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An earlier work of mine, Defining Political Development (Chilton, 1988b, henceforth termed DPD), advanced a new conceptualization of political development, and also implied that other definitions were inadequate. Inexplicably, this blithe dismissal of the work of many previous scholars was met with caution instead of unrestrained praise. Many of my colleagues expressed objections to the work's argument and reservations about its implications.

I have gradually come to understand that, although the argument of DPD is basically self-contained, I left its philosophical underpinnings mostly to the reader's imagination. Because some logical elements are missing, or need elaboration, the power of the argument is to some extent concealed. Since the implications of the proposed framework are not drawn out, my colleagues are understandably reluctant to accept it wholesale. The image that occurs to me is of a structure suspended in space, with some of the internal beams and all of the supporting beams invisible. The objections raised against the structure arise from a natural wish to see that the beams really are present.

This book was written, therefore, to place DPD in its philosophical framework and to address the concerns that others have raised. In addition, its purpose is to elucidate the basic "ways of relating" orientation that informs the analysis presented in DPD.

This said, I turn to an overview of the argument of DPD and a preview of the concerns dealt with in the present work.

I. The Problem of Many Conceptions: The Analytic Method and Its Postulation of Five "Fundamental Theoretical Requirements"

A. Flying Without a Pilot

A curious characteristic of the field of political development is the absence of an agreed-upon conception of its core concept: political development itself.  This confusion has existed for more than thirty years. The early, influential work of the Committee on Comparative Politics of the Social Science Research Council was funded by a Ford Foundation grant that stipulated, without further definition, that research was to be on "political development." The term is clearly analogous to economic development, but the disciplines of political science and economics are too different to make the analogy very helpful. Early definitions of the term thus had to be constructed without much guidance, and the inevitable confusion resulted. Over two decades ago, Lucian Pye (1966a:33) had already noted that "a situation of semantic confusion" surrounded this concept. He listed ten earlier definitions of the concept and proposed an eleventh definition that synthesized the themes of the ten others. Fred Riggs (1981) appended to his more recent analysis of the term a glossary of sixty-five different definitions offered in forty-nine different works by forty-one different authors (or joint authors). Still more recently, Han Park (1984:41-42, 54-55) listed thirteen different definitions (the majority of which neither Pye nor Riggs had mentioned) and offered his own definition as number fourteen.

This confusion has been perpetuated by the scant attention many "political development" works give to conceptualization. For example, despite its title, the recent Understanding Political Development (Weiner and Huntington, 1987) contains no index entry for the term,(1) even though the work begins with an acknowledgment of the variety of definitions of political development (p. xiii). Richard Bensel's Sectionalism and American Political Development 1880-1980 (1984) discusses political development only in the sense of historical changes in the U.S. political system, i.e. political developments. (The terms "development" and "political development" appear neither in Bensel's index nor his table of contents.) Some articles with "political development" in their titles subsequently use the term not at all (e.g., Sollie, 1984; Dobelstein, 1985) or almost not at all (e.g., it is mentioned only once in Khalilzad, 1984-5, and Hope, 1985).

To some extent this confusion is inevitable and even desirable. Empirical researchers naturally tend to be impatient with conceptualization: their creative energy goes into inventing imaginative operational definitions and confronting the practical difficulties of measurement in the field, leaving little time for conceptualization; in any case, any political development researcher worth her(2) salt believes she already has a workable sense of what political development is. The behaviorist tradition of political science can also lead researchers to believe that measurement procedures are more important substantively than abstract conceptions.(3) Finally, the political development concept's role as a "power word" (Riggs, 1981) creates further problems: the extra-academic advantages accruing to any one school's control over the term's meaning get mixed up with intellectual discourse, making professional usage ideological as well as scientific. All in all, conceptualization gets short shrift.

As a consequence of these pressures, no general conceptual framework has emerged for studying political development.(4) As Huntington (1971) and Smith (1985) argue, results reported in the political development and modernization literature are neither comparable nor cumulative. While the field has generated subfields and "mid-range" theories,(5) it still does not possess an orienting conception of its own name.

