Networks, Contexts, and the Combinatorial Dynamics of Democratic Politics

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Abstract

Democratic politics inevitably stimulates a socially imbedded process of communication among citizens, and thus individuals experience politics by way of ongoing forms of social interaction and communication with others. Within this context, it is thus both ironic and problematic that political scientists, journalists, campaign consultants, and others typically conceive of political behavior in terms of individually independent actors rather than as the socially contingent outcome of interdependent citizens located within distinctive ongoing streams of socially communicated information. This state of affairs is less a consequence of theoretically articulated models of behavior than it is an unintentional methodological byproduct. Powerful, productive, and creative methods of analysis, based on the observational platforms of both sample surveys and laboratory experiments, tend to separate interdependent actors from one another. These practices often generate, by default, an atomistic view of public opinion and political behavior. This article addresses several lines of research, based both on laboratory and survey studies, that attempt to reintroduce political interdependence among citizens within the normal scope of political analysis. In this way, political analysis carries the potential to unify micro and macro analyses of democratic politics.

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