Political Studies Review (PSR) provides a unique intellectual space for rigorous high-quality peer-reviewed original research across political science and the study of politics in related fields that aims at stimulating wide-ranging debate and cutting edge discussion of current disputes and issues in the discipline within the UK and internationally.
“Personalization, usually defined as an increased relevance of individual politicians at the expense of parties over time, manifests itself at institutional, media and behavioural levels” – claim Corentin Poyet and Michail Chiru in their PSR Article. Learn about this intriguing political phenomenonand its influence on electoral systems, candidate selection and party leadership selection processes, behavioural as well as media personalization.A fuller analysis of these topics can be found in the PSR article: The Electoral Connection Revisited: Introduction to the Special Issue
PSR: How would you define the personalization of politics?
Mihail Chiru, Corentin Poyet: The literature has given various definitions of the personalization of politics, depending also on the level at which this phenomenon has been theorized. We adhere to an understanding of personalization as an increased relevance of individual politicians at the expense of parties over time, acknowledging that this can manifest itself in behavioural patterns of politicians and voters, through reforms of political institutions or at the level of the media. This phenomenon goes hand in hand with the crisis of collective representation and the decline of trust in parties, being also enabled by technological changes. In the special issue, we concentrate on understanding better one dimension of decentralized personalization, that is personalization focused on regular politicians, not party leaders. We do so by examining the institutional and contextual correlates of Members of Parliament (MPs) engagement in cultivating a personal vote, and by assessing whether such efforts are rewarded by voters in very diverse settings.
You focused on five European countries: Finland, France, Romania, Italy and Hungary. What has determined your selection?
The literature on the topic is mainly country-specific, and the few comparative works rarely include cases from Central and Eastern Europe. With our selection, we wanted to assess the correlates and electoral consequences of behavioural personalization in countries that have very different institutional designs and party systems, have achieved different levels of democratic consolidation and in which electoral system reforms went in opposite directions regarding the levels of personalization (e.g. Italy and Romania). The case selection also enabled us to show that legislators’ efforts aimed at personal vote-seeking happen sometimes even in the absence of electoral system incentives (the case of Italy), or in the context of legislatures highly controlled by parties (the case of France).
What are the key factors in the three major strategies for cultivating a personal vote: position-taking, credit claiming and advertising?
The three major strategies are not mutually exclusive but complementary. Position-taking refers to the use of parliamentary instruments (speeches, questions, legislative motions, roll-call votes etc.) by MPs to express a personal position that usually mirrors the perceived preferences of the constituents. The critical element here is that these positions can be different from or even contradict the positions of the legislator’s party and thus jeopardize the unity and goals of the party.
Credit claiming has the aim of making constituents believe that the MP is responsible for a positive outcome, i.e. an increase in the welfare of the district or the adoption of a popular policy. This can be achieved in various ways and it does not necessarily imply the presence of tangible benefits. For example, parliamentary questions – that are studied in four papers of the special issue, rarely result in immediate policy changes or allocation of funds towards districts but MPs can still claim credit for having put the issue on the agenda and contributed towards solving the problem.
Finally, advertising is about actions that MPs take to increase their name recognition and create a favourable image. Here, the content of the message is less critical, but it usually has to do with the personal characteristics of the MPs that are appealing to the constituents and facilitate name recall such as their experience, their ties with the district or their socio-economic background.
The articles in the special issue show that the adoption of these strategies depends both on the characteristics of the legislators and their districts and on features of their parties (e.g. government-opposition status, type of candidate selection).
In the special issue, we concentrate on understanding better one dimension of decentralized personalization, that is personalization focused on regular politicians, not party leaders.
You asked whether personal vote-seeking efforts get noticed and rewarded by voters? What do your findings show?
