Melody Ellis Valdini Receives the 2020 Victoria Schuck Award

The Victoria Schuck Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best book published on women and politics.

Melody Ellis Valdini (Ph.D. 2006, University of California, San Diego) is professor and chair of the political science department at Portland State University as well as the associate editor of the Journal of Women, Politics & Policy.  Her research focuses on the consequences of institutional design, with a focus on electoral systems, political parties, and women’s descriptive representation.  She has published in the American Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, Electoral Studies, and Politics & Gender, and won the Carrie Chapman Catt Prize for a project on gender stereotypes and political corruption.  In addition, Dr. Valdini is the author of two books: The Character of Democracy: How Institutions Shape Politics (with Richard Clucas) and, most recently, The Inclusion Calculation: Why Men Appropriate Women’s Representation (both published by Oxford University Press).  She teaches courses on comparative politics, with a focus on gender, representation, institutions, and the regions of Latin America and Europe.

Citation from the Award Committee:

Melody Valdini’s new book The Inclusion Calculation changes the way we think about gender and politics.  This book shifts the focus from the institutional, structural, and cultural factors that impact women’s representation to the interests and incentives of male gatekeepers.  She asks, “Why and under what circumstances do members of the ‘in’ group allow and even encourage members of the ‘out’ group to be in the government?”  While Valdini acknowledges that there may be some ‘angels’ who work for gender equality even if it is not in their own interests, most politicians are rational opportunists who do not explicitly oppose women in politics, but also do not actively work towards inclusion.  She argues that women’s representation is the result of a calculation of the costs and benefits to male gatekeepers of including women.  The theoretical sections of the book clearly outline the factors that affect this calculation.

The costs of inclusion include the displacement of incumbents, threat to the power and resources of the current male elite, and the potentially negative electoral impact of women candidates, because of the perceived incongruity of stereotypical female characteristics with governance.  Responsiveness to social movement demands and international pressure may create costs or benefits for including women.

The inclusion calculation can change dramatically if there is a crisis of legitimacy.  When parties lose legitimacy because of corruption scandals or the undermining of democratic practices, stereotypical female characteristics become more valuable, and the costs associated with including women decline.  In such a context, stereotypical female characteristics become an asset rather than a liability in the inclusion calculation.  Valdini’s framing helps to provide a unified theoretical explanation for many of the empirical findings of existing research into representation, stereotypes, political parties, and corruption.

The empirical chapters provide brief case studies and statistical analyses to illustrate the effect of corruption scandals and declining democratic rights on the inclusion calculation.  The book is clearly written and accessible to a wide range of readers, including undergraduate students.

The committee believes that one asset of this book is the likelihood that it will launch important new scholarship.  We hope that Valdini’s framework will be extended to develop intersectional analyses of representation.  The components of the inclusion calculation are clearly and persuasively articulated.  They can easily be adapted to a wide range of circumstances and tested in many different ways.  We believe this book will usher in an important new research program for the study of women’s representation.

APSA thanks the committee members for their service: Caroline Beer (chair), University of Vermont and Nandini Deo, Lehigh University;