Bookbeat: February 2006

Recent publications from CLAS faculty

The Fate of Africa’s Democratic Experiments: Elites and Institutions The Fate of Africa’s Democratic Experiments: Elites and Institutions

edited by Leonardo A. Villalón, Center for African Studies, and Peter VonDoepp
(Indiana University Press, 2005)
Available through Amazon

Living in Niger in the early 19990s, Leonardo Villalón experienced African-style democratization first hand—the first-ever presidential elections, the sheer precariousness of the process and its stubbornness.

When a wave of democracy, linked to the fall of the Soviet empire, swept over Africa, change, and its possibilities, confronted a continent accustomed to autocratic rule. Some states, like Somalia and Rwanda, disintegrated, while others reinvented themselves. “One set of countries made what can be called—at least in a narrow sense—a democratic transition,” Villalón says. “They adopted a new set of institutions and elected new leaders.” Ten countries that shared this experience are examined in The Fate of Africa’s Democratic Experiments: Elites and Institutions, edited by Villalón, director of the UF Center for African Studies and a political science professor. “In some the democratic system more or less took hold, in others it fell apart,” he says. “The relationship between elites and democratic institutions was critical in shaping these countries’ fates.”

While the book project predates Villalón’s arrival at UF in 2002, it includes strong UF connections, reflecting the university’s reputation as a center for the study of African politics. Villalón’s co-editor, Peter VonDoepp, is a UF alumnus; and other contributors include Michael Chege who directed UF’s Center for African Studies from 1996 to 2002; Richard R. Marcus who earned his PhD from UF; and Abdourahmane Idrissa, a current PhD student.

Leonardo A. Villalón Leonardo A. Villalón

A limited number of countries underpin much of the theory of democracy, and that needs to change, says Villalón. “Africa, arguably the least studied region when it comes to democracy, has a lot to contribute to the broader theoretical discussions precisely because it challenges the conventional wisdom. By that wisdom Benin, Niger and Mali should have zero chance to establish or maintain democracies: they are extremely poor with histories of authoritarianism, ethnic and linguistic divisions, a difficult colonial heritage and—in the case of Mali and Niger—overwhelmingly Muslim. However, today they are functioning democracies—despite imperfections and problems.”

The fate of democracy in Africa matters, Villalón says, to the lives of Africans and to historical processes. States that collapse brutally affect not only their own citizens; the waves of migrations and environmental disasters that follow affect the entire world.

In the struggle between Afro-pessimists and Afro-optimists, Villalón urges readers to look squarely at the challenges. “There is a lesson here—there is no choice but to continue to struggle. What these cases suggest is that people can sometimes, if not always, make their own history, despite the odds.”

—Michal Meyer

The Tattoo Artist The Tattoo Artist

Jill Ciment, Department of English
(Pantheon Books, 2006)
Available through Amazon

In her new novel, Jill Ciment turns her eye to a painter’s world in the early years of the twentieth century and tells the story of an American woman, an acclaimed artist who’s been stranded on an island for thirty years. The novel opens in New York in the 1970s. Sara Ehrenreich, who had been living on a remote speck in the South Pacific for three decades, has returned to New York to much fanfare. As Sara experiences all of the sensations of entering a new world, the novel flashes back to tell the story of her life.


Ambivalence, Politics, and Public PolicyAmbivalence, Politics, and Public Policy

edited by Stephen C. Craig and Michael D. Martinez, Department of Political Science
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)
Available through Amazon

Exploring the extent and nature of attitudinal ambivalence on public policy issues, these essays by distinguished scholars of public opinion examine citizens’ conflicting attitudes about abortion, gay rights, environmental protection and property rights, crime and the police, and church-state relations. Using multiple approaches to measurement and research design, this volume helps build a sturdy foundation of knowledge about the phenomenon of ambivalence and its effect on politics.


The Wild World of 4-ManifoldsThe Wild World of 4-Manifolds

Alexandru Scorpan, Department of Math
(American Mathematical Society, 2006)
Available through Amazon

This is a panorama of the topology of simply connected smooth manifolds of dimension four. Dimension four is unlike any other dimension; it is large enough to have room for wild things to happen, but too small to have room to undo them. For example, only manifolds of dimension four can exhibit infinitely many distinct smooth structures. Indeed, their topology remains the least understood today.

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