Research and writing
Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) [Comparative Politics Series]. Click here to order
This study examines the process by which the seemingly impossible in 1987--the disintegration of the Soviet Union--became the seemingly inevitable by 1991, providing an original interpretation not only of the Soviet collapse, but also of the phenomenon of nationalism more generally. Probing the role of nationalist action as both cause and effect, Beissinger utilizes extensive event data and detailed case studies from across the USSR during its final years to elicit the shifting relationship between pre-existing structural conditions, institutional constraints, and event-generated influences in the massive nationalist explosions that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. As Beissinger demonstrates, the "tidal" context of nationalism--that is, the transnational influence of one nationalism upon another--is critical to an explanation of the success and failure of particular nationalisms, the ability of governments to repress nationalist challenges, why some nationalisms turn violent, and how a mounting crescendo of events can potentially overwhelm states, periodically evoking large-scale structural change in the character of the state system.
Winner of the 2003 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award , presented by the American Political Science Association for the best book published in the United States on government, politics, or international affairs; Winner of the 2003 Mattei Dogan Award , presented by the Society for Comparative Research for the best book published in the field of comparative research; Winner of the 2003 Award for Best Book on European Politics , presented by the Organized Section on European Politics and Society of the American Political Science Association.
Beyond State Crisis? Postcolonial Africa and Post-Soviet Eurasia in Comparative Perspective [jointly edited with Crawford Young] (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). Click here to order
This book studies two world regions beset with extreme corruption, organized crime extending into warlordism, the disintegration of human services and economic institutions, and the breakdown of public institutions and the state. The contributors compare processes of state breakdown and collapse in the two world regions, as well as democratization, economic reform, ethnicity, and the status of women, comparing the consequences of post-communism with those of post-colonialism.
"This is a serious and important book that makes a contribution to our understanding of state effectiveness, state breakdown, and violence in Africa and Eurasia. The comparison between the two broad regions is creatively handled and introduced. The individual chapters, all by prominent experts in their fields, are based on solid research and offer insights that are original and of considerable policy importance. If you want to know how weak states work-or don't work-this book is essential reading." — Charles King
Crisis?] will most certainly become a classic of comparative politics." —
"Mass Demonstrations and Mass Violent Events in the Former USSR, 1987-1992."
These event databases, which were used for the analysis in my book Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State, contain information on 6,663 protest demonstrations and 2,177 mass violent events across the entire territory of the former Soviet Union from January 1987 through December 1992. The databases were constructed on the basis of press reports from over 150 different news sources--sixty of which were examined in their full press runs during the period under investigation (For a full listing of sources consulted, see the codebook that accompanies the files).
All databases are compressed in PKZIP files. When extracted, the codebook is in Word format and the databases are in Excel format.
Data disaggregated at the event level:
Download PKZIP file (Disagg.Soviet.event.data.zip) containing codebook and two event databases (one for mass demonstrations, and one for mass violent events)
Data aggregated by nationality:
Download PKZIP file (Aggreg.by.nationality.zip) containing codebook and database (aggregated by nationality)
"Rethinking Empire in the Wake of Soviet Collapse," in Zoltan Barany and Robert Moser, eds., Ethnic Politics and Post-Communism: Theories and Practice (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005) [click here for chapter in .pdf format]
This essay explores how the collapse of the Soviet Union alters or confirms existing theories about empires. As it argues, the most important element of the Soviet collapse for theories of empires was the very fact that the Soviet Union was labeled an empire in the first place. Using the Soviet example, the essay examines some of the ways in which contemporary empires differ from empires of the past, showing that the boundaries between multinational states and multinational empires and between regional or global hegemons and informal empires are more fluid and contested than most theories of empire admit, that claims to nationhood and national self-assertion are central to the process by which contemporary states become empires, and that the structure of nonconsensual control that theories of empire have traditionally emphasized is not a given but rather emerges through an interaction between political practice and oppositional politics. The essay also explores the ways in which norms of sovereignty and self-determination can be used as instruments of control, further blurring the line between empire and nation-state, and the role that resistance plays in the making of empires. The essay concludes with an examination of the difficulties that post-Soviet Russia has had in shedding its imperial persona, placing this in comparative perspective.