This is a question widely discussed in the literature, but evidence for a personal vote is rare. Two of the articles in the Special Issue are relevant for this discussion. Zsofia Papp shows that Hungarian voters from rural districts reward interpellations that deal with agriculture, when this policy area has great salience, and during times of high governmental unpopularity. Conversely, she finds that MPs can lose a significant number of votes by asking agricultural interpellations when they represent an urban area. David Arter draws on the case of Finland to show that even in institutional contexts generally perceived as conducive to intra-party competition (open list PR under a high party magnitude), candidates gain most of their votes from their home municipality, a finding which can be interpreted as evidence for voters rewarding local ties.
Have you spotted any particularly interesting country-specific trends of party decline and political personalization?
Declining rates of party membership, growing dissatisfaction with democracy and electoral volatility have become distinctive features of European political systems in the past decades, and in this respect, we see an unwelcome convergence of Western and Central and Eastern European democracies. One route politicians have followed to try to address these issues was to give voters and rank and file party members a stronger say in who gets nominated or elected for public or party office. This was done via institutional personalization reforms that have adopted more candidate-centred electoral systems or have made candidate selection and/or party leadership selection processes more inclusive through the introduction of primaries.
Interestingly, the special issue shows not only that behavioural personalization can be facilitated by institutional personalization reforms, but also that personal vote-seeking behaviours survive even when the electoral incentives for them vanish. The cases studies analyzing the determinants of constituency service in Romania and Italy following electoral reforms that have gone in opposite directions are revealing in this respect.
In Romania, the personalization of the electoral system has increased the incentives for MPs to cater to territorial interests and engage more in constituency service. Mihail Chiru’s analyses show that the 2008 electoral reform has led to a substantial increase in the share of parliamentary questions inspired by allocation responsiveness. On the other hand, in Italy, the 2005 electoral reform abolished single-member districts and introduced the most party-centred electoral system possible: closed list Proportional Representation. In his article, Federico Russo is able to illustrate that despite the absence of electoral system incentives, Italian MPs still devote considerable time to constituency service and this is driven mostly by personal motivations rooted in past local political experience and biographical ties with the constituency.
Interestingly, the special issue shows not only that behavioural personalization can be facilitated by institutional personalization reforms, but also that personal vote-seeking behaviours survive even when the electoral incentives for them vanish
What are the key contributions your article brings to the field?
A critical contribution of the special issue is its ability to illustrate that personal vote seeking behaviors are not an exception in European legislatures but a rather common feature, regardless of the institutional settings in which the legislators operate and of the levels of democratic experience of their polities. In doing so, the articles in the collection also empahsize the relevance of factors which have been largerly disregarded by the continental legislative studies literature, such as the role of district features.
A second key contribution of the special issue is to show that, although behavioural personalization is frequently perceived as a potentially disruptive and destabilizing factor, in all the five cases analyzed, parties managed to maintain a key role in the way individual responsiveness works and in how individual voter-politician linkages are concretely established. David Arter’s article illustrates that in the Finish case, parties not only organize how personal vote-seeking and personalized campaigning is conducted, but they deliberately select local candidates to ensure proper geographical coverage and maximize personal votes. Moreover, as Corentin Poyet’s article shows, the salience parties assign to issues that matter locally can reinforce the MPs’ district responsiveness.
Corentin Poyet is an Academy of Finland postdoctoral researcher at Tampere University. His research interests include parliamentary studies, electoral systems and public policy. His work has been published in The Journal of Legislative Studies, Legislative Studies Quarterly and Parliamentary Affairs, among others.
is a Lecturer at the Russian and East European Studies Department, Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, University of Oxford. His main academic interests include legislative behavior and legislative organization, party politics, and electoral studies. His recent work was published in Journal of European Integration, Journal of European Public Policy and Journal of Common Market Studies.
“We can’t even say what identity is, we can’t truly understand why it’s having an effect on the mediation of power. We often want to make causal arguments in political science, so this gap is a real problem. Having a better framework for talking about identity would help us have smarter discussions about it as political scientists” – say Scott Weiner and Dillon Stone Tatum. Learn about identity, identity politics and its meaning for political science. A fuller analysis of these topics can be found in the PSR article: Rethinking Identity in Political Science.
