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Regular version of the site

HSE Hosts Workshop on Varieties of Democracy

On April 5 and 6, Professor Staffan Lindberg from the Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg (Sweden) was invited to speak at HSE as part of a workshop on the Varieties of Democracy. The workshop was hosted by HSE’s School of Political Science and the Modernization Mobilization in Eurasia (MME) Project. The MME team carries out data-oriented studies of political participation and institutional transformation in China, Russia, Germany, Iran, Turkey and Japan.

The conceptualization and measurement of democracy is therefore of great relevance to the MME research. ‘V-Dem’, amammoth project based out of the University of Gothenburg and headed by Professor Lindberg, achieves exactly this. Professor Lindberg explained the motivations for this world-wide research project and what it brings to the field of political science.

Motivations behind V-Dem

‘What inspired the research from the beginning was that the existing local measures of democracy, including Freedom House, the Polity IV database and the Dictatorship-Democracy data, were clearly inefficient in measuring democracy,’ said the professor.

Such databases use very narrow conceptions of democracy. For example, Polity IV treats the United States as a perfect democracy from 1815 onwards. Furthermore, both Polity IV and Freedom House are funded and run by the USA, namely by the CIA and the US State Department respectively.

‘We wanted measures of democracy of different varieties that were nuanced and much more demanding than the existing ones’, continued Professor Lindberg, ‘so that we could start to answer research questions around why countries become democracies, as well as the facts of democracy – is it good for economic development and does it promote peace.’

In addition to fulfilling the academic purpose of answering the research questions that existing literature has as yet not been able to answer, the V-Dem project also had the aim of being useful to practitioners. Professor Lindberg explained, ‘We wanted to contribute to the international democracy support community, from the UN electoral support unit to individual donors and actors such as World Bank who try to support democracy.’

Thanks to the V-Dem project, these actors now have much more precise measures to work with.

Project on a Global Scale

The V-Dem project is one of the largest-ever social science data collection efforts. Located at the University of Gothenburg is the headquarters, where, under the direction of Professor Lindberg, numerous staff manage the data processing. The core group of 50 scholars which meets at least once a year and this group coordinates the research efforts in each of the 176 participating countries. In total, worldwide, over 3000 scholars and experts are working on the project.

The data is available publicly on the V-Dem website and can be downloaded in various versions. ‘For students, professors and journalists who are unfamiliar with statistical software programs, we provide a set of online tools that generate graphs displaying the variables that are interesting to you’, said the professor.

This ‘public good’, as he puts it, is clearlywell-deserving of the Lijphart/Przeworski/Verba Data Set Award which it received in 2016. The award recognizes a publicly available data set that has made an important contribution to the field of comparative politics.

‘Of course, it’s important to have in-depth country knowledge in order to do qualitative studies and comparative studies between individual countries. However,’ Professor Lindberg continued,‘it’s also necessary to carry out quantitative studies which are global and longitudinal, in order to find out what generalizations can be made. And that’s where data sets like our V-Dem data set come in.’

Future Collaboration with HSE

The professor’s positive experience at the V-Dem workshop might just be the beginning of long-term collaboration with HSE. ‘I am inspired the students that I have encountered here. They are extremely involved, open, and keen to study democracy using quantitative data,’ he says. ‘There are also some excellent scholars in political science at HSE and many people at the University of Gothenburg would be interested in collaborating with them.’

Not only does this bode well for future collaboration between the HSE and the V-Dem project, it also opens up opportunities for projects with the Quality of Government Institute at the University of Gothenburg and scholars in fields such as party politics.

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