Authoritarianism - Research Design

As shown in the chart below the research team assumes that the sociodemographic characters and the cultural context of a nation are decisive for the weight of the independent variables "individual authoritarian disposition", "anomy" and "cognitive conversion of history". These independent variables are then exerting influence on dependent variables listed on the right side of the chart.
But what is authoritarianism? We are using the concept developed by the so called Berkeley group - Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Else Frenkel-Brunswick, Nevitt Sanford and others - in the United States after the Second World War. According to these researchers the authoritarian character is characterised by conventionalism, submission and a lack of criticism towards authorities as well as aggression towards "weaker" people. Furthermore, authoritarian people tend to have low confidence towards fellow citizens, a mindset which tends to see the world in "black" and "white" and a lack of confidence in democratic principles. The researchers mentioned above assumed that an authoritarian character is the result of an oppressive education and the resultant oppression of one´s drives.

Anomy means a lack of orientation and a feeling of powerlessness. As a research concept it is often used when the causes and consequenzes of economic,  social and political crises are studied. Some researchers found connections between anomy and aggression and therefore this concept seems to be useful to scrutinize the authoritarian potential in the four countries.

Cognitive conversion of history means social memory which is a construction and therefore not objective. According to various authors (Halbwachs, Ricoeur, Assmann), the interplay between the individual and social memory tends to disregard aspects capable of hindering a positive self-assessment. We can therefore say that collective perceptions of historical events are formed on the one hand by the interests of individuals or groups in a society and on the other by the individuals´ or the groups´ need to feel oriented in regard to the present and the future. The prevailing ideologies and interests are most influential in forming the perceptions of the past. The role of scientific historiography should not be overestimated.

The formation of perceptions of historical events is also influenced by the political system of a society. In a democratic, pluralistic system there is a tendency towards a pluralism of perceptions of historical events. Certainly, various players such as public institutions, civic organisations, politicians, individuals, mass-media and other firms defend and promote those perceptions of historical events which guarantee their positive image. However, perceived guilt and mistakes related to one´s own nation have the chance to be published and to be discussed.

In authoritarian or dictatorial political systems the political power is concentrated at the top of the state-hierarchy. Instruments of control either do not exist or are non-effective. Citizens are not expected to act according to what they believe to be correct. Rulers expect obedience and submission. Not surprisingly, in authoritarian systems the perceptions of historical events are more homogenised. If the information on and interpretation of certain historical events do not support the state ideology, the authorities try to suppress them. However, memory eliminated from schoolbooks or mass-media might be conserved by initiatives of the illegal opposition.

When an authoritarian system is transformed into a liberal and democratic one, existing values and interests undergo a  change. Perceptions of historical events change due to emerging powers in the country, due to political questions related to the handling of the legacy of the past and the country´s new relations to the world. Discussions and interpretations of the past at various levels of intensity can contribute to the development of a democratic political culture.

The central research questions are formulated in several hypotheses on the relations between individual authoritarian disposition, anomy and cognitive conversion of history on the one side and political authoritarianism, democratic participation and hostilities towards minorities on the other side. We assume that highly authoritarian people are more hostile towards minorities and foreigners than others, that they show more anomy and that they are politically less democratic. Furthermore, we are interested to find out, how (non)authoritarian people interpret authoritarian or totalitarian experiences. Are they in favour or against discussions on the totalitarian past.
The empirical resarch is being implemented by country-specific questionnaires. 1000 telephone interviews are being done per country in cooperation with the Vienna based sociological institute SORA, the polling firm SPECTRA and polling firms in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. The context of the empirical data will be investigated by a survey of the scientific literature (history, memory culture, sociology, political science) and comparable sociological data, mass-media and schoolbooks.

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