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In recent years, a variety of efforts have been made in political science to enable, encourage, or require scholars to be more open and explicit about the bases of their empirical claims and, in turn, make those claims more readily evaluable by others. While qualitative scholars have long taken an interest in making their research open, reflexive, and systematic, the recent push for overarching transparency norms and requirements has provoked serious concern within qualitative research communities and raised fundamental questions about the meaning, value, costs, and intellectual relevance of transparency for qualitative inquiry. In this Perspectives Reflection, we crystallize the central findings of a three-year deliberative process—the Qualitative Transparency Deliberations (QTD)—involving hundreds of political scientists in a broad discussion of these issues. Following an overview of the process and the key insights that emerged, we present summaries of the QTD Working Groups’ final reports. Drawing on a series of public, online conversations that unfolded at www.qualtd.net, the reports unpack transparency’s promise, practicalities, risks, and limitations in relation to different qualitative methodologies, forms of evidence, and research contexts. Taken as a whole, these reports—the full versions of which can be found in the Supplementary Materials—offer practical guidance to scholars designing and implementing qualitative research, and to editors, reviewers, and funders seeking to develop criteria of evaluation that are appropriate—as understood by relevant research communities—to the forms of inquiry being assessed. We dedicate this Reflection to the memory of our coauthor and QTD working group leader Kendra Koivu.1
Surprise is an intrinsic fact of political life and its elimination, especially with regard to extraordinary moments of protest and revolution, is a vain endeavor. Prediction and explanation are fundamentally different enterprises. While scholars may be well-positioned to trace, retrospectively, the motivation, networks, leadership, and other contextual factors that fueled the events of 2011 and 1989, such analysis will never bestow the sort of predictive power that will eliminate the surprise of mass uprisings. Verstehen-esque studies of mobilization, while crucially enlightening, have limited capacity to augment our powers of foresight due to the fundamental gulf between agency and intention as well as the causal disconnect between precedent and prediction.
Studies of religion and politics have begun to force their way into the mainstream of the discipline thanks to their increasing methodological sophistication and theoretical ambition in addition to the push of real-world events. In comparative politics, puzzle-driven structured comparison has yielded new insights into the rationality of religious behavior, the weight of path dependence in shaping religious values, and the play of socioeconomic factors in shaping religion's vitality. In international relations, recognition of the importance of religious identities and values in the play of international affairs has spelled an advance over realist caricatures that long discounted ideas as epiphenomenal and focused on the quest for wealth and power as the sole driver of international politics. But notable lacunae remain. The comparative subfield still needs to reckon with the noninstrumental aspect of religious behavior, the power of religion as an independent variable, and the differential appeal, persuasiveness, and political salience of religious ideas over time. The IR subfield must move beyond “paradigm wars” focused on whether religion matters in international politics in favor of more empirically grounded, structured comparison to illuminate when and why religion matters in international affairs.
Many classic works of political economy have identified capital and labor as the champions of democratization during the first wave of transition. By contrast, this article argues for the contingent nature of capital and labor's support for democracy, especially in the context of late development. The article offers a theory of democratic contingency, proposing that a few variables, namely, state dependence, aristocratic privilege, and social fear account for much of the variation found in class support for democratization both across and within cases. Conditions associated with late development make capital and labor especially prone to diffidence about democratization. But such diffidence is subject to change, especially under the impact of international economic integration, poverty-reducing social welfare policies, and economic growth that is widely shared. Case material from Korea, Indonesia, Mexico, Zambia, Brazil, Tunisia and other countries is offered as evidence.
Does the Middle East's presumed “exceptionalism” imply the disutility of “civil society” as a tool for political analysis? Although the term has gained wide usage in other areas of the world, the Middle East specialists have shown some reluctance to employ it in their own region. This reluctance stems in part from the perception that the term is ambiguous and politically loaded. Historically, “civil society” has signified everything from the peaceable society human beings enjoy under the protection of a Leviathan state (Hobbes), to the stratum of private associations that schools citizens in civic virtue (Tocqueville, Montesquieu), to the constellation of cultural institutions that guarantee the ideological hegemony of the ruling class (Gramsci). In contemporary political debate, the term has become a normative football, representing a bulwark of freedom and anti-totalitarianism to the survivors of communism's fall in Eastern Europe while signifying the spearhead of Western imperialism to those suspicious of efforts to “export democracy” to the developing world.
But reluctance to use the term in the analysis of Middle Eastern politics goes beyond the problematic nature of the term itself and derives from a vision of the Middle East as somehow inhospitable to “civil society.” The Middle East is seen as riven by primordial cleavage, dominated by rent-swollen, power-mon-gering states, unpracticed in reverence for individual freedom and civil liberties. Sociology, economics, politics, and culture conspire to sabotage the development of civil society in the region and so, the reasoning goes, the term is best renounced to check premature expectations of its realization.