Seva Gunitsky, "From the Spring of Nations to the Arab Spring: Building Better Typologies of Democratic Diffusion", July 2014

I propose a four-fold typology of democratic diffusion, centered around two dimensions: whether diffusion was vertical or horizontal, and whether it was driven by contagion or mediation. I define these terms and classify a variety of democratic waves according to these categories. This typology, I argue, allows for more theoretically-informed comparisons and contrasts among instances of diffusion. I then describe mechanisms of negative feedback (or counter-diffusion) that accompany the process, focusing on a) autocratic adaptation, b) the collapse of extraordinary ad hoc coalitions, c) cognitive heuristics, and d) shifting external pressures. Together, these factors help explain a persistent puzzle in the study of democratization – why waves of diffusion inevitably lead to partial or total rollback and collapse.

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