Comparing Autocracies in Asia

  • Since the mid-1970s the number of autocracies around the globe has declined. However, in some regions, such as Asia, a comparatively high number of autocracies have proven to be resilient. The project investigates the reasons for this persistence and the instruments used by Asian Autocracies with a genuine comparative approach.
    GIGA 2011-2013


    PD Dr. habil. Steffen Kailitz

    Hannah-Arendt-Institut für Totalitarismusforschung e.V.

    Research Questions

    The project asks the following questions:
    - What have the particular trajectories and (institutional) configurations of authoritarian rule been in the region?
    - What instruments have Asia’s autocrats used to shore up their rule?
    - How have Asian autocracies handled the potentially destabilizing and hence rather delicate succession issue?

    Contribution to International Research

    After years of relative neglect, the study of autocracies has been revived in recent years. As a field of study, the research on autocracies has become more diverse in terms of the analytical lenses, theories and methods involved. For example, a number of large-N studies have investigated the broader causes of authoritarian stability and decline. Numerous case studies have also examined the structure and dynamics of individual authoritarian regimes. However, genuine comparative approaches have remained seldom. Few intraregional, context-sensitive comparisons exist. In this project, J. Gerschewski focused on the different paths of authoritarian rule in contemporary Asia, as well as – from both a theoretical and empirical perspective – on the instruments and mechanisms used by autocrats to shore up their rule ( in Asia and beyond). P. Koellner explored the issue of political succession in autocracies in Asia, focusing on the cases of North Korea and China. He also helped to advance the comparative study of autocracies by organizing a series of national and international workshops and panels.

    Research Design and Methods

    While J. Gerschewski employed a mixed-methods design involving QCA and in-depth case study of the North Korean regime, P. Koellner relied on qualitative methods such as process tracing and pattern matching. The researchers also used primary sources (party statutes, internal documents of the former GDR embassy in Pyongyang) and conducted semi-structured interviews with academics in the region.

    Preliminary Findings

    This project, which adopted a network-based approach, has helped put comparative research on autocracies on the political science and Asian studies agendas in Germany and beyond. A number of project-related panels took place at both international (ECPR, IPSA) and national (DVPW) conferences In terms of publications, the project resulted in, among others, two special issues of the high-profile international and national peer-reviewed journals Democratization (2013) and Politische Vierteljahresschrift (2013), as well as in a doctoral dissertation by J. Gerschewski, submitted in early 2014. Knowledge transfer in the form of briefing papers, public and university lectures, media contributions etc. also took place on a frequent basis.

    Politische Vierteljahresschrift, Sonderheft 47 | 2013

    Autokratien im Vergleich

    PD Dr. habil. Steffen Kailitz

    Hannah-Arendt-Institut für Totalitarismusforschung e.V.



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