Politics and International Relations Theses

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This collection is made up of doctoral and master theses by research, which have been received in accordance with university regulations.

For more information, please visit the UCD Library Theses Information guide.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 5 of 7
  • Publication
    The Inequalities That Divide – A Theory of Left-Right Politics
    (University College Dublin. School of Politics and International Relations, 2022) ;
    The left-right dimension of politics is a dominant political divide in numerous societies around the world, and the corresponding left-right terminology describing this dimension is commonly used by voters, political elites, and scholars alike to make sense of various political landscapes. Yet, what makes political phenomena left- or right-wing is not fully understood, neither in the academic community, nor in broader society. Building on previous literature, this thesis proposes a novel version of acceptance of inequality theory to explain what makes political phenomena left- or right-wing. I argue that there are many potential inequality dimensions (e.g., divisions along class, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc.) that can become politically divisive. This means that different societies can be divided along different inequality dimensions. When one of these inequality dimensions is preponderant, many voters and political actors decide their left-right orientation based on their acceptance (or rejection) of this particular inequality. This means that left-right competition will comprise different coalitions in one context compared to another, as different inequalities divide voters and political actors in different settings. This theory is compared to several competing explanations, including that the underlying difference between the Left and the Right is attitudes towards change, government intervention in the economy, religion, and the idea that there is no context-independent distinguishing feature. My novel version of acceptance of inequality theory as well as the alternative explanations are examined in four empirical research papers. The aim of these papers is to examine acceptance of inequality theory in instances of left-right competition that the theory has previously been unable to explain, as well as instances that remain understudied overall. In the first paper, multilevel regression models demonstrate that contrary to previous research, acceptance of inequality predicts right-wing self-placements of individuals in both Eastern and Western Europe. Importantly, this paper demonstrates that whether attitudes towards a specific inequality predict left-right self-placements in a country is dependent on the country-level salience of that inequality dimension. The second paper analyses open-ended survey answers describing what the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ mean using topic modelling. This paper provides evidence for acceptance of inequality theory, as well as partial evidence for two other explanations of the left-right dimension, namely that resistance to change or attitudes towards government intervention in the economy separate left- from right-wing politics. Conversely, using data from the World Values Survey, the third paper finds that attitudes towards different inequalities better predict left-right self-placements around the world compared to attitudes towards both economic statism and change. An additional analysis of the Netherlands shows that the proposed moderating effect of personal issue salience on the relationship between issue attitudes and left-right self-placements (an observable implication of the proposed causal relationship) is only present for acceptance of inequality, but not for attitudes towards economic statism. The fourth paper examines different instances of left-right competition around the world, with a focus on exploiting variation and finding rare instances that would be able to challenge the reach of acceptance of inequality theory. This paper finds that equality–inequality theory is the only prominent explanation that can consistently explain the left-right dimension in the reviewed cases, as well as in three case studies (of Indonesia, Moldova, and Israel). Overall, this thesis provides substantial evidence for a theory of the left-right dimension that can help social scientists and voters alike make sense of historical, contemporary, and future left-right politics.
  • Publication
    The Interplay between Foreign Aid, Peacebuilding, and Post-conflict Stability
    (University College Dublin. School of Politics and International Relations, 2022) ;
    The research studies the impacts of foreign aid on post-conflict stability. There have been limited studies on the impacts of foreign aid on conflict when compared to other areas of development. This is particularly rare in post-conflict studies. Most of the studies make use of cross-country quantitative analyses and rational models. However, this research makes use of a mixed method approach. The research utilises georeferenced data from UCDP and AidData, and makes use of quantitative, geospatial, as well as qualitative and case study analyses of 4 states in 2 post-conflict regions in Nigeria – the South East and the South South Regions. The research also creates a novel method of measuring conflict relapse in large-scale quantitative and geospatial studies. The research finds that foreign aid enhances the likelihood of conflict relapse, particularly conflicts caused by political motives. However, foreign aid tends to reduce the tendencies of conflict relapse caused by socio-economic factors. This finding is supported by the qualitative evidence in the case study of Nigeria. The research also finds that the longer the duration of aid the more likely the aid will reduce the relapse of conflicts. Although this can create aid dependency and aid shocks when the aid is terminated. Furthermore, while the heterogeneity of aid can influence the relapse of conflicts, the research shows that the internal characteristics of the recipient states, particularly the causes of conflict would have a greater impact on aid effectiveness in post-conflict societies. The research additionally finds that bypassing government can create more challenges in post-conflict societies. However, a hybrid system that effectively involves the government, non-state actors, and particularly the end-users of aid is encouraged, especially in conflict-prone societies.
  • Publication
    Securitization and Social Media Networks: Who Tweets Security?