B. Bail Out - Or Learn to Fly?

This undeniable confusion has given rise to a conflict over the course researchers should adopt to deal with it. Some analysts - Fred W. Riggs and Samuel Huntington foremost among them - propose a straightforward abandonment of the political development concept.(6) Such analysts advance three strong arguments for their case. (1) Riggs argues that the term's status as a power word makes the term an "autonym" - a term having no clear referent or independent utility, but existing primarily as the focus of a struggle for power (or funding), and thus allowing no consensus on its definition. He asserts that once efforts to define the term are abandoned, "it becomes possible to sort out the many important and interesting variables or concepts that have clustered about the controversies over [its] meaning." To use the well-known formulation of Gallie (1956), political development may be an essentially contested concept. (2) Huntington does not go so far as to argue that the term has no meaning, but he does claim that the study of change offers as useful a focus for research as political development does, without the latter's conceptual difficulties. (3) Finally, beyond all theoretical arguments, there is simply the "enough is enough" argument: if after thirty years of intensive study we haven't been able to figure out what the concept means, perhaps we just ought to give up on it!

Three opposing arguments counter the above grounds for abandoning the search. (1) Confusion over the political development concept does not entail its inherent meaninglessness. Only in very special circumstances is it possible to prove the nonexistence of a concept .(7) The concept may exist but not yet be discovered, or the concept may already have been discovered, but analysts have not noticed the discovery, because they have either been wrapped up in their own research traditions or are uncertain how to recognize an adequate definition. The argument that political development is an "essentially contested" concept does not stand up; analysts confuse "contested" with "essentially contested," failing to recognize that Gallie (1956) demonstrated essential contestedness only under a set of assumptions that do not apply to political development. (2) While the study of change will certainly embrace the study of political development, the concept of development appears to be sharper than the concept of change. Intuitively, there would seem to be forces involved in development that are not present in other forms of change. If this is true, Huntington's (1971) proposal of a "change to change" would only obscure those special forces when what we really require is a sharper framework for handling them. This may explain why, despite all conflict and confusion over the concept, analysts persist in studying "development" instead of "change." (3) Finally, one can argue that while we cannot be happy about our thirty-plus years of confusion over the concept, our attempts to clarify it have themselves given rise to fruitful insights.8 In any case, as noted earlier, it is possible that the lack of agreement arises from our own confusion rather than the absence of all adequate conception.

We seem to be on the horns of a rather nasty dilemma: either abandon the concept of political development, along with all its theoretical promise, or keep up the pursuit, with the risk of throwing good money after bad.

C. The Analytic Method

In DPD I proposed to resolve this dilemma by using the following procedure. We first identify, in advance of any concept of political development, certain "fundamental theoretical requirements" (FTRs) that all theorists agree (or can be persuaded upon reflection to agree) a concept of political development should satisfy. For example, it seems obvious that a fully formed conception of development should state what it is, specifically, that changes in the course of development. This requirement, however modest it might seem, is not met by some previous conceptions, and so those conceptions must be ruled out of court. DPD argues that only its conception meets all five of the FTRs it advances. This procedure of identifying FTRs, eliminating conceptions inconsistent with them, and using them to develop a new, satisfactory conception, I call the "analytic method."(9)

Assuming a set of agreed-upon FTRs is found, we can then apply them to evaluate past, current, and future definitions. Note that since all FTRs must be satisfied before we are willing to call a concept "adequate," we are spared having to weigh the advantages of definition X against the different advantages of definition Y.(10)

This procedure has several virtues. First, it provides a systematic, agreed-upon procedure for evaluating alternative definitions, including future definitions, so that we will be able to recognize a good definition and distinguish it from less adequate ones. In the absence of FTRs, debates over alternative conceptualizations become mired in unfocused, mutual criticism. Thus far, none of the alternative definitions has satisfied all the FTRs, a condition that may account for the confusion of the debates.

