Jay over at the Dart-Throwing Chimp extends the argument we have been making here and in print about the mismatch between the complexity that characterizes the real world causal mechanisms we study and the research designs we typically employ to study them. Though we have focused on the implications of this mismatch for studying politics in the global economy, Jay extends the logic to comparative politics. He suggests that it is "impossible to understand persistence and change in national political institutions without thinking about how those institutions are embedded in a larger global context." As he elaborates:
We’re stuck in a complex adaptive system that doesn’t really distinguish between national and international, political and economic, human and natural, and our theories of stability and change in political institutions should take that whole more seriously...The simplifying assumption that states are separable units certainly has its uses, but we shouldn’t conflate that utility with causal relevance. Like maps, all models are simplifications, but those simplifications aren’t useful if they ignore the very causes they’re meant to locate.Of course, I think Jay is absolutely correct. It makes no sense to speak of the third wave of democratization (or the second or the first waves, for that matter) without recognition that some sort of global process may be at work. It makes no sense to speak of the Arab Spring (or is this the fourth wave?) without recognition that some sort of regional process may be at work. And, as Jay points out, the issue isn't that students of comparative politics fail to recognize these cross-country dependencies and the issue isn't that we lack statistical tools to address them. The issue is that the modal approach to theorizing is to theorize about states as if they are independent. And so as a general rule, they are omitted from theories and empirical models.
It seems that we might theories and methods are now emerging that allow us to develop and evaluate theories that incorporate explicitly these dependencies. They could be applied fruitfully to comparative political development, as well as to international and comparative political economy.