By Ilan Zvi Baron (Durham University), Jonathan Havercroft (University of Southampton), Isaac Kamola (Trinity College), Jonneke Koomen (Willamette College), Alex Prichard (University of Exeter), and Justin Murphy (an Independent Scholar).

Note: The authors have just published a related article in the International Studies Quarterly. The link to the article is here: The blog post below highlights the key messages in the paper.

Violence is on the increase. Contrary to liberal IR theorists, we argue the spread of liberal institutions does not decrease violence but increases and transforms it. In our article, Liberal Pacification and the Phenomenology of Violence, we propose a new theoretical framework that reveals the liberal peace is in fact liberal pacification.

Many liberal scholars contend violence has decreased in recent decades. These arguments range from the vast IR literature on the liberal and democratic peace to Steven Pinker’s influential book, Better Angles of our Nature (see also Pinker’s Enlightenment Now). Yet these optimistic pronouncements appear at odds with the violent turmoil of our time, marked by refugee crises, ecological devastation, financial collapse, nuclear proliferation, drone warfare, widespread government repression, police violence, mass incarceration, a grotesque concentration of wealth on a planetary scale, the rise of the far right, and much more.

Why are liberal scholars’ conclusions so at odds with the growing sense that violence is endemic thought society? We argue this disjuncture stems from the ways that scholars conceptualize violence.

International relations scholars make many claims about violence. Yet we rarely define it. To address this silence, we offer a typology of three distinct kinds of violence: direct, indirect, and pacification. We argue that the field has only developed the tools to examine direct violence (when a person or agent inflicts harm on another) and indirect violence (manifested through the structures of society). We propose a third understanding of violence: pacification. Using a phenomenological methodology, and drawing on anarchist and post-colonial thought, we show that the violence of pacification is diffuse, inconspicuous, intersubjective, and structured into the fabric of society.

Both direct and indirect accounts of violence are limited, we argue. To understand why, consider the following thought experiment. A man enters a home with a gun, points the gun at the family, and begins to make requests of the family. The family, intimidated by the implied threat of the gun, complies. Is this interaction violent? Most people would probably agree that it is; the implied threat of force terrorizes the family. Understandings of direct and indirect violence focus on measured effects of violence. Any physical violence committed by the gunman would be understood direct violence. Any causal, lasting yet largely unseen effects (e.g. a heart attack induced later by the stress of attack) might be considered indirect violence.

Yet neither direct nor indirect conceptions of violence adequately capture the violence of this scene. The family being attacked might be a white South African family who live within a gated complex. The barbed wire crowning the compound walls, the bars on all the doors and windows, and the private security guard posted out front are everyday examples of how this family lives in constant fear of exactly such a gunman. The assailant might come from a family that suffered under apartheid’s racialized social order and might not have benefited from the society’s democratization and liberalization. If the gunman scales these walls and inflicts wounds — physical or otherwise — then one would clearly say that violence occurred. But what if the barbed wire, barred windows, and private security guard successfully kept the gunman at bay? While the family goes about its daily routine, is the world any less violent? The presence of walls and barbed wire might mean that instances of observable violence decrease, but the society remains — in its very lived, material and psychic forms — structured by violence. Acts of violence do not only inflict physical and psychological harm, they also restructure the social and political world. Violence constitutes the worldhood.

Let’s take a different example. Rapid and historically unprecedented increases in economic inequality since 1970 have coincided with the pacification of militant political opposition to such inequality. The dynamics of rioting, guerrilla warfare and assassinations throughout the first half of the twentieth century exposed increasing discontent with perceived systemic injustice, including capitalism, patriarchy, imperialism, colonialism, and white supremacy. These forms of violent political resistance have been suppressed in liberal society over the past fifty years. A restructuring of social relations has led to a displacement and co-optation of violent protests against the perceived injustices of the world order. The overall discontent has not gone away, but opportunities to challenge oppression through “any means necessary” are increasingly foreclosed upon.

