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Mikael Sandberg, Professor of Political Science at our institution, has published a new study on political institutions and their historical dynamics. The study, performed in collaboration with Professor Per Lundberg at Lund University and published in the international PLOS ONE scientific journal, is described below.
Traditionally, political scientists define political institutions using pre-defined categories and criteria. This approach may prevent the discovery of existing institutions beyond such definitions. Here, we used an inductive (unprejudiced) approach for identifying combinations of political institutions in political regime data from nations in the world the last two centuries. Three dimensions (”types”) of historical institutions were revealed: core institutions of (1) democracy, (2) oligarchy, and (3) despotism.
We show that, historically and on a world scale, the dominance of the core institutions of despotism has first been replaced by a dominance of the core institutions of oligarchy, which in turn is being followed by an increasing dominance by the core institutions of democracy. Nations do not, however, take steps from despotic, to oligarchic and then to democratic institutions. Rather, nations hosting the core democracy institutions have historically succeeded in avoiding both the core institutions of despotism and those of oligarchy. On the other hand, some nations have not been influenced by any of these dimensions, while new institutional combinations are increasingly influencing others.
We show that the extracted institutional dimensions do not correspond to the traditionally defined regime types autocracy, “anocracy” and democracy, suggesting that changes in regime types occur at one level, while institutional dynamics work on another. Political regime types in that sense seem “canalized”, i.e., underlying institutional architectures can and do vary, but to a considerable extent independently of regime types and their transitions.
As a consequence, the attempt to unambiguously classify nations as ”democratic” or ”dictatorships”, say, is not always simple. Our inductive approach adds to the traditional (”deductive”) regime type studies in that it produces results in line with modern studies of cultural evolution in which institutions are the units of observation, not the nations that acts as host for them.
Results of the study are presented in the online and open-access scientific journal PLOS ONE: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0045838