Autocracy: A Substantive Approach

Thursday, January 27, 2022
11:30 AM - 1:00 PM

Online, via Zoom.

  • Jason Brownlee,
  • Ashley Anderson,
  • Killian Clarke

About the Seminar: What are the defining traits of an autocracy? Leading works answer this question in negative terms: autocracies are non-democracies. We propose instead a substantive definition of autocracy, which we believe better captures what scholars actually mean when they invoke the term. We define autocracy as exclusive rule. Between substantive autocracy and electoral democracy, there is a residual space, of regimes that do not fit under either concept. We call these regimes “non-autocratic non-democracies” or NANDs.  A substantive understanding of autocracy has important theoretical and empirical implications. Theoretically, it ensures that claims about the population of autocratic regimes are ontologically coherent, and that we do not end up calling barely non-democratic regimes autocracies. Empirically, our measure reveals that the post-Cold War era has been even less autocratic than it is normally portrayed, and that concerns about a global turn toward "autocratization" are likely overblown.

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About the Speakers:

Jason Brownlee

Jason Brownlee

Jason Brownlee, a former post-doctoral fellow at CDDRL, is now a professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, where he researches and teaches about authoritarianism US foreign policy, and Southwest Asian politics.

Ashley Anderson


Ashley Anderson is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. Her research interests are concentrated in the Middle East where she studies issues of contentious politics, political mobilization and regime change.

Killian Clarke

Killian Clarke Headshot

Killian Clarke is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where he is affiliated with the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. His research and teaching focuses on protest, revolutions, and regime change in the Middle East.


Autocracy: A Substantive Approach
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