We offer a third conception of violence to make sense of this. The hallmark of this third type of violence—pacification—is that the structures of domination ensure that resistance in the form of direct violence against this order is less frequent. Intersubjective relationships in global politics are restructured by implicit and explicit threats, global surveillance, imbalances in military power, displays of military might, occupations, blockades, nuclear deterrence, terrorism and counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, sanctions, trade disputes, and embargoes, to name a few examples. When IR scholars focus solely on discrete acts of physical harm and quantifiable events, such as body counts, they do not capture the restructuring consequences of these acts.

The liberal restructuring of social and political worlds may lead to fewer acts of direct violence if the restructuring deters agents from engaging in direct violence. Liberal restructuring might also lead to less quantifiable physical harm, direct or indirect. However, the absence of visible forms of (direct and indirect) violence may actually be an effect of an intensification of a third form of violence, namely pacification.

We show that most IR scholars only account for direct and indirect violence and equate the decline in that kind of violence with peace. We demonstrate that the spread of liberal institutions does not necessarily decrease violence but transforms it. Our phenomenological analysis captures empirical trends in human domination and suffering that liberal peace theories cannot account for. We reveal how a decline in direct violence may actually coincide with the transformation of violence in ways that are concealed, monopolized and structured into the liberal order. The paper therefore calls for new methods of data collection and analysis that make it possible to better understand the process of pacification.


Venezuela is putting democracy and its legitimacy to test

By Pia Riggirozzi, Professor of Global Politics, University of Southampton


Long before the current crisis in Venezuela, democracy in Latin America was a damaged project. Military coups d’etat and other violent seizures of power in the 1960s and 1970s were followed by weak attempts at redemocratisation. Efforts to institutionalise social rights, particularly those based on state intervention in the economy, provoked hostile reaction from domestic and foreign markets.


Democratic attempts often faced hurdles caused by profound socio-economic restructuring and severe cuts in public spending – with national budgets linked closely to the global economy. Democracy was also highly dependent on markets.


During the 1980s, oil prices fell dramatically. In Venezuela, debt then skyrocketed, giving way to a dramatic political and economic crisis that was exacerbated by blatant corruption.


Then in 1998 Hugo Chávez was elected president – but with no fixed strategy of what an “anti-capitalist project” might entail. Instead, he took power at the end of a decade that had seen a catastrophic deterioration in living standards and the monopoly of conservative political parties.


Chávez was elected on his pledge to refound the republic in line with the vision of Simon Bolivar, who had liberated Venezuela from Spanish rule in the early 19th century. And for Chávez, over more than a decade his experiments seemed to work.


According to the World Bank, his social, political and economic reforms led to a spectacular 50% reduction of poverty, and a 65% drop in “extreme poverty” between 1998 and 2012.


These gains were mirrored by Venezuela’s neighbours, with Latin America successfully reducing poverty and promoting shared prosperity. The proportion of the region’s 600m people living in extreme poverty (defined as a daily income of less than US$2.50) was cut in half between 2003 and 2012 to around 12%.


In Venezuela, post-neoliberalism as a project (committed to the creation of non-market societies, economies and cultures) remained highly dependent on the oil bonanza, accumulating reserves which supported the use (and abuse) of social welfare regimes. Yet as it became increasingly caught in the international oil industry downturn, so too did the post-neoliberal project.


A state that failed the people

The halving of the oil price in 2014 sharply reversed the advances made in reducing poverty and inequality. Fatal food and medicines shortages, disease outbreaks and widespread social deprivation spiralled into an unprecedented social and economic crisis.


Now, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), nearly 90% of Venezuelans live in poverty – a dramatic increase from an already alarming 48% in 2014.


It would be politically naive to think that the promise of democracy in Venezuela was vulnerable purely because of an over-reliance on a volatile oil industry. That was undoubtedly a fatal flaw, but Venezuela also failed to reconcile a deeply polarised society.


