What can East Asia contribute to understandings of democracy and democratization? Much English-language scholarship on the region’s political regimes, even when based on careful fieldwork and conducted by local researchers, proceeds on the basis of externally-developed questions and frameworks. For those working within this deductive model, the region offers a set of cases for testing hypotheses but it does not become a ground for developing original ideas or posing new questions. Further, standard narratives of democratic development tend to compare countries only by measuring them against some external standard. This tendency leads observers to overlook many of the actual characteristics of any given polity. Area studies approaches, by contrast, elucidate new developments but the empirical findings are often not incorporated into broader theoretical debates over the nature of democracy and democratization. Some of the best research on the subject in East Asia is situated in conversations that are largely national. The many ideas, themes, findings, and questions that arise in these separate national conversations too often remain confined to those conversations. In this paper I attempt to connect some of these national conversations to each other. By comparing locally-developed understandings of democracy, we can gain insight into what the spread of democratic institutions has meant in East Asia. Moreover, by connecting these discussions, we can also find that reflection on the East Asian experiences has produced powerful ideas about democracy that are relevant well beyond the region.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/erikmobrand/5/