A second virtue of using FTRs to structure the discussion of alternative definitions is that agreement on the FTRs is relatively easy to achieve; I hope the reader will be persuaded, following the subsequent discussion, that theorists seem to have a common intuitive sense of how a concept of political development should behave, even if they don't yet have a universally acceptable description of it. Thus the analytic approach serves to build consensus.(11)

This process of analysis evaluates theoretical rather than operational definitions of political development. Our concern here is with conceptualizing, not operationalizing, and so we must apply the standards of systemic import, not the better-known standards of empirical import (Hempel, 1952:39-49). This is not to say that conceptualization can proceed independently of the discipline imposed by empirical results flowing from operational definitions; clearly, there is an interaction between the two. But we must guard against any limitations on our theoretical thinking imposed by what is readily measurable. Given the real scholarly pressures for immediate production of data, operationalization can easily swamp conceptualization, to the ultimate detriment of both. By insisting on theoretical requirements, the analytic method redresses that imbalance.

A number of concerns have been raised about this method. First, the logic of the analytic approach has not been accepted. One reader, for example, held that DPD's tone of being a "geometric proof" was merely a rhetorical strategy. Since I indeed sought to provide an argument as irrefutable as a geometric proof, clearly my first task is to outline the logic that underlies my claim.

Other readers asked how the method would fare if there were several conceptions meeting all the FTRs. Even though this happy circumstance does not seem to have occurred in the case of political development, it is certainly a theoretical possibility, and a method unable to handle this circumstance would not be satisfactory.

Still other readers asked if the list of FTRs was complete, and if so, how one could prove it. If it were not, didn't that undercut the logic of the analytic method?

The analytic method employs only FTRs that have two characteristics: they must be dichotomous in nature, so that a conception either satisfies them or does not; and they must make only theoretical claims, that is, claims not depending on any empirical facts. These two "metacriteria" were both questioned by readers. Why should the FTRs be binary in nature? Why shouldn't they make empirical presuppositions of which we are confident? In effect, these questions ask whether the analytic method is the best method for theoretical work, even if it is logical as it stands. Why use the analytic method, when other approaches to conceptualization are able to make use of our theoretical knowledge and the careful weighing of differential advantages of alternative conceptions?

The nature of the analytic method, and replies to these questions, are presented in Chapters 2 ("The Analytic Method") and 3 ("Detailed Justification of the Five Fundamental Theoretical Requirements").

But beyond the general logic of the analytic method, questions were raised about its specific application to the concept of political development. Here there were two major concerns. First, some readers wanted more detailed justification of the five specific FTRs. They wanted further discussion particularly of "the micro-macro connection" and "normative justification." Chapter 3 ("Detailed Justification of the Five Fundamental Theoretical Requirements") addresses these concerns. Second, some readers suggested other FTRs, e.g., that the conception result in "laws" of development. Chapter 4 ("Other Suggested Fundamental Theoretical Requirements")discusses these suggestions.

II. A New Conception of Political Development

The focus in DPD was not on the five FTRs but rather on a new conception of political development that was claimed to satisfy them. The interested reader should consult DPD for a full exposition of this conception, of course; for the sake of completeness I include here a brief description of the conception.

First, DPD simplifies its task by refusing to recognize ad hoc distinctions among economic, social, and political development, choosing instead to define development broadly and to let the natural cleavages of social-cognitive structure guide how we divide development into separate facets.

Second, DPD defines development in terms of certain changes in a culture, where the term "culture" is given an exact but idiosyncratic definition. Culture is defined "from the bottom up" as a way of relating shared by a group of people, the boundary of that group/culture being determined solely by that requirement of sharing. Thus cultures can overlap, according to how people use various ways of relating to coordinate their actions in various contexts. Cultures are not defined "top down" (i.e., by some contingent and thus problematic criterion like region or nationality), because such boundaries cannot ensure that the collectivity so designated shares anything in particular.

Third, this definition of culture yields an identity or correspondence between the way of relating shared in a given culture and the moral reasoning used to define and regulate that way of relating. Different ways of relating rely upon different systems of moral reasoning, which can in turn be divided among six different moral structures or stages. The existence of these stages has been established by a series of moral psychologists and genetic epistemologists (Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan), even if some dispute remains about the exact nature of these stages.