Since his election as president in 2013, Nicolás Maduro has failed to address chronic problems of economic mismanagement, poor planning, increasing social discontent, and corruption. His country has since undergone cycles of protest and repression that reinforced the social divide.


Human rights violations became systematic. There have been well documented restrictions on social protest and freedom of expression, with extrajudicial detentions and arbitrary arrests of opponents. On top of this, a devastating humanitarian crisis has seen an exodus to neighbouring countries – Brazil and Colombia – in a scale never seen before. The number of arrivals from Venezuela to neighbouring countries has steadily increased, reaching 5,000 per day in early 2018.


To some, Venezuela had become a failed state, without the basic norms of democratic governance. Then on January 23 2019, Juan Guaidó, leader of the Venezuelan National Assembly, declared himself president of the republic.


Guaidó has long been an anti-government activist, but until recently was little known around the world – or even in Venezuela. Yet his move was quickly endorsed by several Latin American countries, as well as Canada and the United States. His self-claim to the presidency is quite problematic too: it draws legitimacy from “assertive politics” rather than from a direct democratic ballot. The end apparently justifies the means.


Power grab?

The argument seems to be that Maduro has ruined the Venezuelan economy, violated human rights of all sorts, repeatedly challenged the Venezuelan constitution himself, and was not freely or fairly re-elected in 2018.


Guaidó therefore alleges that that Maduro “stole” power and the role of president has therefore been left vacant.


Meanwhile, the president of the European parliament, Antonio Tajani, said the Venezuelan people have had “enough of the hunger and abuse suffered at the hands of Maduro”. And the Trump administration asserts that all countries must “pick a side” and back the “forces of freedom”.



But can an opposition leader – albeit with the support of foreign powers – simply state that the president of the country is not actually the president, and take power himself? If he can, how would Venezuelans be reassured that removing the “bad” president will not simply legitimise more politics of this “assertive” kind.


So for the moment, the country has been plunged into a situation whereby it has an internationally recognised government which has no democratic mandate from the people or control over state functions – yet it runs parallel to Maduro’s parliament, with a de facto presidential mandate yet a delusional and dangerous sense of authority.


This is not democracy. What Venezuela urgently needs is to reconstruct the foundations of political legitimacy beyond declarations. It requires electoral democracy and political consensus that can genuinely represent the people, deliver development, and reconstruct a sense of citizenship and belonging for its people.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here:

How can Locke help with today’s crises?

By Dr. Eloise Harding, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Southampton


John Locke might seem like an unlikely historical figure to turn to for help with environmental and social crises: after all, many popular interpretations of his arguments posit him as the theoretical ancestor of unfettered accumulation, dedicated to extracting the maximum productive use from natural resources. However, these readings don’t tell the full story.


The key point here is the interpretation of Locke’s normative argument that humans must derive from the nonhuman world ‘the greatest conveniences of life they were capable’ (2nd Treatise section 34), and ‘make use of it to the best advantage of life, and convenience’ (2nd Treatise section 26). This has often been read as a call for unfettered exploitation of natural resources: in other words, for the most extensive use as the ‘best’ use. Alternatively, if applied to current events, there is a compelling case for construing a sustainable, zero-waste mode of living as a path to the ‘greatest conveniences of life’, assuming that these include a continued healthy existence.


Of particular interest is the ‘spoilage proviso’, one of the limitations Locke places on the initial appropriation of resources. On this point, Locke argues that ‘as much as anyone can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils: so much he may by his labour fix a property in. Whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others’ (2nd Treatise section 31). In other words, while it is not in his view wrong to acquire more property than you strictly need, it becomes a problem when resources are wasted. Recent French legislation ( to force supermarkets to give away their unsold food rather than sending it to landfill is consistent with this principle.


