Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dynamic versus Static Political Inquiry

(First draft please do not quote)

Dynamic versus Static Political Inquiry

Ali Asghar Kazemi                                                                      
January 2011 

From a methodological perspective, political science borrows diverse methods and approaches applied in social science research. Amongst these positivism, behavioral, structuralism, realism, institutionalism, rational choice theory, pluralism, interpretivism and critical theory are most familiar for students of the field. Post-modern movement and thinking have influenced these approaches considerably and have changed both the form and substance of political inquiries. Constructivism, hermeneutics, discourse analysis etc are the outgrowth of this wave.
Demand for relevance and functionality has also introduced many new qualitative and quantitative aspects and tools in this field. Statistical analyses, model building, simulation and case studies are among the very interesting and useful methods that have come to the assistance of political analysts and researchers.
The main purpose of this paper is to focus on new approaches and to show that whatever method researchers in political science and international relations choose for their inquiries they should be oriented towards dynamic rather than static conditions. In other words, in order to enhance the reliability of researches and applicability of their findings and outcome, we have to examine situations, conditions and alternative decisions in their process of changing occurrence and formation.
What do we mean by a static versus dynamic research? What are the attributes and benefits of this approach in political inquiries and decision making process?

Dynamic Research Technique
According to August Comte[1], social dynamics studies the laws of succession, while social statics seeks those of coexistence. In other words, the former furnishes the theory of progress, the latter of order.  All considerations of structure and function are static. That is to say, quantitative change is static. In dynamic phenomena the change is qualitative. Thus, social static focuses on how to maintain order in society and social dynamic focuses on how society changes over time.
In an article in American Journal of Sociology  the distinction  between the notions ‎‎"static" and "dynamic" is considered  “logical, methodological and pedagogical.” [2]‎ ‎ In other words, they are primarily and chiefly subjective rather than objective. “They are categories imposed upon the object by the mind which attempts to represent the object. They are aspects of the object, not independently existing objects. They are machinery for handling in details the things to be understood in their totality.”[3]‎ ‎
For our purpose, a static research is alike a still picture showing the apparent characteristic of a situation or incident from a certain angle, in a determined time and a defined context. A dynamic study or inquiry tries to examine a case in the process of its development through time and space as a motion picture.
For example, when we refer to a geo-strategic region such as the Persian Gulf, one may list a number of factors, variables, parameters and determinants that portray and explain the attributes of an important area for global security and order. But, only when these factors and variables are put into motion we can realize the true meaning of security. In other words, since security means differently to each actor, we ought to know about its conduct in different conditions and circumstances and find out the threshold of its rationality, actions and reactions in crises or emergency situations.
This requires dynamic examination of various eventualities and conditions that my occur in a vital geostrategic region and the relevant decision alternatives for each scenario. These scenarios range from the “best optimistic” to the “worst case” each of which needs a separate analysis in a dynamic situation.
We may refer to general system theory[4] in order to explain how observable events or phenomenon can be studied in a constant dynamic interaction as parts of a larger system which by definition has a continuous tendency for stability. This can be applied to all branches of science, including natural, social and political studies.
As an aspect of systems theory, system dynamics[5] is a method for understanding the dynamic behavior of complex systems. The basis of the method is the recognition that the structure of any system is often just as important in determining its behavior as the individual components themselves. Examples are “chaos” theory and “social dynamics.” In some cases the behavior of the whole cannot be explained in terms of the behavior of the parts. This explains the integration of tools, like language, as a more sparing process in the human application of easiest path adaptability through interconnected systems.[6]

Dynamic Programming and Game Theory
In the management field and operational research we use dynamic programming by mathematical techniques when we face a series of interrelated problems that require “sequential decisions”[7] and solutions. “Dynamic programming is an approach involving the optimization of multistage decision processes.” [8] The optimality principle here means that a given problem or situation is divided into stages of “sub-problems” which have to be solved sequentially and then aggregated to a final optimal policy after a thorough examination and cost-benefit analysis.
In international relations, when there are a number of actors with different interests and strategies competing or conflicting with other, we use “game theory” in order to reach an acceptable solution to all. For this purpose, we try to optimize each actor’s gain and loss in putting into motion their various courses of action by solving a numerical problem set-up in a matrix.[9]
In game theory, while there is always a conflict of interests between participant actors, rationality in decision options is the foundation of the game. In other words, if there is to be a solution, the outcome of game should be derived from a rational choice of each player who tries to maximize his gains and minimize his losses. In this approach, depending on the types of the games (zero-sum or non-zero-sum) the optimum strategy is the one that satisfies all participants. Otherwise, the game would either go to stalemate or has to be continued until the time it has a satisfactory solution.[10]
This process can apply to strategic regions with multiple actors seeking contradictory objectives. It allows to each independent player to divide a major security problem into a number of manageable sub-problems and arrange them according to their strategic values and find suitable solutions for each.

Dynamic Crisis Decision
There are other studies in the field of crisis decisions that distinguish between dynamic and static approaches. One such study is published in American Political Science Review.[11] This article argues that heuristic-based cognitive models [or dynamic approach based on trial and error rather than set of rules] on the one hand, and holistic rational theories [based on static set of rules], on the other, have always created debates regarding decision making or choice which is at the crux of social science research.
According to the study, some scholars argue that decision makers use maximizing holistic strategies, based upon a particular predetermined static rule. Others claim that  for volatile crisis situation with high perceived risks and threats,  non-holistic (or dynamic) approach should be employed.Since, in the process of handling a crisis situation there is always a probability that the course of events changes direction and magnitude. Thus, a static predetermined set of rules may prove irrelevant to the new condition.
Relying on   past studies that typically examine "static" situations, may end up to erroneous outcomes; especially when “policy alternatives and decision criteria are simultaneously introduced into the decision matrix.”[12] However, foreign policy crises are very often characterized by a different decision structure: an evolving choice set in which policy options emerge during the process. In other words, a dynamic approach to the decision leads to the cross-examination of each alternative in the course of the development of a crisis situation.