PSR: What is the most precise definition of identity? And what are its specifics in the field of political science?
Scott Weiner, Dillon Stone Tatum: Identity is essentially our “address” in the social and political world. That’s not a bad definition but it’s vague. In fact, it’s really hard to say exactly what identity is, and that’s why we wrote this piece. This paper found ten different definitions of identity in major political science scholarship over just a 25 year period. And that’s only in political science, not the rest of social science. Different kinds of political science each have great scholarship on identity (we discuss three in the piece), but each kind of identity works totally differently. We can explain precisely why a Prius, a Porsche, and a Model T are all cars, but we can’t say precisely why these three frameworks are all identities. Given how central identity is to political science, that’s a big problem. We’re trying to understand how identity mediates power without knowing what identity is.
You claim that “political scientists lack a common framework for addressing questions about what identity is, how it relates agents with social and political structures, and how it changes over time”. Would a common framework or toolbox benefit social and political science?
Yes, because identity is a central concept of political science. For the most part, our discipline studies why, when, and how some entities get power while others don’t. One way to do that is to look at identities like ethnicity, gender, or nation and see whether being part of one group is a good prediction of getting power or not. But if we can’t even say what identity is, we can’t truly understand why it’s having an effect on the mediation of power. We often want to make causal arguments in political science, so this gap is a real problem. Having a better framework for talking about identity would help us have smarter discussions about it as political scientists. It would also help us create better and more respectful ways of having discussions with and about members of society whose identity is outside of the norm in some way.
In your article, you focused on three dimensions of identity: ethnicity, gender and national identity. Do you consider these three to be the most important dimensions of identity? If so, why?
Ethnicity, gender, and nation are three highly developed subfields of political science with which readers are likely to have familiarity. We picked these three so it would be easier to make our key point that they all work differently, using examples that readers know and to which they can relate. We also are both really fascinated by these particular identities. This paper actually started out as a series of online chat messages about our research, and we realized that our conversations spoke to a larger issue in political science. Our paper is based off a discussion of these three identities but we don’t claim that they’re necessarily the most important. They are, however, very different in how they conceptualize identity, so they happen to be excellent examples of the point we’re making in this paper.
Having a better framework for talking about identity would help us have smarter discussions about it as political scientists
Could you briefly elaborate on your model of elements of identity? How can studying changes and shifts within recognition, visibility and conceptualisation benefit political science?
In considering identity as a political phenomenon, we focused on three elements of identity. First, we focused on recognition—to what degree are one’s identity claims recognized as legitimate by a political community? Second, we looked at visibility—to what degree are attributes associated with one’s identity (i.e., markers of race, gender, ethnicity, etc.) visible and recognizable to others? Third, we considered the issue of conceptualization—to what extent is the identity conceptualized(able) by a socio-political group. The ability to even have debate about terms like “transracialism” are limited, in a sense, by the way we can express identity frames in language in the first place.
Studying shifts is important for understanding the ways that political movements are able to change (or not) social attitudes. The internet’s role, for example, in allowing asexual people to gain more recognition and stronger conceptualization of their identity has implications for LGBTQ+ politics.
You claim that identity is the way we orient ourselves in a given community on the basis of recognizable attributes. What about the identities with dark visibility or low recognition such as in the case of Rachel Dolezal you highlight? Where is the boundary of this debate?
Identity is inherently social and relational—in other words, identity is not just something we can claim about ourselves, it’s something that depends on recognition and visibility. There are two things that the unrecognizable or invisible forms of identity highlight for us: (1) The continuing struggle that some groups and individuals experience in having their lives affirmed by society. It has only been since the 1970s, for instance, that homosexuality was de-pathologized as a psychological diagnosis. Recognition is not a given—it is a site of contentious politics; (2) It allows us to interrogate the why question in regards to non-recognition—in thinking about cases like Rachel Dolezal’s, we were less interested in commenting on the claims she was making than by the conflict that ensued as her identity claims were rejected.