The spoilage proviso is generally invoked alongside the principle of ‘enough and as good left for others’ (2nd Treatise, various points), which can be read as a further restriction on the acquisition of property in times of scarcity. Taken as a prescription for action today (which I admit would be a controversial use of Locke’s theory), this could have radical implications for solving the austerity crisis. For example, what if there were limits on how many domestic properties could be purchased and left resolutely empty in a city with a high population of homeless and vulnerably housed people?


It is not a new phenomenon to interpret Locke’s arguments as grounded in concern for overall human wellbeing, or to argue as James Tully does that ‘Locke’s two natural rights, of preservation and to preserve oneself and others, are not liberties. They are natural rights directly resulting from, or entailed by, the natural duty to preserve mankind.’ (Tully 1993 112)  It is mildly controversial, thanks largely to C.B. Macpherson, to read this as including the whole of humanity rather than merely the segment who have successfully appropriated property. However, as Kristin Shrader-Frechette argues, ‘one could imagine a contemporary Locke arguing for extensive restrictions on property rights in land (e.g., prohibiting filling in wetlands) and for agricultural zoning or preservation, for example to prevent fertile land from being developed or paved.’ (Shrader-Frechette: 1993 217) We can imagine this, on conceptual if not historical grounds, since Locke’s overall prescription that we must make the best use of natural resources is not thoroughly filled out. However, there are indications in the two provisos discussed above which suggest that sustainable use could constitute the ‘best’ use long term. For example, excesses that impinge on the wellbeing of others are frowned upon: while Locke relates this to the immediate present and future, it can be argued that jeopardising people’s long-term prospects for clean air and water or for food security might also fall within this category. The spoilage proviso, meanwhile, rules overtly wasteful uses of resources out of being considered ‘to the best advantage of life’.


With that in mind, what would a Lockean solution to austerity and environmental crisis look like in practice? In the first instance, there would be significantly less waste than there is currently: for example, inessential single use plastics and throwaway fashion would be less prevalent. Emphasis would be placed on repairing and reusing rather than constantly replacing. Furthermore, there would be a requirement to share what would otherwise go to waste: for example, supermarkets would be urged to donate their surplus perishables to a food bank or other community project where it can be put to good use, rather than rendering it inedible in a skip. Practical guidance on living up to these principles can be found in the work of a number of projects currently operating around Southampton, for example CURB – The Real Junk Food Project (, Southampton Repair Café ( and Southampton Clothes Swaps ( The issue of property ownership – specifically land and buildings – is more contentious, since Locke imposed no outright limits on how much of each resource an individual could own. However, there would likely be de facto limits on how far an individual’s or company’s holdings could impinge on the surrounding community: of particular concern here are ‘investment’ properties which are left deliberately empty in situations where house prices are unnecessarily inflated and housing shortages are rife as a result.


In short, although there is a significant gap between Locke’s political views and those of many people actively resisting environmental and austerity-related crises, he can nonetheless provide some useful principles for improving the situation.

PhD Fellowship in Global Constitutionalism

By Jonathan Havercroft, Associate Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Southampton

We are currently seeking a student for a PhD Fellowship on the theme of “Global Constitutionalism in an Era of Resurgent State Sovereignty”. The fellowship is funded by the ESCR and can either be used for a Master’s + PhD (a four-year program) or a PhD (a three-year program) if the student already has a master’s degree in a relevant field. Specific details about the fellowship and how to apply can be found here:

The fellowship will be for a student to undertake a research project at the intersection of law and international relations. Jonathan Havercroft, lead supervisor for the PhD fellowship, is an editor of the Cambridge University Press journal Global Constitutionalism. We are hoping to leverage the synergies between the PhD student and the journal to create both publishing opportunities for the student and increased visibility at Southampton for the theme of global constitutionalism in Politics and International Relations and the Law School. While the PhD Fellowship has a specific research question we are very open to whatever approach the research topic takes, so long as it is broadly within the field of global constitutionalism and engages contemporary questions about the rule of law, democracy, and human rights on a global scale.

Research Question: What impact is the resurgence of nationalism, populism, and anti-globalization having on global constitutional practices in international law and politics?

