The Politics that Places Make: Contextual Effects and the Future of Political Behavior Research
20 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2010 Last revised: 12 Apr 2010
Date Written: April 2, 2010
An emerging theme of research into political behavior is the idea that context is an important influence on individuals. It has become apparent that a growing number of political scientists see context as an important means of re-conceptualizing the study of political behavior, moving away from the study of isolated, atomistic individuals, and moving towards seeing individuals as embedded in a variety of contextual environments. However, most practitioners of contextual effects research are reluctant to engage with the theoretical foundations of their work. The concept of context, as used by political scientists, is vague and overly broad. Context is too often used as catchall proxy for difficult to measure variables. The practice of contextual effects research has also encountered important methodological challenges, not the least of which is how to observe and measure the causal mechanisms of contextual effects. In short, contextual effects research is under theorized, and will benefit from the development of a more concrete theoretical foundation that connects context to actually existing places. I argue that conceptualizing context as connected to space and place provides a rigorous theoretical foundation that allows for analytical flexibility, as well as methodological diversity for this emerging area of political science research.
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