Gravity Centers of Authoritarian Rule: a Comparative Perspective

Third party funded individual grant

Project Details

Project leader:
Prof. Dr. Thomas Demmelhuber

Contributing FAU Organisations:
Lehrstuhl für Politik und Gesellschaft des Nahen Ostens

Funding source: DFG-Einzelförderung / Sachbeihilfe (EIN-SBH)
Start date: 01/01/2015
End date: 30/09/2018

Research Fields

Legitimacy in a non-democratic environment
Lehrstuhl für Politik und Gesellschaft des Nahen Ostens
Comparative Research on Autocracies in the Middle East
Lehrstuhl für Politik und Gesellschaft des Nahen Ostens

Abstract (technical / expert description):

The resilience of autocracies in various world regions and the emerging model of illiberal capitalist autocracies such as China or Russia has led to a growing scholarly attention on the durability of those regimes. Mainstream literature, however, focuses on the domestic dimension and neglects the international sphere, although autocracies not only seem to resist to the global spread of democracy but also display their own activities of autocracy promotion particularly within their regional realm. Meanwhile, foreign policy has gained relevance as an additional instrument of authoritarian power consolidation but needs a more thorough scholarly consideration in order to capture the dissemination of autocratic institutional elements, policies, rules, values and attitudes.This project argues that the promotion of autocracy (intentional, actor-driven) as well as the diffusion (unintentional, neutral transmission) can be attributed to authoritarian centers of gravity which we define as regimes that constitute a force of attraction and contagion for countries in the near abroad. The question is: What elements are imposed, diffused and transferred, in which way, in which intensity and effectiveness? What mechanisms between the authoritarian gravity centers and the neighboring countries are induced? The project follows three objectives: (1) Addressing the lack of a conceptual basis concerning the international dimension of authoritarian rule and offering a better understanding of the dissemination of autocratic elements through the concept of authoritarian centers of gravity. (2) Identifying the sources, elements, and addressees of autocracy promotion and diffusion and tracing their respective pathways on the basis of a developed analytical, heuristic model. (3) Applying this model in an empirical analysis.The research design is based on a Most Different Cases Design encompassing three identified centers of gravity which represent different regions, different autocratic subtypes and which have in common as the dependent variable the regional framing of autocratic dissemination: Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Kazakhstan. The cross-area comparison addresses the pathways of influence and diffusion towards the neighboring countries. The analysis focuses on the period of time from 2001 until 2014 and will be conducted in a qualitative way.The project provides a conceptual and empirical contribution to the still under-researched field of the international dimension of autocracies and, particularly, findings about the Why, How and What of concrete mechanisms of autocratic dissemination. The spatial category of gravity centers in a regional context implies an added value for explaining the dynamics of autocratization compared to mostly bilateral perspectives. Our study is expected to generate evidence on convergence in the neighborhood of authoritarian gravity centers and thus links to future studies on convergence.

External Partners

Universität Hildesheim


Kneuer, M., & Demmelhuber, T. (2016). Gravity Centers of Authoritarian Rule: A Conceptual Approach. Democratization, 23(5), 775-796.

Last updated on 2019-31-05 at 13:59