Dynamic Political Ideology
Some analysts have tried to study the functional and practical aspects of ideology and culture in the field of political science. They distinguished between dynamic and static character of these two major components in political realm. In their static conditions, political ideologies and political cultures are simply two variables to be considered in political inquiries. But, when they are put into motion they can produce significant results for the society. Since, they shape the way a nation thinks and, accordingly, acts. It is generally believed that “Political Ideology is dynamic and political culture is static.”[13] 
Political ideology relates to a certain set of ideals or principles dealing with a nation, or even a group, that explains how society should work.[14] A political ideology largely concerns itself with how to allocate power and to what ends it should be used. It is often seen as the background of a political party and their policy. On the other hand, political culture, in simple terms, is what most citizens expect from their government.[15]
Political culture is usually determined by the government, which is why it is considered static; however, political ideology is dynamic because it is usually determined by the people.[16] In some instances however, the reverse of this proposition may prove true. This may be the case where the state ideology runs against the will of the people and their traditional culture. In this example political ideology promoted by the government becomes static or even retroactive and culture plays a dynamic role in shaping a nation identity and political configuration.
The functional benefit of this distinction lies in the overall influence of these two determinants on state behavior in political realm and people consciousness with respect to their national identity. Most social and political conflicts between people and the ruling system stem from this dichotomy.

Political science is essentially the study of man in isolation and in collectivity. Governments and institutions are just parts of human activities that facilitate orderly interactions in the social environment. To inquire into and understand men’s behavior in their political milieu we have multiple methods, tools and approaches. No unique technique or approach can logically claim to perform this whole task.[17]
A pioneer of modern political science, describing this difficulty, once said "We are limited by the impossibility of experiment. Politics is an observational, not an experimental science."[18] Thus, political scientists have historically focused on political elites, institutions, and individual or group and observed their behavior in order to identify patterns, draw generalizations in order to build theories and models for better explaining the political environment. However, after many centuries of political inquiries we are still far from being able to declare success in our endeavor. There are many reasons to support this argument. Permanent quarrels, conflicts, crises and wars among peoples and nations are good indications for this contention.
In spite of all the difficulties and complexities involved in this field, contemporary political science has developed to a great extent by adopting a variety of methods and theoretical approaches for better explaining and understanding politics. Our purpose in this short paper was to shed light on the dynamic aspect of political inquiry and methodology which in practice provides better ground for devising a policy decision rather than an abstract idea.[19]/


*  Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations at IAU, Science and Research Branch. Faculty of Law and Political Science. Tehran- Iran.

[1] French thinker and philosopher  1798- 1857 founder of sociology and  positivism.
[2] Albion W. Small. "Static and Dynamic Sociology." American Journal of Sociology, 1 ‎‎(1895): 195-209.This article is a critical review of Lester F. Ward American sociologist 1841-1913.
[3] Ibid
[4] Bertalanffy, Ludwig Von. Perspectives on General System Theory Edited by Edgar Taschdjian. George Braziller, New York. (1974).
[5] System Dynamics was founded in the late 1950s by Jay W. Forrester of the MIT Sloan School of Management.
[6] This passage is taken from : “Systems theory ,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[7]  See e.g. C R  Kothari, An Introduction to Operational Research, New Delhi, Wikas Publishing House Pvt Ltd. 1983. pp. 116-120.  See also: Richard E. Bellman, Dynamic Programming, p.83
[8] Ibid
[9] See Ali Asghar Kazemi, Politimetrics: Quantitative Methods in Politics and International Relations, Tehran: IPIS. 1995. In Persian

[10] I have deliberately simplified the subject of “game theory” here in order to make my point with respect to the dynamic approach to research technique. For further reading see relevant materials  on the subject.

[11] Mintz, Alex; Geva, Nehemia; Redd, Steven B.; Carnes, “ The effect of dynamic and static choice sets on political decision making: an analysis using the decision board platform.American Political Science Review , September 1, 1997.
[12] Idem
[13] Political Ideology and Political Culture Uploaded by Nivizzle (54) on May 16, 2007.
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.    
[14] Ibid
[15] Idem
[16]  In some places where the political ideology is dominant and determined by the government, it could become static; and conversely, political culture becomes dynamic.
[17]   See e.g. Ali Asghar Kazemi, Method and Insight in Politics, (A Philosophical, Scientific and Methodological Approach) , Tehran: Institute for Political and International Studies(IPIS), 1995. In Persian   
 See also: Ali Asghar Kazemi, The Seven Pillars of Politics, Tehran: Islamcpo Publishing Co. 2000. In Persian
[18]  Lowell, A. Lawrence. 1910. "The Physiology of Politics." American Political Science Review 4: 1-15. Former American Political Science Association President.

[19] In the course of writing this paper I have consulted many useful political science handbooks and internet sources, including Wikipedia, for which I have not necessarily given reference. The clever reader can understand the reasons for this deliberate omission that could otherwise need many pages.