Background and Rationale for the Study:  Global constitutionalism is an interdisciplinary field that draws upon methods from international relation, law, and politics to identify and analyze global norms from both descriptive (i.e. what norms shape the global order) and prescriptive (i.e. what norms should shape the global order) perspectives. At the heart of global constitutionalism is a focus on the triad of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as the foundations of the contemporary global order.

In recent years all three aspects of this global constitutional order have come under attack. Brexit can be read in part as a rejection of supra-national governance institutions. The Trump Presidency is an unprecedented attack on the rule of law and human rights at both the domestic and international level. Right wing authoritarian movements in the Americas, Asia, and Europe all assert the primacy of state sovereignty against global institutions. This project invites a PhD student to write a thesis that explores how these resurgent nationalist movements are reshaping the global order.

Prospective applicants can contact Jonathan Havercroft if they have any questions. Dr. Havercroft is willing to offer feedback on possible research proposals for the fellowship. He can be contacted via email at:



Is British democracy facing a legitimacy crisis? It depends what you ask.

By Daniel Devine and Viktor Valgardsson


One of the biggest and most debated questions in political science is whether there is a legitimacy crisis. Seminal, widely-cited texts explore the causes and consequences of this apparent crisis, but there is still little agreement on whether there even is a crisis of legitimacy. [1]


Such a question should, on first blush, be relatively easy to answer: just collect the responses to surveys and graph the averages over time. And still, there is little agreement over whether there is any decline in perceived legitimacy. What if this is perfectly reasonable: what if the data are actually showing you different answers, despite using essentially the same survey items?


Perceptions of democratic legitimacy are usually measured through surveys, primarily using questions measuring items such as ‘satisfaction with democracy’ or ‘trust in parliament’. These ask the respondent, in various ways, to rate how satisfied they are with how democracy works in their country or how much they trust their country’s various political institutions, especially their parliament. Respondents are usually given either a binary or four/five-category response scales, such as ‘trust or do not trust’ or ‘very, fairly, not very, or not at all satisfied’. Almost all existing research on citizens’ attitudes towards their domestic system is measured like this.


In this post, we compare two highly respected, high quality, and regularly used surveys that use almost identical survey items to measure democratic satisfaction, a common indicator for democratic legitimacy. We show how the surveys show not only provide different absolute levels, but contradictory trends in democratic satisfaction in Britain. We also show how the likely source is a rather innocuous change in wording.


The surveys 

We use the British Election Study (BES) 1997-2017 and the Eurobarometer (EB) 1973-2017. The BES is fielded after every election, whilst the Eurobarometer is fielded every 6 months and within some ad hoc surveys (the ‘special Eurobarometers’). Each BES wave contains a sample size of approximately 3000, and the EB sample size is approximately 1000 per wave. Both surveys are restricted to England, Scotland and Wales.


Whilst the BES has six waves (years), coinciding with British general elections, the EB runs almost every year from 1973, excluding 1974, 1975, 1996 and 2008. Although there are often multiple waves in each year, we aggregate the responses according to year.


The survey items for democratic satisfaction are presented below and are very similar, particularly in the 1997 BES. Logically, these are identical survey questions and responses. Both the EB and BES are asking whether the respondent is satisfied with the way democracy works in Britain on a scale of 1-4. The main difference is that, in BES 2001-2017, the response is ‘a little/very dissatisfied’ rather than ‘not very/not at all’ satisfied.


Survey Question wording Response Categories
BES 1997 On the whole, how satisfied are you with the way democracy works in Britain? Are you … 1. Satisfied;

2. fairly satisfied;

3. not very satisfied;

4. or not at all satisfied?

BES 2001-2017 On the whole, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way that democracy works in this country? 1. Very satisfied;

2. fairly satisfied;

3. a little dissatisfied;

4. or very dissatisfied?

Eurobarometer 1973-2017 On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the way democracy works in Britain? 1. very satisfied;

2. fairly satisfied;

3. not very satisfied;

4. or not at all satisfied?