"Structure and Example in Modular Political Phenomena: The Diffusion of the Bulldozer/Rose/Orange/Tulip Revolutions," Perspectives on Politics, vol. 5, no. 2 (June 2007), pp. 259-276. [click here for article in .pdf format]
This article develops an approach to the study of modular political phenomena (action based in significant part on emulation of the prior successful example of others), focusing on the trade-offs between the influence of example, structural facilitation, and institutional constraints. The approach is illustrated through the example of the spread of democratic revolution in the post-communist region during the 2000-2006 period, with significant comparisons to the diffusion of separatist nationalism in the Soviet Union during the glasnost' era. Two models by which modular processes unfold are specified: an elite defection model and an elite learning model. In both models the power of example is shown to exert an independent effect on outcomes, although the effect is considerably deeper in the former than in the latter case. The elite defection model corresponds to the institutional responses to separatist nationalism under glasnost', while the elite learning model describes well the processes involved in the spread of modular democratic revolution among the later risers in the post-communist region, limiting the likelihood of further revolutionary successes. The article concludes with some thoughts about the implications of the power of example for the study of modular phenomena such as democratization, nationalism, and revolution.
"The Persistence of Empire in Eurasia," Presidential Address to the 39th National Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, November 17, 2007 [published in NewsNet, vol. 48, no. 1 (January 2008), pp. 1-8; also available in Russian in Ab Imperio, no. 1, 2008, pp. 157-176]. [Click here for address in .pdf format] [in Russian]
The address takes as its starting point two ironies of contemporary Russian history. The first is that the self-avowed and self-consciously imperial Tsarist state was followed by a Soviet state that sought to convince its citizens and the world that it was not imperial, but that ultimately died widely construed as an empire and is routinely referred to as such today. A second irony is that, despite its assertions to the contrary, the post-Soviet Russian state that was founded in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet empire is still often construed as imperial. This address does not seek to answer whether empire is an apt analytical model for the Soviet Union or for contemporary Russia. Rather, it contemplates empire as a persisting practical category of politics in the Eurasian region. It is a social fact that fear of, aspirations to, memory of, and longing for empire remain widespread throughout the Eurasian region today and continue to shape the region's culture and politics, begging explanation. The address seeks to probe the questions of what makes people understand power as imperial in a world in which empires no longer exist, what types of acts do authorities engage in that become labeled as imperial, and how have these changed over time.
"A New Look at Ethnicity and Democratization," Journal of Democracy, vol. 19, no. 3 (July 2008), pp. 85-97 [an earlier and longer version of this article appeared in Taiwan Journal of Democracy, vol. 3, no. 2 (December 2007), pp. 73-99]. [click here for article in .pdf format]
The third wave of democratization became the occasion for sharpening the engagement between ethnic identity and democracy, as democratization spread to countries that were much more fragmented along cultural lines than was true of early democratizers. Three sets of issues in particular were brought onto the agenda: whether ethnic diversity in and of itself represents a powerful obstacle to building stable democracies; whether strong ethnic identities are detrimental to the democratization process; and the causal paths by which ethnic identities are implicated in democratization and de-democratization processes. This essay examines these questions in light of the post-Soviet region, making three arguments. First, ethnic diversity is a relatively weak explanation of democratic development on its own, but ethnicity rather exercises its effects on democratization through its interaction with other factors that affect democratic development. Second, the impact of ethnicity on democratization flows through processes of ethnic mobilization, which are not a function of diversity per se, but rather revolve around how democratization affects the interests of minorities and the capacities of challenging groups. And third, ethnic nationalism is not necessarily incompatible with democracy, but rather depends on the types of objects against which ethnic groups mobilize, so that strong ethnic passions can form the basis for a mobilized path to democracy when ethnic nationalism is focused against foreign domination rather than against other ethnic groups.
"Empire by Reputation" [unpublished paper jointly written with Sarah Bush, and currently under review] [click here for draft in .pdf format]
This paper explores the notion of imperial reputation as an object of study and as an integral element of imperial phenomena over the last century. The rise and consolidation of anti-imperial norms of sovereignty and self-determination transformed empire as a practical category of politics into a near-universal pejorative and turned empire into a quality that states invariably deny, thereby bringing the reputational dimension of imperial politics to the fore. The authors present a conceptualization of imperial reputation as a form of bad reputation, exploring the dynamics of reputational change, the circumstances under which states might choose to bear the reputational costs associated with imperial behaviors, and those in which imperial reputation might generate significant pressures for policy change. A content analysis of media representations of American empire during the Bush years demonstrates the presence of several underlying models of American imperialism that bundle hierarchical structure with specific behaviors that violate norms about how the powerful should behave, pointing to how contemporary analyses of empire need to engage those aspects of behavior that render hierarchical power illegitimate.