    (University College Dublin. School of Politics and International Relations, 2022) ;
    Famously coined by the Copenhagen School of Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, and Jaap de Wilde (1998), the concept of securitization focuses on political communication to explain how security threats come into existence. Rather than treating security as a given object, securitization understands security as a linguistic practice (Aradau et al., 2014) and builds on the constructivist idea that by 'speaking security' a given issue becomes a security problem (Austin, 1975; Stritzel, 2014; Wæver, 1995). As with other forms of political communication, the advent of social media has brought about important implications for securitization, accommodating a wider range of actors and providing more accessible means to make effective claims about threats. Yet on the basis that 'security is only articulated in an institutional voice by the elites' (Wæver, 1995: 57), the securitization scholarship has been slow to adapt to the new context of online political communication, leaving many open questions about the ways in which online networks contribute to the emergence of security problems. This dissertation explores this puzzle by integrating tools from the field of Computational Social Science to study the working mechanisms that bolster securitization on online networks. The three studies that are part of this analysis seek to address the gap between the important theoretical advancements that have been developed in previous work and their limited empirical applications by adopting diverse methodological approaches to re-examine theoretical questions in the field of security studies. In particular, this work contributes to our understating of securitization by three means: 1) it offers a systematic empirical framework to study securitization as discourse networks; 2) it delves into the question of who are the actors that define security problems online; and 3) it analyses the ways in which securitization spreads on online networks. This project, therefore, contributes to the literature both theoretically and methodologically. Most importantly, it challenges the top-down approach that has been widely adopted by the securitization scholarship and shows that the online behaviour of elite and non-elite actors has significant implications for international security.
  • Publication
    The Drive Theory of International Relations
    (University College Dublin. School of Politics and International Relations, 2022) ;
    This thesis develops a metatheoretical approach to international relations (IR) which it calls “the Drive Theory". The thesis starts out by highlighting the problem of several established approaches in IR in both broadly rationalist and broadly constructivist traditions. These approaches posit that particular interests (whether exogenously given or identity-derived) lead to particular forms of behaviour. However, they fail to specify a clear causal mechanism generating the postulated link. Among other things, that leaves them unable to account for empirical cases where their postulated correlation between interests and behaviour does not hold. Subsequent chapters define the Drive Theory’s ontological and epistemological underpinnings with a particular focus on the adopted notion of causality. This discussion draws on the school of critical realism in the philosophy of science in assuming that all events in the world result from the operation of underlying causal mechanisms. Based on this, the thesis proposes a model of two opposing causal mechanisms that are jointly responsible for all observable forms of international relations. This model draws on Sigmund Freud’s second instinctual theory – the theory of the life and death instincts. Reflecting this, the Drive Theory terms the causal mechanisms responsible for all observable forms of international relations “Eros” and “Thanatos”. Eros provides actors in the international system with the capacity to establish cooperative relations while Thanatos enables these actors to establish conflictual relations. Which form of relation is realized in a given case depends on the balance between relevant independent variables that support the manifestation of either Eros or Thanatos. By identifying these connections, the Drive Theory offers a metatheoretical framework that helps us explain why any international relation has the observed form and no other. The final part of the thesis discusses the Drive Theory's empirical applicability in areas such as historical explanation, the construction of counterfactuals, and – cautiously – empirical prediction.
  • Publication
    Balancing Autonomy, Control and Accountability: An Exploratory Study of the Steering Relationship between the Irish Department of Justice and three of its agencies - 2015 to 2020
    (University College Dublin. Graduate School - Social Sciences and Law, 2022) ;
    This study examines evolution of the steering relationship between the Irish Department of Justice and three of its agencies between 2015, when annual Performance Agreements were introduced, and 2020. The study focuses on the performance targets in the agreements to explore evolution of the relationship through the prism of Gradual Institutional Change Theory. This research is therefore focused on public sector reform and governance. It seeks to extend existing knowledge about the relationship between an Irish Government Department and its agencies. It is the first longitudinal study of performance agreements between an Irish Department and its agencies. A qualitative approach was adopted for the study, combining detailed documentary analysis focused on the content of the annual performance agreements, with semi-structured interviews with key elite informants in the Department and each of the agencies. The three case study agencies are the Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI), National Disability Authority (NDA), and Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA). They are respectively a service delivery agency, a policy advisory agency, and a regulatory agency. Primary task or function is thus a key explanatory variable. Other structural characteristics of these agencies – namely age, size, political salience, and presence (or absence of) a governing board, are all utilised to predict the level of autonomy that would be expected in the case of each agency. Performance targets in the agreements were extracted, standardised, and classified. Classification of targets was based on their focus on inputs, organisational processes, outputs, or outcomes. This classification was used to identify the steering type applied to each agency, using Askim et al.’s (2019) typology of modes of steering. The documentary sources provided valuable information on the mode of steering being applied in each case. To gain insight into the dynamics of change over time, semi-structured interviews were undertaken with senior officials in the Department and agencies with direct experience of negotiation and implementation of the agreements. Guiding concerns were nature of Department control, degree of agency autonomy, and extent of agency accountability. A clear pattern across the agencies of increasing number of targets over time was observed. Focus of the targets also changed over time. The Department deliberately adopted a light touch approach early in the process, seeking to establish agency support. A weak focus on performance was observed in the early agreements. The regime did, however, make agencies more accountable to the Department. The Department retained a high level of control over inputs available to the agencies. Impact of the regime on agency performance was limited. Agencies sometimes leveraged the process to gain additional resources. Background of individual agency CEOs had an influence on the process, but agency boards appeared to exert little influence. Agencies appear receptive to moving to a more performance-oriented system but are hampered by tight Department control of inputs. Structural characteristics have an impact on level of autonomy experienced by individual agencies, but not always in line with expectations derived from comparative literature. These findings are likely to relate to the institutional history of Irish agencification, which was not driven by the New Public Management paradigm. Instead, Irish agencies were often established on an ad hoc basis, responding to a specific political crisis. Thus, while the introduction of performance agreements has had positive impacts on agency accountability, some reforms might enhance impact on agency performance. Three suggestions are made in this regard. These are a stronger focus by the Department on outcomes, publication of performance and outcome data by agencies, and engaging agency boards in the performance process.