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Politics Everywhere: Olympic Figure Skating

- February 15, 2010

Are Olympic figure skating judges biased against medal contenders from geopolitical rivals? Yes, say Brian Sala, John Scott, and James Spriggs in: “The Cold War on Ice: Constructivism and the Politics of Olympic Figure Skating Judging.” Apparently, the end of the Cold War has eliminated these structural causes of bias, nothwithstanding some recent accusations that suggest otherwise. Here is the abstract:

We examine judge bias in Olympic figure skating as an exploratory analysis of a leading constructivist approach to identity using quantitative methods more closely associated with non-constructivist social science. While constructivism is a major theoretical orientation in international relations, large-n quantitative studies of the approach are uncommon in large measure due to the principal argument of constructivists: that interests should be treated endogenously. If interests and identities are mutually constituted, then it would seem to be impossible to distinguish their effects, creating a problem of observational equivalence. Some constructivist theorists nevertheless suggest that under certain conditions material interests can be thought of as causes of collective identity, meaning that it is in principle possible to isolate the influence of identity.We build on this “bounded” version of constructivism by identifying an arena of international relations in which the observable effect of the identities constituted by interactions among states can be analyzed independent of those states’ national security concerns.We study whether collective identities constituted by the international system during the ColdWar systematically influenced judge bias inOlympic figure skating, examining whether judges’ evaluations of skaters systematically vary according to whether their respective states viewed one another as “friends,” “rivals,” or “enemies.”

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