Easternization and Westernization as Simulacra

In sociology, the term simulacrum is used to refer to copies without original, crudely put. Here I want to stipulate that Westernization and Easternization would probably fit this definition, too. Westernization is not simply turning to a more Western lifestyle, but actually a trend towards (or aspiration of) the image of what the West is perceived to be (this image could be described as a geographical imagination in that the perception is selective in terms of what aspects of Western culture and lifestyle are picked up, and the meaning given to these aspects). The same is also the case for trends of Easternization, like open-plan living, Japanese-style beds, or relaxation techniques. By extension, we should not be afraid of Americanization — the allegation that places become more American: its some aspects of what we (stereotypically) associate with being American, and quite different processes may be at play as to why they become more commonplace. Good luck to anyone trying to model this!

Switzerland’s Cantons as a Most-Similar Design?

From time to time I come across research that claims that Switzerland is the ideal place for many comparative studies. The argument is that the 26 cantons of Switzerland offer similar institutional settings, yet have plenty of autonomy in other regards. The intuition is that the federalism inherent in the Swiss system allows to hold constant many aspects while testing for other differences: a most-similar research design.

While I like the idea of working with sub-national data, I’d suggest a more careful look: in some cases the situation may indeed allow most-similar design, but in others this does not seem to be the case. Here I simply list a few reason why the Swiss cantons may not be the ideal place for comparative studies. Whether this matters will depend on the individual study.

Let’s start with the institutional setting. In broad terms, it’s the same across Switzerland: three levels of government (municipal, cantonal, national). When it comes to details, however, we can see that autonomy means something in Switzerland. Let’s take just two examples. Each canton has an authority to deal with immigration issues (on its own or attached to another service), except for the Canton of Bern which has four of them. The electoral system for the lower chamber is the same in all cantons, for the upper chamber it’s up to the canton to decide — and they make use of this.

Even though there are efforts to harmonize the educational system in Switzerland (a bit over half the cantons now harmonize their systems), there’s still much variety.

More profound differences may exist between regions. The difference between language regions is often highlighted, but there’s more than the share of French-speakers in a canton. The traditionally dominant religion in the different cantons varies and cuts across the language regions. If we look at distance to traditional trade routes through Switzerland (think contact hypothesis), we get a different picture still. And then there is history: different parts of Switzerland have become part of what is present-day Switzerland in quite different circumstances (something many accounts apparently manage quite well to gloss over).

Don’t care about culture? Let’s consider the economy. While Switzerland overall is a rich country, there’s a big difference between economic centres like Zurich, Geneva, or Basel, and other places. We could consider the degree of urbanization here, or the importance of agriculture, average incomes, average rents, and other economic factors.

The point here is not to dismiss the claim of a most-similar research design, but to highlight that the situation is not as simple as often implied: there are significant institutional, socio-economic, and cultural differences within. Whether they matter will depend on the research question.

Representation of Women in National Legislatures

After a considerable time as an on-line paper, my article on the political representation of women in national legislatures finally appeared in print. I use a large cross-national sample of all free and partly-free countries (according to Freedom House). Like some recent contributions, I find that attitudes toward women as political leaders are a powerful predictor for the share of women in the national legislature. This link was already established by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, amongst others, but in this article I also consider the role of gender quotas. Once controlling for regional or cultural/attitudinal differences, voluntary party quotas and legislative quotas do not appear to be significant. Obviously there are often implementation issues, but we need to think more carefully about the underlying mechanisms: I argue that cultural variables are probably behind both the share of women in legislatures and the (successful) implementation of quotas.

Norris, P., and R. Inglehart. 2001. “Cultural obstacles to equal representation.” Journal of Democracy 12(3): 126–40.