2009 Award for Conceptual Innovation in Comparative Politics

Winner: Jennifer Gandhi

The III Award for Conceptual Innovation in Comparative Politics, granted by the IPSA Committee on Concepts and Methods (C&M) and sponsored by the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) in Mexico City, was awarded to Jennifer Gandhi, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Emory University, for her book Political Institutions under Dictatorship (Cambridge University Press 2008).

The 2009 C&M CIDE award, set at 1.500 USD, was given at the IPSA World Congress in Santiago de Chile. The book by Professor Gandhi was chosen from an exceptionally strong set of top-quality submissions (including more than two dozens of books and more than two dozens of articles). The Committee on Concepts and Methods thanks all authors and publishers who submitted their work to the award.

Award Citation

“For some time, scholars have noted that the group of regimes classified as non-democratic are highly heterogeneous. This is a reflected in a burgeoning cloud of neologisms such as neopatrimonial, sultanist, and bureaucratic-authoritarian. Jennifer Gandhi’s Political Institutions under Dictatorship is arguably the first book-length treatment of variation within non-democratic regimes to explore the subject in a comprehensive and systematic fashion. It is a job greatly needed, and a job well-done.

Gandhi’s work contributes to the development of concepts in many ways. She massively broadens the conception of dictatorial politics beyond the whim of the dictator and competition among a ruling clique. Her works develops a concept of dictatorial politics for which institutions matter; institutional arrangements affect policies and outcomes. This innovative conceptual approach enables her to explore a question of institutional choice: why are some non-democracies more institutionalized than others? She explains variation along this dimension by looking at the incentives faced by authoritarian leaders – essentially, the degree of consent and cooperation that they require.

Gandhi operationalizes concepts to open new ways of testing theories of authoritarian politics. Testing these theories is notoriously difficult since authoritarian regimes often lack any meaningful transparency. Gandhi’s choice of indicators for key concepts sets the scene for large-N empirical strategies of theory testing. So, for example, Gandhi herself explores the causal effects of different authoritarian institutions. She finds that there is some difference in growth rates, with more institutionalized regimes growing faster, but there is no difference in rates of tenure for leaders across different types of non-democratic regimes.

Beyond its conceptual contributions, Gandhi’s work illustrates virtuosity in multiple domains. She combines a conceptual analysis of key concepts, a formal model, cross-national empirical tests, in-depth country case studies, and a fluent integration of key work on the various subjects addressed -- all in less than 200 pages of text. It should also be added that the book is written plainly and clearly; all superfluities have been excised. In sum, Political Institutions under Dictatorship is a compelling model for multi-method work in political science. 

The Jury

  • James L. Gibson, Washington University in St. Louis (chair)
  • Mark Bevir, University of California at Berkeley
  • John Gerring, Boston University
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