Fourth and finally, development is defined as a shift of a culture from one way of relating to another that addresses and overcomes the structural ambiguities of its initial stage. One of the basic elements of the stage-structural view of moral reasoning is that every stage has inherent cognitive-structural ambiguities that constitute, psychologically, the "engines" of development and, philosophically, the grounds on which each stage is normatively superior to its predecessor. (In the final stage, Stage 6, ambiguities are recognized and to that extent overcome in a permanent and ongoing dialectic.)

Taken all together, this definition of development is a powerful one. It is flexible, since the universality both of its definition of culture and of its view that moral reasoning underlies culture makes it applicable to all cultural traditions and to the connection between cultures and subcultures. It is sensitive to cultural nuance and adaptation, since its definition of culture and its recognition of the moral reasoning underlying culture can faithfully track the shifts of how people relate to one another. The definition is explicitly normatively grounded. This normative grounding is a source of constant attack, of course, but it makes the definition honest and corrigible. Finally, the definition's roots in both cognitive development and in the social construction of ways of relating provide a fertile source for plausible hypotheses about the dynamics of development.

III. The Implicit Rejection of Previous Conceptions

DPD paid little attention to previous conceptions and implied that I rejected them. DPD's final chapter did link its approach with certain conceptual traditions in political development, (12) but the work's discussion there and in Chapter 1 basically argued that previous conceptions either did not satisfy the FTRs or required special reinterpretation to do so.

However, this rejection of previous work was not made explicit, particularly in the case of recent conceptions, and some direct analysis of these conceptions is necessary. Such an analysis will also serve to show concretely how to employ the five political development FTRs. Accordingly, Chapter 5 applies the FTRs to two recent conceptions: those of Eckstein (1982) and of Park (1984). Readers interested primarily in political development and political culture, rather than in the intricacies of the analytic method or in the specific FTRs employed, should move directly to Chapter 5, returning to Chapters 2, 3 and 4 as necessary. The present work is laid out so as to present the complete argument in as full detail as possible; readers satisfied with or indifferent to the argument's underlying logic can skip chapters as they please.

IV. The Idiosyncratic Concept of Political Culture in the Definition of Political Development

DPD defined political development in terms of specific types of changes in a political culture: changes that can be associated with changes in moral reasoning. In order to define political development in this way, however, the work had to advance its own conception of political culture. DPD explained this new conception only in a limited way, however, and did not justify its use. In Chapter 6 of the present work I look at the concept in more detail and explain why political culture must be defined in this way, quite apart from the happy circumstance that it allows a rational definition of political development. Chapter 6 presents another example of the analytic method, in this case demonstrating its usefulness in the conceptualization of political culture.

Of course a cute new definition of political culture does not explain why political development must be defined as a change in culture instead of changes in some other concept. Chapter 7 explains why culture and no other concept must be the locus of development.

V. "Ways of Relating" as a Focus

Both DPD and the present work flow from a "ways of relating" perspective, a perspective that indiscriminately lumps together social, economic, and political relationships. Such a broad view of human relationships would appear to have little "bite," but that turns out not to be the case. Viewing relationships generally enables us to bring normative issues to bear at all levels of human society, including the least well structured. This generality enables us to deal with, for example, feminist claims about the role and nature of hegemonic forces, forces that cannot be neatly labeled according to specifically social, economic, or political categories. Chapter 8discusses how the "ways of relating" perspective bears on these issues.

VI. The Definition in Terms of Moral Reasoning Development

DPD's idiosyncratic definition of political culture allows cultures to be ranked according to their level of moral reasoning development. The definition thus becomes linked both to an accurate system for scoring moral development stages (Colby and Kohlberg, 1987) and to a wealth of empirical information about moral reasoning development, generated by that system.

However, the use of Kohlberg's work (and the focus on moral reasoning development generally) raises a number of concerns. First, Kohlberg's work (like Piaget's) is born of a Western, white, male, middle-class academic. How could a culturally universal theory of political development emerge from such work? Second, a related objection holds that Kohlberg's system improperly scores members of other cultures and genders. Third, critics fear that a cognitive developmental perspective will provide an excuse for various forms of oppressive politics, perhaps giving rise to a meritocracy of moral reasoning, and/or to the dismissal of the interests of "low-stage reasoners." Finally, Kohlberg's theory was developed to apply to individuals, and Kohlberg himself specifically argued that it could not be used to evaluate societies as a whole. Chapter 9 discusses these objections and the implications of using the genetic-epistemological perspective.

