Using Field Experiments to Study Soft Power in Kyrgyzstan

Using Field Experiments to Study Soft Power in Kyrgyzstan

December 12, 2012

December 12, 2012

Kara Downey, PhD Candidate, Stanford University

Abstract: Though political scientists have long acknowledge "soft power" (the ability to elicit voluntary compliance from citizens) is an important component of rule, its effects are rarely studied at the micro-level. Kyrgyzstan is a particularly interesting place to study soft power for two reasons. First, the Kyrgyz government, aware of its limited coercive capacity, has promoted several cultural projects with the explicit goal of increasing patriotism and citizens' obedience to the state. Second, Kyrgyzstan is the site of competition for influence among an unusually large number of powerful foreign actors, most notably China, Russia, and the US. The ability of these actors to influence Kyrgyz public opinion will have big consequences not only for those countries' geopolitical ambitions, but also for Kyrgyzstan's own economic development. During my presentation, I will discuss an ongoing pilot experiment being conducted in Bishkek high schools which investigates the ability of one particular state cultural project, the Manas legend, to increase the government's ability to influence students' opinions. It also examines students' attitudes toward several hypothetical foreign investment projects. Because the study is still ongoing, this presentation will focus mostly on the research questions and on the pros and cons of using a field experiment to answer them. This pilot study is the basis for a larger study to be conducted among adults throughout Kyrgyzstan next year.

Bio: Kara is a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Stanford University. She joined CASI in August, 2012 to conduct preliminary research about how the language and format in which political information is presented affects people's willingness to believe it. Her research is sponsored by the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies and the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, both at Stanford. This research will form the basis of her dissertation.

Kara previously lived in Kyrgyzstan from August 2008 - August 2009 on a Fulbright Grant. Before coming to Kyrgyzstan the first time, Kara earned a BA in both political science and theater from Northwestern University, and taught English for a year in Irkutsk, Russia. She received her MA in Political Science from Stanford University in March 2012, and has spent summers in Astrakhan, Russia and Dushanbe, Tajikistan since starting graduate school. She speaks Russian and some Tajiki, and looks forward to improving her Kyrgyz.


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