected outcomes be accounted for in a systematic way or by theoretical models? Can these unpredictable events be predicted for? Political Contingency addresses these and other related questions, providing theoretical and historical perspectives on the topic, empirical case studies, and the methodological challenges that the fact of contingency poses for the study of politics.Contributors: Sonu Bedi, Traci Burch, Jennifer L. Hochschild, Gregory A. Huber, Courtney Jung, David R. Mayhew, Philip Pettit, Andreas Schedler, Mark R. Shulman, Robert G. Shulman, Ian Shapiro, Susan Stokes, Elisabeth Jean Wood, and David Wootton

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0882-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction: Contingency’s Challenge to Political Science
    (pp. 1-18)
    Ian Shapiro and Sonu Bedi

    At its starkest, contingency challenges the very possibility of science. By calling something contingent, at a minimum we are saying that it did not have to be as it is. Things could have been otherwise, and they would have been otherwise if something had happened differently. Science is usually seen as geared to uncovering laws that account for whatmustbe the case. If the universe is law-governed, how can there be genuinely contingent events? Perhaps they seem contingent to us, but for the committed scientist this perception must mark our incomplete understanding. Either things are necessary and science is...

  4. PART I Roots of Contingency

    • Chapter 1 From Fortune to Feedback: Contingency and the Birth of Modern Political Science
      (pp. 21-53)
      David Wootton

      This chapter is about a curiously elusive subject: the idea of contingency in early modern thought. It is not that the subject does not exist, for the concept of contingency was clearly understood. But early modern thinkers, with a few striking exceptions, found it almost impossible to focus on contingency: for most authors it was at best something glimpsed at the periphery of their vision, a liminal concept that represented the point where knowledge inevitably shaded into ignorance. In 1623 Sir Edward Digby wrote, “The eyes of human knowledge cannot see beyond its [human knowledge’s] horizon; it cannot ascertain future...

    • Chapter 2 Mapping Contingency
      (pp. 54-78)
      Andreas Schedler

      Political science, striving to uncover theregularitiesof political life, has paid scarce attention to itscontingencies.As any discussion of contingency is contingent on the conception of contingency it embraces, we have to understand first of all the conceptual morphology of contingency, before we can proceed to examine the causal role it plays in politics. We have to understand what contingency is, what the notion is good for in the language and practice of politics. The present chapter takes up this task of clarifying the conceptual structure of contingency. After briefly discussing some scholarly intuitions, ordinary uses, and lexical...

    • Chapter 3 Resilience as the Explanandum of Social Theory
      (pp. 79-96)
      Philip Pettit

      The notion of the resilience is of the first importance, I believe, for an understanding of some of the major styles of social explanation. This is because the resilience of various social phenomena is the best candidate for theexplanandumof much social science. Here, drawing on earlier work that I have done in the area, I attempt to underline that message. The chapter is in three sections. In the opening discussion I introduce the notion of resilience, relating it to the more general notion of contingency. In the second section I argue for the importance of resilience as an...

  5. PART II Contingency’s Challenge

    • Chapter 4 Events as Causes: The Case of American Politics
      (pp. 99-137)
      David R. Mayhew

      In explaining American politics, political scientists tend to follow a path that is normal for social scientists:¹ We reach for causes that are seen to be basic, underlying, or long-term rather than ones that are proximate, contingent, or short-term. Institutions, social forces, and enduring incentives tend to win attention as factors. Thus a good deal of scholarship assigns causal status to such phenomena as economic self-interest,² the interests of social classes,³ party identification,⁴ electoral realignment coalitions,⁵ the American liberal tradition,⁶ long-lasting party ideologies,⁷ social capital,⁸ political decisions that are said to attain a kind of constitutional standing,⁹ congressional folkways,¹⁰...

    • Chapter 5 Contingent Public Policies and Racial Hierarchy: Lessons from Immigration and Census Policies
      (pp. 138-170)
      Jennifer Hochschild and Traci Burch

      Individually or in combination, two federal policies have the potential to transform the American racial and ethnic hierarchy more than any other policy changes since the civil rights movement.¹ They are the Immigration Act of 1965 and the introduction of the “mark one or more” instruction in the race question on the 2000 census. Unlike the civil rights activities of the 1940s through 1960s, the first change was not intended to overturn the racial order and the second was a response to a process of transformation already underway. Both were, and remain, highly dependent on the isolated choices of many...

    • Chapter 6 Region, Contingency, and Democratization
      (pp. 171-202)
      Susan Stokes

      Recently,¹ Robert Dahl noted that the challenges facing the world’s roughly 200 countries vary, from thetransitionto democracy in non-democracies, to thestrengtheningorconsolidationof democracy in newly democratized countries, to thedeepeningof democracy in older democracies.² As we grapple toward an understanding of transitions to democracy and of its consolidation and deepening, we frequently try to discover general laws of cause and effect, ones that operate in the same way over time and space. With a few exceptions, we have ignored the role of contingency in encouraging or impeding democratization. Yet mounting evidence points toward spatial...

  6. PART III What Is to Be Done?

    • Chapter 7 Contingency, Politics, and the Nature of Inquiry: Why Non-Events Matter
      (pp. 205-221)
      Gregory A. Huber

      Contingent events are probabilistic.¹ They manifest or do not manifest because of some uncertainty about the future that is unknown or unknowable to human participants. A simple toss of a coin, for example, will produce an observed outcome of “tails” about half of the time. The contingent outcome “tails” following a coin toss is, prior to the toss, a contingency. How should political science incorporate the fact that important political interactions are embedded in situations where outcomes are unknown prior to their occurrence?

      The problem political scientists face in confronting contingency is particularly difficult for two reasons. First, rarely are...

    • Chapter 8 Modeling Contingency
      (pp. 222-245)
      Elisabeth Jean Wood

      Political assassinations are the quintessential examples of contingent events, events that could well have not occurred yet may have significant causal effects.¹ The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of World War I is the canonical example. Similarly, many think the Oslo peace process would have gone forward toward a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians had Yitzhak Rabin not been assassinated. Wilhelm De Klerk, who as president of South Africa released Nelson Mandela and oversaw the negotiations that culminated in a transition to democracy, believes that had he been assassinated before the referendum of white voters...

    • Chapter 9 When Democracy Complicates Peace: How Democratic Contingencies Affect Negotiated Settlements
      (pp. 246-265)
      Courtney Jung

      In the 1970s, the political conflicts in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East were widely viewed as among the world’s most intractable.¹ Based on profound racial, ethnic, or religious animosities, they were reinforced by cultural and economic differences and solidified by decades of more-or-less violent confrontation. They were often held out as paradigms of “divided” societies, and there seemed little chance of a transition to democratic arrangements in any of them. Whether one focused on the players contending for power, the histories of the conflicts, or the capacities of outsiders to influence events, the prospects for negotiated settlements...

    • Chapter 10 Contingency in Biophysical Research
      (pp. 266-278)
      Robert G. Shulman and Mark R. Shulman

      The 2002 meeting in this series asked whether social scientists should select questions that their most reliable methods can answer or should they address the most important questions, sacrificing reliability. Should they focus on methods or problems? The disrupting consequences of contingency that undermine the ability to find causal relations are common to both directions. Often social scientists look up to “hard” science as a methodology that has satisfactorily handled the uncertainties raised by contingency. The extent to which such science has successfully replaced uncertainty and contingency with reliable relations or laws is best illustrated by physics and its applications....

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 279-282)
  8. Index
    (pp. 283-296)