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1. The work gives no definition of political development. Subject index entries do appear for "development, definition of," "developmentalist model," and "development goals," but the last two references are not to definitions, and the first reference is to a simple definition of economic development as the growth in GNP per capita.

2. With the kind permission of the publisher, I use female pronouns throughout for the neutral gender. I find plural pronouns awkward to use, particularly in a work so concerned with distinguishing the isolated from the collective social actor; "he or she" and the like are awkward and intrusive; and alternation of gender requires the author to keep track of whether she is currently speaking of a female or male neuter. Since English currently possesses no gender-free personal pronouns, the choice lies between the masculine and the feminine. I hope the reader will welcome this opportunity to discover, from her own reaction to the consistent use of the female as the neutral gender, the effect of the alternative usage.

3. Hempel (1952: Section 7, esp. p.31) explains why the extreme behavioralist position - that conceptualization has no role independent of operationalization - is too limited. Payne (1984:86-89) notes that the empirical study of development cannot substitute for its conceptualization.

4. Riggs (1967:337ff.) raises the question of whether the term political development denotes anything more than a general field of inquiry; if not, attempts at "definition" are futile. He points out that the field of U.S. politics has established itself even though it possesses no single theory or unifying perspective. Granted, development studies are worthwhile even without a central term; nevertheless, most analysts seem to assume the existence of a unifying concept, and development studies would be greatly strengthened if the unifying concept hidden behind the current welter of approaches could be disclosed.

5. See, for example, the variety of theoretical approaches given in Weiner and Huntington (1987).

6. Huntington uses the term"modernization," not "political development." One of the confusions in this field is that some theorists discuss Westernization, some discuss modernization, some discuss development, and some discuss change.

7. One way is to demonstrate a concept's inherent self-contradiction, as Bertrand Russell did for the concept of "the set of all sets," making use of the self-contradictory nature of the concept of "the set of all sets which are not members of themselves."

8. To take an example from another field, psychologists have found their battles over the concept "self" fruitful, even though no single concept seems to dominate. (I am indebted to Craig Grau for this observation.)

9.If philosophers have another name for it, I have been unable to discover it. [6/25/99: I now realize that it is the "reconstructive science" approach (Habermas, Kohlberg) or a version of the "dialectical method" (Marx).

10. It could happen, of course, that different definitions meet a given FTR to different degrees, initiating a new debate. As will be seen below, the FTRs employed here are either satisfied or not; there are no "degrees" of satisfaction. I argue in Chapter 2 that every FTR will possess this dichotomous form.

11. In an ideal world, the ability of the challenges to end the debate over political development's meaning would be settled by an immediate, ringing endorsement (or lack of endorsement) of the challenges by all political development theorists. The situation is complicated, however, by researchers' natural tendency to forget their richest sense of political development as it becomes overlaid by their more immediate (and professionally crucial) concern to protect their own painfully constructed, once-acknowledgedly-partial-and-imperfect definitions. I believe that if the underlying challenges are actually stated, then development theorists will ultimately come around after they have had a chance to consider them. I recognize that this argument is also a perfect excuse for dismissing anyone's not "seeing the light", so it must be dealt with cautiously. But the possibility clearly exists that researchers might have reason to be wedded to their own formulation and might be reluctant to back up in order to reexamine foundational ambiguities. It is difficult to know whether researchers disagree over the meaning of the phrase because it is not in fact susceptible to a single definition, or because a unifying conception does exist that researchers do not immediately recognize because of pressures unrelated to theory. I am confident, though, that an open-minded discourse will inevitably bring the truth to light, whatever it may be. We can particularly look to the responses of development theorists who are not yet wedded to any particular definition.

12. Such theories include those of Hegel, Marx, and Pye, as well as theories of cultural progress and of cultural relativity.

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Author:  Stephen Chilton [email]  |  Last Modified:  2005-12-06
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