Is there a legitimacy crisis in Britain?

How do these look over time? For simplicity, we collapse them into binary indicators, where 1 equals ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied, and 0 equals dissatisfied/not very or not at all satisfied. The trends are the same with the original response categories. We then plot the percentage of respondents satisfied within a given year.


The two graphs lead to the opposite conclusion. If one were to rely on the BES data, one would indeed find a relatively slow, linear decline in democratic satisfaction. On the other hand, using the Eurobarometer data, one would conclude that there’s been the opposite trend: increasing satisfaction with the way democracy works in Britain.



It may, however, be misleading since the Eurobarometer is asked so regularly relative to the BES. So, we create mean averages for each year in line with the BES. Even in the year with an essentially identical question and identical response categories (1997), there is a 13-percentage point difference in the absolute levels of democratic satisfaction. This may be down to when the BES is asked – just after an election, and a particularly emphatic one in 1997. More worrying, however, is the continuing divergence in the trends.


Year Mean (BES) Mean (EB)
1997 0.74 0.61
2001 0.66 0.61
2005 0.7 0.62
2010 0.62 0.64
2015 0.58 0.65
2017 0.53 0.66


Of course, there are other potential measures for democratic legitimacy that we do not look at here and which could present clearer and more consistent pictures of levels and trends of legitimacy in Britain in recent decades (it seems, for instance, political trust shows a steady downward trend in both). However, satisfaction with democracy is a very commonly used measure of democratic support and legitimacy, and these stark discrepancies between reliable sources that survey nationally representative samples in the same country and across overlapping periods is a serious cause for concern. [2]


Question wording effects

What could this be down to? It’s well known how seemingly innocuous wording changes in surveys (either in the question or response scale) can drastically alter the responses. Given this, the slight discrepancy in questions might offer one reason for the different trends.


Fortunately, the British Election Study 2015 fielded both types of questions, with a self-completion questionnaire complementing the face-to-face interviewing. The self-completion questionnaire contains a question from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems survey which is identical to the Eurobarometer question used above, while the interview includes the original BES question. This provides the best opportunity to take a look at the potential discrepancy in question wording.


The table below provides a tabulation of the two questions, with the (rounded) percentages of respondents falling into the different cells. 40% of those who respond they are a ‘little dissatisfied’ in the BES version of the question answered ‘fairly satisfied’ in the Eurobarometer version. More alarmingly, a full 18% of those who say they are ‘very dissatisfied’ answered either fairly or very satisfied. This becomes starker if, as we do in the above graphs, make the variable binary. Approximately a third (34%) of those who are coded as dissatisfied in the BES version are indeed coded as satisfied in the Eurobarometer version of the question. Overall, whilst the correlation between the two is statistically significant, they are only correlated at 55% – lower than would be expected from questions that are intended to measure an identical attitude.


BES/CSES Very satisfied Fairly satisfied Not very satisfied Not at all satisfied
Very satisfied 45% 45% 6% 4%
Fairly satisfied 9% 73% 15% 2%
A little dissatisfied 2% 40% 43% 15%
Very dissatisfied 3% 15% 37% 45%


Whilst we can’t say for sure, these discrepancies appear to be more than large enough to explain the divergent trends between the two data sets – although can’t explain the large difference in 1997. The question nonetheless remains about why such similar questions, aimed at the same underlying attitude, get significantly different results.


What we do know, however, is that the answer to whether there a growing democratic legitimacy crisis in Britain depends on which data you are looking at. This post shows the importance of using multiple indicators and data sets in this type of research and highlights the caution with which we should interpret any findings using any particular measure of satisfaction with democracy.



Dalton, Russell J. Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Newton, Ken. “Trust and Political Disenchantment.” In Political Trust and Disenchantment with Politics: International Perspectives, edited by Christina Eder, Ingvill C. Mochmann, and Markus Quandt, 19–31. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

Norris, Pippa. Democratic Deficit: Critical Citizens Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.