"Nationalism and the Collapse of Soviet Communism," Journal of Contemporary European History, 18, 3 (2009), pp. 331–347 [click here for article in .pdf format]
This article examines the role of nationalism in the collapse of communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, arguing that nationalism (both in its presence and its absence, and in the various conflicts and disorders that it unleashed) played an important role in structuring the way in which communism collapsed. Two institutions of international and cultural control in particular-–the Warsaw Pact and ethnofederalism-–played key roles in determining which communist regimes failed and which survived. The article argues that the collapse of communism was not a series of isolated, individual national stories of resistance but a set of interrelated streams of activity in which action in one context profoundly affected action in other contexts – part of a larger tide of assertions of national sovereignty that swept through the Soviet empire during this period.
"An Interrelated Wave," Journal of Democracy 20, 1 (January 2009), pp. 74-77. [click here for article in .pdf format]
In contrast to the arguments of those who study the color revolutions as an interrelated phenomenon, Lucan Way’s highly structural account considers the failure of authoritarian consolidation causally sufficient, something that obviates the need to explain opposition mobilization against the state and its role in the collapse of these regimes. Yet for scholars who take the politics of mobilization seriously, such arguments fail on several accounts. First, authoritarian weakness alone cannot address the contingencies involved in the process of mobilization. Second, it cannot explain why these revolutions assumed similar forms across diverse contexts. And third, it does not tell us why attempts at revolution rapidly proliferated across so many different contexts during a compressed period of time. Authoritarian weakness alone cannot explain why the mobilization process during the color revolutions assumed similar forms across varied contexts.
"How the Impossible Becomes the Inevitable: The Public Sphere and the Collapse of Communism," essay published online by the Social Science Research Council in November 2009 as part of their series “Transformations of the Public Sphere.” [click here for link to essay]
On the anniversary of the collapse of communism, this essay uses the examples of glasnost' and the collapse of the USSR to explore the ways in which the formation of a public sphere transforms long-held assumptions about politics and alters the boundaries of the thinkable and the possible.
"Mechanisms of Maidan: The Structure of Contingency in the Making of the Orange Revolution," Mobilization: An International Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 1 (March 2011), p. 25-43. [click here for article in .pdf format]
This study evaluates the validity and causal weight of competing causal mechanisms that purport to explain a single set of choices (and critical turning point) within a contentious episode: the decision to participate in the Orange Revolution protests in Ukraine in November 2004. These protests were characterized by extraordinarily high levels of participation, despite freezing temperatures and the threat of violence. Using evidence from public-opinion surveys and eyewitness accounts, the study shows how causal processes unfolded and accumulated at several levels (structural, conjunctural, endogenous). Overall, participation represented more of a short-term fluctuation than a general shift in societal values and behaviors, was fueled more by a long train of abuses than by suddenly imposed grievances, and was aided by a robust form of electoral campaigning. Events functioned as occasions for crafting together a diverse coalition of participants motivated by a variety of concerns— national, economic, and civic.
"Beyond the Nationalities Question?" Problems of Post-Communism, vol. 58, no. 4 -5 (July-October 2011), pp. 35-45. [click here for article in .pdf format]
While the collapse of the Soviet Union altered tremendously the configuration of power in Eurasia, the nationality issues that played a critical role in fueling the Soviet collapse have hardly dissipated, but remain very much a part of the Eurasian landscape. Issues associated with cultural difference are openly discussed, and groups engage in autonomous self-organization in ways that could not have been imagined in Soviet times. This essay explores how the collapse of the Soviet Union altered, not eliminated, the nature of nationalities issue within the Eurasian region, developing a set of criteria for evaluating progress within the sphere of ethnic/national relations.
(with Gwendolyn Sasse) “An End to Patience? The 2008 Global Financial Crisis and Political Protest in Eastern Europe,” published as a Nuffield College Working Paper in Politics, no. 2012-01 (28 April 2012). [click here for link to paper]
Based on an event analysis of
967 protest events, this paper explores the dynamics of economic protest across
18 countries in Eastern Europe in the context of the Great Recession. While the
initial period of post-communist transition in the 1990s has been characterized
as one of "patience" and quiescence, the recent economic crisis has called this
pattern into question. It altered the level and nature of economic protest in
the region, but there is considerable variation across the post-communist
countries experiencing significant economic contraction. The countries that
proved most vulnerable to high levels of economic protest were those that had
been in the forefront of reform in the 1990s. They exhibited high levels of
dependence on the global economy, and the transition and EU integration process
generated public expectations about improving living standards that were dashed
during the crisis. A number of other factors shaped protest responses among
those states that experienced economic contraction: 1) levels of public sector
employment; 2) IMF rescue packages; 3) public trust in government in the run-up
to the crisis; and 4) political party mobilization. The paper further
illustrates the causal processes underlying differential patterns of through
paired comparisons of Latvia and Estonia on the one hand and Hungary and Ukraine
on the other.