University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Ambiguities of Democracy

Our research focuses on the paradoxes, unintended consequences, and hidden costs of efforts to promote democracy. On the surface, democratic reforms are designed to enhance the quality of democracy, but such reforms do not always lead to outcomes that are, in fact, democratic. Citizen empowerment movements define and constrict "valid" modes of political participation. Efforts to regulate political finance may entrench the power of dominant political parties and interest groups rather than spur new contestants and electoral competition. The adoption of electoral systems ostensibly designed to be more representative often mask hidden undemocratic motives. Mechanisms put in place to reduce electoral fraud sometimes increase fraud, alienate voters, or prevent people from going to the polls. In countries across the globe, middle class citizens endorse order and stability rather than mass participation, freedom, or equality as the goals of good government. Scholars in this cluster draw on a variety of methods rooted in interpretive, historical, post-structural, and quantitative research traditions.

Amel Ahmed

Professor Ahmed's main area of specialization is democratic studies, looking particularly at the politics of institutional choice in the process of democratization.  She has recently completed a book entitled “Democracy and the Politics of Electoral System Choice: Engineering Electoral Dominance (Cambridge University Press) which won the Best Book Award from the European...Read more

My main areas of specialization are social movements and protest politics, comparative and transnational feminisms, and Latin American politics and cultures, with a focus on Brazil and the Southern Cone. My recent (co-edited) books include Translocalities/Translocalidades: Feminist Politics of Translation in the Latin/a Américas; and Beyond Civil Society Agenda:...Read more

Barbara Cruikshank

My research interests include modern and contemporary social and political theory, the history of reform, social movements, the politics of sex and sexuality, and relations of power and knowledge.Read more

Ray La Raja

My research interests include political parties, interest groups, elections, campaign finance, political participation, American state politics, public policy and political reform. I am co-founder and former co-editor of The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics and I am a member of the Academic Advisory Board of...Read more

Frederic C. Schaffer, Frederic Charles Schaffer, Frederic Schaffer, Fred Schaffer

My subfield of specialization is comparative politics and my methodological area of expertise is the investigation of concepts. Substantively, I study the meaning of democracy, the practice of voting, and the administration of elections. Read more