Identity is inherently social and relational—in other words, identity is not just something we can claim about ourselves, it’s something that depends on recognition and visibility.
What are the key contributions your article brings to the field?
The biggest contribution we hope to bring to the field is to create a common frame of reference for diverse research agendas to talk about identity. While identity is a central feature of political research, we found that there were deep sub-disciplinary boundaries that foreclosed dialogue. We want to poke holes in those boundaries, and expand the frontiers of what we can do with a more comprehensive framework.
Scott Weiner is a professorial lecturer in political science at George Washington University. His research focuses on identity politics in the Middle East with a focus on state building, kinship, and gender politics on the Arabian Peninsula. From 2013-2014, he was a Visiting Research Fellow at the American University of Kuwait.
Dillon Stone Tatum is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Francis Marion University. His research focuses on liberalism and world politics, critical security studies, and international political theory.
In this article, we wanted to explore how people build academic careers in political science, with a particular focus on those at the start of their careers, early-career academics. Because we also know that women are underrepresented in the discipline at all levels of seniority (Pflaeger-Young et al., 2021), we were particularly interested to see whether we would find any gender differences in experiences of career development.
As part of our research, we carried out a survey, which was sent to the Political Studies Association’s Early Career Network. We also did eight interviews with individuals who indicated they would be interested in speaking further on the topic. We asked respondents their thoughts on the job market, training, support for career development at their universities, mentoring, and networking – all activities important in building and strengthening skills, as well as reputation and membership in an academic community. We also asked more generally about experiences of isolation and discrimination, as our previous research has shown that these are some reasons people struggle to progress in an academic career (Mattocks and Briscoe-Palmer, 2016).
With regards to the job market, the top three concerns looked similar for men and women: lack of job opportunities, a competitive job market, and financial challenges (this ranking was 1/3/2 for women). But a greater percentage of women were concerned about those factors than man. There were also other differences: combining a career with family life was identified as a worry by 63% of women and 42% of men, for example.
In general, we found that men were both more likely to have a mentor (60% of women and 71% of men) and to report positive experiences of mentoring relationships. One finding that emerged is many women would prefer a mentor who is also a woman. With regards to networking, 51% of women and 50% of men said that they participated in networking. However, gender disparities became evident when we asked about why people did not participate in networking: 74% of women and 46% of men reported that a lack of confidence was a reason that they did not participate in networking events. So, overall, we find that while men and women ECAs participate in networking at the same rate, men reported greater confidence in doing so.
Women reported more instances of discrimination from students, colleagues, and institutions. Nearly one-fifth of women (20%) and 4% of men reported discrimination from students. Interestingly, these men were from outside of the UK, meaning no British men reported discrimination from their students. Women were much more likely to report difficulties based on ethnicity and geographical origin (for example, not being a native English speaker).
Ultimately our findings showed a gendered effect of some aspects of professional development, in particular a disparity between concerns about academic careers, as well as experiences of mentoring, networking, and teaching (specifically discrimination from students). We found no gendered differences in experiences of training offered by universities and in the rate of networking.
Women reported more instances of discrimination from students, colleagues, and institutions. Nearly one-fifth of women and 4% of men reported discrimination from students.
These findings are not an explanation for the underrepresentation of women in the profession, but they do add to the evidence base of challenges that women can face. On their own, each experience we describe might seem trivial. Taken together, they paint a picture of a system in which some people have more
access than others. We argue that we need to continue to study and highlight structural inequalities and wider cultures of sexism, racism and other types of discrimination in academia. More work is necessary on this topic to understand representation in the discipline in more detail (Emejulu, 2019). Most urgently, we need to have a deeper understanding of career development and progression from an intersectional perspective, and also take into account other gender identities, disability, and socio-economic factors.
This is even more important given that Covid-19 has made existing inequalities even stronger (Bhala et al. 2020). Women have borne the brunt of caring responsibilities (Andrew et al., 2020). The pandemic has had a drastic impact on recruitment in political science, and job prospects are bleak (McKay, 2020), meaning less stability and more competition, and an even more challenging future for early career academics.
