The paper examines the contributions of scholars of transitions by illuminating, first, key shifts in our theoretical understanding that occurred with the publication of Transitions from Authoritarian Rule. Here it focuses on establishing different insights into the role of elections and, hence, the classification of regimes, as well as structural versus more voluntaristic interpretations of politics and, hence, the role of supposed preconditions. Second, it explores changes in research design that affect how we understand the role of states, nationalities and international factors as well as evaluate the importance of world regions and select units of analysis. Third, it looks at a central methodological challenge posed by the devices politicians choose during different modes of transition, especially the role of political pacts. A brief conclusion follows. This discussion is not intended to be comprehensive. It does not try to cover all of the relevant issues, critiques and literatures that have enriched the field over the last quarter century; nor does it address central questions concerning the definition of democracy, its quality or its testing and measurement that pose serious challenges for the future. Instead, it seeks to assess in broad brushstrokes how the field of democracy studies has changed with the publication of Transitions from Authoritarian Rule.
This Working Paper will be a chapter in an edited volume entitled The Diversity of Democracy: A Tribute to Philippe C. Schmitter, edited by Colin Crouch and Wolfgang Streck, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, US: Edward Elgar (forthcoming 2006).
The book honors the 20th anniversary of the publication of the landmark book, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule by Guillermo O'Donnell and Philippe Schmitter.