Abstract Prominent scholars engaged in comparative research on democratic regimes are in sharp disagreement over the choice between a dichotomous or graded approach to the distinction between democracy and nondemocracy. This choice is substantively important because it affects the findings of empirical research. It is methodologically important because it raises basic issues, faced by both qualitative and quantitative analysts, concerning appropriate standards for justifying choices about concepts. In our view, generic claims that the concept of democracy should inherently be treated as dichotomous or graded are incomplete. The burden of demonstration should instead rest on more specific arguments linked to the goals of research. We thus take the pragmatic position that how scholars understand and operationalize a concept can and should depend in part on what they are going to do with it. We consider justifications focused on the conceptualization of democratization as an event, the conceptual requirements for analyzing subtypes of democracy, the empirical distribution of cases, normative evaluation, the idea of regimes as bounded wholes, and the goal of achieving sharper analytic differentiation.
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