Experiments with ChatGPT, Part II

In my last post, I explored historical questions with ChatGPT. This time I decided to try out more analytical questions. The news is distinctly less good for ChatGPT. The first question is about my book, which is recent and obscure, so not a lot of internet content to draw on, and ends up being pretty blah. The second is about a massive question with lots of material, but I asked for a more definitive argument than ChatGPT seems interested in. The third is asking for a kind of critical literature review focused on an influential book, and it doesn’t go well at all. This all may be improved in a year or two, but at present suggests a real limit to what ChatGPT can do.

That said, I remain overall very impressed with its abilities – instantly writing a coherent, decent-Wikipedia-level summary of a historical trend or comparison of (famous) authors is a big deal and will be very useful to a lot of people, in ways good and bad. I definitely need to start thinking hard about the most useful kinds of papers to assign in the AI era – banning ChatGPT or whatever isn’t going to happen, so the key will be to figure out where value-added can be generated from an assignment. For instance, asking very specific analytical questions about relatively recent research is not (at least thus far) a ChatGPT area of strength.

Question: What are the strengths and weaknesses of Paul Staniland’s 2021 book Ordering Violence?

Answer: “Paul Staniland’s 2021 book Ordering Violence: How the Ancients and Moderns Created State-sponsored Crime is a detailed and nuanced analysis of the ways in which states use violence to maintain order, both historically and in the present day. Here are some strengths and weaknesses of the book:


  1. Comprehensive: The book covers a wide range of historical and contemporary case studies, drawing on examples from Asia, Africa, and Latin America to illustrate its arguments. This breadth of analysis allows Staniland to develop a rich understanding of the complexities of state violence.
  2. Empirically grounded: The arguments in the book are supported by extensive empirical evidence, including interviews, archival research, and statistical analysis. This grounding in empirical research adds credibility to the book’s claims and makes it a valuable resource for scholars and policymakers.
  3. Conceptually innovative: Staniland develops a number of new concepts and frameworks to help understand the nature of state violence, including the concept of “ordering violence” itself. These concepts offer new ways of thinking about state violence and its relationship to political order.
  4. Engaging and accessible: Despite the complexity of the subject matter, the book is written in an engaging and accessible style, making it suitable for both academic and non-academic audiences.


  1. Limited focus on Western states: Although the book does cover case studies from outside the West, the majority of the analysis is focused on Western states. This may limit the applicability of the book’s arguments to non-Western contexts.
  2. Lack of attention to gender: The book does not pay much attention to the gendered nature of state violence and its impacts on women and LGBTQ+ individuals. This is a significant gap in the analysis given the prevalence of gender-based violence in many state-sponsored violent acts.
  3. Overemphasis on state agency: While the book acknowledges the role of non-state actors in perpetrating violence, it sometimes overemphasizes the agency of the state in ordering violence. This can lead to an overly simplistic view of the nature of violence in complex political contexts.
  4. Limited focus on economic factors: The book does not pay much attention to the role of economic factors in shaping the nature of state violence. Given the significant role that economic interests can play in shaping state violence, this is a gap in the analysis that could be addressed in future work.”

My comment: well, this isn’t so great. Some of the weaknesses are perfectly reasonable points – gender and economic issues definitely don’t receive as much attention as others, and it is a state-focused argument. But the list of strengths are basically pulled from blurbs and the book description, and not very specific, certainly not enough to use in a paper. In addition to getting the sub-title of the book wrong, the book is actually almost exclusively about non-Western states, so Weakness #1 it identifies is the opposite. Definitely not something you’d want to base an essay on. The other critiques are very vague – how, precisely, would a gendered lens lead to different outcomes (note: I am not arguing that it wouldn’t, but instead that ChatGPT isn’t specifying), for instance? There isn’t much of an internet paper trail for ChatGPT to rely on; it seems like recent work or stuff without a big literature will be a real weakness for this tool.

Question: Is Max Weber’s approach to studying society more or less persuasive than Karl Marx’s?

Answer: “Both Max Weber and Karl Marx are important figures in the field of sociology, and their approaches to studying society have had a significant impact on the discipline. However, it is difficult to determine whether one approach is more persuasive than the other, as they differ in their assumptions, methods, and focus.

Max Weber’s approach is often referred to as interpretive sociology or verstehen sociology, which emphasizes understanding the subjective meanings that individuals attach to their actions and behaviors. Weber argued that social phenomena could not be fully explained by objective factors alone, such as economic or political structures, but also needed to take into account the subjective experiences and interpretations of individuals.

On the other hand, Karl Marx’s approach is known as historical materialism or dialectical materialism, which emphasizes the role of economic and material factors in shaping social relations and structures. Marx argued that society was divided into classes based on their relationship to the means of production, and that the struggle between these classes was the driving force behind historical change.

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, and their persuasiveness depends on the context and the research question being asked. For example, Weber’s approach may be more persuasive when studying the subjective experiences and motivations of individuals, while Marx’s approach may be more persuasive when studying the economic and political structures that shape society.

Ultimately, the choice between these approaches will depend on the specific research question, the available data and methods, and the theoretical and philosophical perspectives of the researcher.”

My comment: this seems quite typical of these models – they don’t ultimately come down on a particular argument, but kind of summarize each to some extent, then say it depends or is up to the researcher. Useful in crafting a 90,000-feet-up summary, but not (yet) taking the next step. Useful up to a point, but a student would need to dig a lot deeper.

Question: which articles or books offer the most persuasive critiques of Stathis Kalyvas’ 2006 book “The Logic of Violence in Civil War”?

Answer: “As an AI language model, I cannot offer a personal opinion or provide a definitive answer to this question. However, I can suggest some resources that may help you in your search for critiques of Stathis Kalyvas’ “The Logic of Violence in Civil War”:

  1. Academic journal articles: Many scholars have published critiques of Kalyvas’ book in academic journals. You can try searching for articles that review or engage with Kalyvas’ arguments. Some examples of journals that often publish articles on civil war and conflict studies include the Journal of Conflict Resolution, International Security, and Security Studies.
  2. Books: There are also several books that include critiques of Kalyvas’ work. One example is “Violence and Civility: On the Limits of Political Philosophy” by Étienne Balibar, which discusses Kalyvas’ book in the context of broader debates about the relationship between violence and politics.
  3. Online forums: Online forums such as Reddit or Quora may also have discussions or threads where people offer critiques of Kalyvas’ book. These may be more informal or less scholarly than academic articles or books, but they can still provide useful insights or perspectives.

It’s worth noting that Kalyvas’ book has been widely praised and has had a significant impact on the study of civil war and political violence. However, as with any scholarly work, it is also subject to critique and debate.”

My comment: this is useless.

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