Democratization Theories and the Third Wave of Democracy

Essay, 2014

11 Pages, Grade: C



1. Introduction

2. Theory
2.1 The structural view
2.2 Agency theory
2.2.1 The strategic view / transition theory (Teorell 2010:19-21)
2.2.2 Social forces tradition
2.2.3 Economic approach
2.3 Third wave of democratization

3. Discussion
3.1 Compare and contrast the theoretical foundations of these perspectives
3.2 Assess their potential for explaining democratization during the third wave
3.2.1 Structural approach
3.2.2 Agency approaches

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

In this paper I will compare and contrast the theoretical foundations of theories of democratization which emphasize structural determinants and theories which focus on agency, and assess their potential for explaining democratization during the third wave. To do this I will first present some background theory, before I go into a discussion and reach a conclusion. The paper is based up on literature from course syllabus for SAMPOL115.

2. Theory

Different scholars will have different concepts and definitions of what a democracy is. One could define democracy through Joseph A. Schumpeter’s minimalist democracy or with more demanding standards as liberal democracy in Guillermo O’Donnell’s definition (Møller and Skaaning 2013:43-44). In this paper the word “democracy” will be used according to Schumpeter’s minimalist definition:

“the democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote.” (Møller and Skaaning 2013:31).

I will come back to why I will use this definition under “Third wave of democratization”.

Democratization can be defined as “…one form of regime change.” (Teorell 2010:31). Further Teorell (2010:32) adds “…the process through which countries become more democratic.”. Teorell’s definition is closely linked to Samuel P. Huntington’s understanding of democratization; “…transitions from non-democratic regimes to democratic regimes…” (Møller and Skaaning 2013:65).

The process of democratization is in no way an commonly agreed upon process in regards to the theory. This conflict is called the “agency-structure” problem (Møller and Skaaning 2013:155).

Today most can agree that there has been established two dominant theory directions; a theory that emphasize structural determinations (structural view) and a view that focus on agents (agency theory) (Møller and Skaaning 2013:155). The two directions can be seen as extremes on either end of a scale. This means that the theories presented does not only have elements of structure or agent in it, but a mix of both with one theory dominating.

The structural theory “tend to emphasize…”deep” causes, stretching far back in time” whereas “actor-centered theories, revolving around contingent choices, tend to emphasize more proximate causes.” (Møller and Skaaning 2013:156).

2.1 The structural view

Seymour Martin Lipset published “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy” in 1959. Lipset’s was arguing “…democracy is related to the state of economic development. The more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy.” (Diamond 1991:93). Lipset points out the correlation between different aspects of modernization and level of democracy (Møller and Skaaning, 2013:93). He does not explicitly determine the cause of democratization. It does, however, ignite a view that for a state to become and achieve a sustainable democracy, modernization would be needed (Møller and Skaaning 2013:102). Early modernization theory is defined by Evelyn Huber, Dietrich Rueschemeyer and John D. Stephens (1993:71) as “… a concept in which society, economy and polity are systematically interrelated, integrated by an overarching value consensus, and subject to increasing specialization and differentiation of social structures…”.

From this understanding we can assume that supporters of a modernization view on democratization will regard institutions (schools, clinics, courts etc.) and procedures (bureaucracy) as fundamental for a successful democratization process (Dalton, Russel, Doh C. Shin, and Willy Jou. 2007:145).

2.2 Agency theory

Agency theory consists of three different approaches; the strategic approach, social forces approach and the economic approach. What these approaches have in common is the focus on how agents (individuals or masses) key elements in the process of democratization.

2.2.1 The strategic view / transition theory (Teorell 2010:19-21)

According to Teorell (2010:19) the strategic view on democratization came as a response to Lipset’s modernization theory. The first concepts of the theory and the foundation was carved out by Dankwart Rustow in 1970, and later processed further by O’Donnell and Philippe C. Schmitter in 1986 (Teorell 2010:19). Rustow used a transition model in phases to explain the process of democratization (Teorell 2010:19). The phases are (with O’Donnell and Scmitter’s phases in parenthesis); the preparatory phase (liberalization), the decision phase (democratization) and the habituation phase (consolidation).

Another key point is that “…(almost) no structural prerequisites exist for the initiation of this process, and the key part played by agency and strategic decision making, particularly among political elites.” (Teorell 2010:19).

How well a country preforms trough the different phases is in large determined by elite interaction between “hardliners” and “softliners” in the regime, and the degree of the bargaining skills of those involved (Teorell 2010:20).

But the spark that ignites the process is not necessarily found in the people at large, but “…through an elite-driven process from above, with other segments of society playing at most an “ephemeral” role” (Teorell 2010:20 on Rustow, O’Donnell and Scmitter 1986:55).

Unlike other theories of how democratization emerge, the strategic view do not call for special prerequisites, hence “Democracy may crop up under extremely varying historical, institutional and structural conditions.” (Teorell 2010:20).

2.2.2 Social forces tradition

Barrington Moore more or less introduced academic approach to the social forces tradition and “…seeks the origins of democratic rule in the characteristics of and relationships among social classes in society.” (Teorell 2010:22). Moore divides the classes by material interests; landed upper classes and the peasantry (Teorell 2010:22). He also claims that “No bourgeois, no democracy.”, placing the middle class as the main support for democratization among the classes (Teorell 2010:22). Unlike the strategic view this theory argues that democratization starts from below, not from above.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Democratization Theories and the Third Wave of Democracy
University of Bergen  (Institute of comparative politics)
115 - Democracy and democratization
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ISBN (Book)
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Home exam paper.
democracy, democratization, political science, comparative politics, third wave, structural determinants
Quote paper
Aleksander Bjelland Koldingsnes (Author), 2014, Democratization Theories and the Third Wave of Democracy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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