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Coppedge presents lecture

Katherine Gales | Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Michael Coppedge, associate professor of political science, presented a lecture Tuesday entitled “What do we know about democratization and how well do we know it?”

The lecture, presented at the Hesburgh Center, highlighted Coppedge’s research in the field of conditions promoting stable democracy using case studies and quantitative analysis.

Coppedge said the main points of understanding democratization are a theory’s “thickness, generality, and integration … it’s difficult to have a theory that hits all three.”

When analyzing democratization, Coppedge said, “[We must] keep limitations in mind so we don’t exaggerate the understanding of democracy we have right now.”

The presentation included a handout for the audience, detailing different studies regarding democracies and variables such as wealth and region.

Coppedge criticized and analyzed methods frequently used to develop theories of democratization.

“Frameworks are better than checklists because they are more selective,” Coppedge said. “They put things together to form a more general theory.”

More general theories can be applied in more circumstances, giving them more credibility, he said. However, “they are not reliable guidance about what [factors] matter, how much or in what combination they matter.”

Comparative histories offer “a wealth of historical knowledge … and use structuralism as a lens for myopia. They give more weight to structural conditions,” Coppedge said. However, “it is a skeletal metatheory … most works cover different portions of a set of transitions.”

Coppedge emphasized the importance of good data collection and testing. His statistical approach to theory building gives added credibility to the work in his field. He closed with an explanation of the newest theory of democratization, the Rational Choice Theory.

Coppedge earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1988 and specializes in democratization, quality of democracy, Latin American parties and party systems and Venezuelan politics.