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V-Dem: measuring democracy

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Agnes Bolinska.

Indices of democracy (measurement of democracy) raise a variety of concerns. First, the latent concept of democracy needs to be clarified in order for coding to proceed and measures to be determined. Second, the multiple purposes for which we might seek measures of democracy suggest that multiple measures are needed, each differently suitable and dependent on the purposes for which they are needed. Questions of aggregation and disaggregation of the components of democracy – many of which differ among the different indices – depend on decisions about indicators of the concept ‘democracy’ and vary among indices. Third, the belief that measurement serves only as an intermediate step in the process of testing hypotheses limits discussion of the role of measurement in other aspects of knowledge production.

V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy), a project that began roughly 10 years ago, explicitly addresses many of these concerns through greater transparency about methodology and a fine-grained disaggregation of indicators of democracy. ‘We provide a multidimensional and disaggregated dataset that reflects the complexity of the concept of democracy as a system of rule that goes beyond the simple presence of elections. The V-Dem project distinguishes between five high-level principles of democracy: electoral, liberal, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian, and collects data to measure these principles’ (V-Dem project website). In this talk, I explore the claims made for V-Dem, the question of what it means to measure an abstract concept like democracy, and whether this project can tell us about the measurement of such concepts in the social sciences more generally.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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