Bhala N, Curry G, Martineau AR (2020) Sharpening the global focus on ethnicity and race in the time of COVID-19.The Lancet 395 (10238):1673-1676.
Emejulu A (2019) Can Political Science Decolonise? A Response to Neema Begum and Rima Saini. Political Studies Review 17(2): 202–206.
Mattocks K and Briscoe-Palmer S (2016) Challenges Facing Minority Politics PhD Students in the United Kingdom: Women, People of Black and Ethnic Minority Origin, and Disabled Persons. European Political Science 15(4): 476–492.
Pflaeger Young Z, Amery F, Holden Bates S, et al. (2021) Women in the Profession: An Update on the Gendered Composition of the Discipline and Political Science Departments in the UK. Political Studies Review 19(1): 12-36.
Shardia Briscoe-Palmer is an Early Career Academic at De Montfort University. She researches gender, race and social (in)justice. Shardia is also a doctoral researcher in Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham.
Kate Mattocksis a Lecturer in Politics at the University of East Anglia. She researches cultural policy, particularly as it relates to issues of cultural identity and cultural diversity, and academic labour.
Has Political Science as a discipline, as well as Political Science departments in the UK made significant progress in terms of gender equality? “Given the higher profile of gender issues and the increase in measures and initiatives aimed at addressing gender inequalities, we might expect to see considerable progress in the presence and status of women, especially among those universities that have put active policies in place” – says Dr Zoe Pflaeger Young. “However, our survey conducted in 2018 shows that there has only been incremental rather than transformative change” – she adds.
The article is a part of a special issue: Gender in the Profession-wide analysis of #gendered composition of the Political Science departments in the UK.
Zoe Pflaeger Youngis a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at De Montfort University. Her current research concentrates on the crisis of social reproduction and family policy in the context of austerity, with a particular interest in shared parental leave and childcare.
Date and time: 19.11.2020, 4pm-5pm Registration: go here
This is the second event of the Gender and Sexuality Lecture Series with a special focus on ‘A Feminist EU in the World?’. During this event, there will be a special focus on the special issue in Political Studies Review 18(3) edited by Hanna L. Muehlenhoff (UvA), Anna van der Vleuten (Radboud University Nijmegen) and Natalie Welfens (UvA). With amongst others Toni Haastrup.
“Against the background of a sense of crisis in the European Union and in international politics, European Union Member States have since 2016 increased their cooperation within the Common Security and Defence Policy, for example, establishing the European Defence Fund. Scholars have long pointed out that the European Union lacks the necessary ‘hard’ military power to influence international politics, subscribing to and constituting an image of the European Union as not masculine enough. We are critical of these accounts and develop a different argument” – listen to a podcast by Dr Marijn Hoijtink, based on a PSR article he co-authored with Dr Hanna L. Muehlenhoff: “The European Union as a Masculine Military Power: European Union Security and Defence Policy in ‘Times of Crisis’“
Dr Marijn Hoijtink is Assistant Professor in International Relations and International Security. Her research covers International Relations, critical security studies, and Science and Technology Studies, and focuses on the design, development, and global circulation of (new) security technologies and weapons.
Dr Hanna L. Muehlenhoff is Assistant Professor of European Studies with a focus on ‘Europe in the World’ at the Department of European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research studies the European Union’s external relations from a feminist perspective, focusing on the EU’s women’s and LGBTQ rights promotion in Turkey and the EU’s security and defence policy.
Dr Katharine A. M. Wright is Senior Lecturer in International Politics at Newcastle University. Her research and teaching focus on gender and security, including at NATO and in EU foreign and security policy.
Prof. Roberta Guerrina (Univeristy of Bristol) is an expert in EU gender politics and policies. She is interested in understanding the impact of gender (hierarchies) on key policy areas traditionally seen as gender neutral, such as Brexit, Security and Defence.