Liberal Democratisation and Ethnic Politics in Africa: Methodological Reflections

Tar, Usman A. (2007) Liberal Democratisation and Ethnic Politics in Africa: Methodological Reflections. Information, society and justice journal, 1 (1). pp. 49-60. ISSN 1756-1078


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This article offers methodological reflections of the relationships between
liberal democratisation and ethnic politics in Africa, based on a critique of an
‘empirical’ research work carried out on the subject matter by Smith (2000: 21-
39). In this work, Smith uses a sophisticated variety of quantitative techniques
to engage the debate on the causal association between three key variables:
political liberalisation, democratisation and ethnic conflict in Africa. A seeming
innovation of Smith is the use of a less familiar method (regression analysis)
amongst scholars of African politics to advance a positivistic argument for an
intellectual subject matter that has so far been subjected to constructivist
explanations. This article argues that (a) Smith’s quantitative work can and do
complement existing qualitative work, particularly amongst African and
Africanist scholars. Yet, it argues that (b) Smith’s technique and arguments are
so riven with sophisticated statistical formulae and abstract analysis that they
do not lend themselves to easy comprehension. The article therefore (c)
questions the exclusive utility of a positivist approach in studying African
politics – a terrain awash with subjective realities and (d) recommends the
importance of mixing methods, as a means of ensuring methodological

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Information, society and justice journal; Liberalisation; Democratisation; Ethnic conflict; Africa; Methodology; Positivism; Interpretivism
Subjects: 300 Social sciences > 320 Political science
Department: School of Social Sciences
Depositing User: Mary Burslem
Date Deposited: 26 Mar 2015 15:48
Last Modified: 26 Mar 2015 15:48

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