The Department of Government
The Department of Government
Democratic Contention in Europe and Latin America since the Revolutions of 1848

Making Waves

Kurt Weyland is the Lozano Long Professor of Latin American Politics. His newest book, Making Waves: Democratic Contention in Europe and Latin America since the Revolutions of 1848, showcases the depth and breadth of his research. Employing the theoretical insights of cognitive psychology and expanding into Europe, beyond his traditional research home of Latin America, Making Waves is a deeply theoretical and historical work, comparing the divergent trends of political regime contention in 1848 and the “Arab Spring” on the one hand, and in Europe in 1917-19 and South America in the 1970s-80s on the other.


From Cambridge University Press:

This study investigates the three main waves of political regime contention in Europe and Latin America. Surprisingly, protest against authoritarian rule spread across countries more quickly in the nineteenth century, yet achieved greater success in bringing democracy in the twentieth. To explain these divergent trends, the book draws on cognitive-psychological insights about the inferential heuristics that people commonly apply; these shortcuts shape learning from foreign precedents such as an autocrat's overthrow elsewhere. But these shortcuts had different force, depending on the political-organizational context. In the inchoate societies of the nineteenth century, common people were easily swayed by these heuristics: Jumping to the conclusion that they could replicate such a foreign precedent in their own countries, they precipitously challenged powerful rulers, yet often at inopportune moments -- and with low success. By the twentieth century, however, political organizations had formed. Their leaders had better capacities for information processing, were less strongly affected by cognitive shortcuts, and therefore waited for propitious opportunities before initiating contention. As organizational ties loosened the bounds of rationality, contentious waves came to spread less rapidly, but with greater success.



"Making Waves is an ambitious, audacious, and well-crafted analysis of why the diffusion of political regime contention was much more rapid but had a lower success rate in Europe in 1848 and 1917–19 than in Latin America in the late 1970s and 1980s. The book combines historical knowledge and political science in fertile ways. Weyland makes important contributions to the literatures on diffusion, democratization, contentious politics, and cognitive heuristics."--Scott Mainwaring, University of Notre Dame

"Weyland develops a theory of political diffusion founded on the integration of cognitive micro foundations (inferential heuristics) with organizational macro factors, applying it to an analysis of three major eras of diffusion of struggles for democracy in Europe and Latin America. This is a highly ambitious and successful attempt that constitutes a fundamentally important contribution to political science because it demonstrates the explanatory power of cognitive processes that are the exact opposite of the cognitive processes assumed by rational choice analysis, and it offers a systematic analysis of the mechanisms through which the organizational context modifies these cognitive processes and their effect on political behavior."--Evelyne Huber, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"Why does democratization come in waves, and why do these waves succeed or fail? In a work of breathtaking sweep, Weyland draws from the written and oral testimonies of the principals across continents and centuries to show that when word of democratic uprisings spreads rapidly across national borders to inspire comparable actions, common people may tragically miscalculate, but when better-informed leaders of mass parties and organizations are able to channel popular impulses and direct events, they are more likely to prevail. This book will redefine how the field of comparative politics understands the process of democratization."--Frances Hagopian, Harvard University

"The idea that diffusion is an important causal process is intuitively obvious but strikingly under-theorized.Making Waves is a theoretically and empirically ambitious effort to meet this challenge. Empirically, it examines three historical waves of democratic opposition: Europe in 1848 and 1917–19 and South America in the 1970s and 1980s. Theoretically, it advances two approaches to explaining diffusion and the success or failure of democratic opposition movements. The book is an important contribution to the study of both diffusion and the major episodes of democratization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries."--Ruth Collier, University of California, Berkeley

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