Anderson, Christopher J, and Christine a Guillory. “Political Institutions and Satisfaction with Democracy: A Cross-National Analysis of Consensus and Majoritarian Systems.” The American Political Science Review 91, no. 1 (1997): 66–81.

Grönlund, Kimmo, and Maija Setaïa. “Political Trust, Satisfaction and Voter Turnout.” Comparative European Politics 5 (2007): 400–422.

Linde, Jonas, and Joakim Ekman. “Satisfaction with democracy: A note on a frequently used indicator in comparative politics.” European Journal of Political Research 42, no. 3 (May 2003): 391–408.

Quaranta, Mario, and Sergio Martini. “Does the economy really matter for satisfaction with democracy? Longitudinal and cross-country evidence from the European Union.” Electoral Studies 42 (2016): 164–74.


Daniel Devine and Viktor Valgardsson are Ph.D. students at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Southampton. Their doctoral research focuses on voting behaviour and public opinion in Europe.



Does the personalisation of politics have any benefits for democracy?


Democracy in the twenty-first century appears to have reached a fork in the road. On the one hand, over recent decades we have witnessed an explosion in the popularity of democratic norms and values around the globe to the extent that all but two countries label themselves as democracies, which if nothing else indicates how dominant this norm has become. On the other hand, particularly in those states where it is the long-established mode of political decision-making, citizens appear to be deeply disaffected with how democracy is practised. Even putting the election of Donald Trump and the recent Brexit referendum to one side, the long-term trend across Europe and America sees voter turnout declining, political parties struggling to retain members, and professional politicians increasingly despised or deemed untrustworthy. Outside these regions, in new or transitioning democracies, democratization scholars fear that progress has stalled, and that in the absence of strong structural bulwarks against authoritarian rule the triumphant march of democratization may have halted.
The tendency for politics to become dominated by the personalities of its leaders rather than ideology or policy programme is a key theme in this discussion. Most scholars argue it is a rising feature of political life that produces negative effects (see Poguntke & Webb 2005; McAllister 2007; Balmas et al. 2014). In particular, personalization is assumed to negatively affect political representation, because the limited relevance of political ideologies and platforms makes politicians less accountable to their voters. In this view, democracy has arrived at a significant fork in the road. And, worryingly, we don’t appear to know which way to go.

We have been fascinated by these themes because we study very small states (they have population of less than 1 million). As our forthcoming book Democracy in Small States: Persisting Against All Odds shows, personalism is and always has been ubiquitous in societies where citizens and politicians meet and engage with each other on a day-to-day basis. As a result, if personalization is global trend then we have a lot to learn about its effects, negative or otherwise, by studying the way politics works in micro cases. In particular, because small states are, statistically speaking, much more likely to be democratic than large states, personalisation may have unanticipated benefits for the resilience of democratic governance. To explain this resilience, one of the questions we sought to answer in the book is how does domestic politics actually work in small states? And, having established this, does it conform to the negative depiction of personalisation or does the statistical correlation between country size and democratization point to hidden benefits? We studied 39 small states with populations of less than 1 million to answer these questions, conducting over 250 interviews with elite actors in the process. Despite the incredible diversity of these states (they come from five world regions and vary in terms of all the standard variables political scientists use to compare democracies, including levels of economic growth, colonial legacy, institutional design, party system etc.), we found that the practice of politics is remarkably similar. Key characteristics include:
Strong connections between individual leaders and constituents. Rather than being mediated by party systems, in small states voters and politicians have considerable opportunities for direct, personal contact. This tendency is amplified by the overlapping private and professional roles that politicians undertake. Politicians are more than just legislators: they are family or clan members, friends, neighbours, or colleagues.
A limited private sphere. Contemporary democratic politics in large states is characterized by a distinction between public and private, with the institutions that define the former regulating conduct in the latter. In small states, the private sphere is dramatically reduced while the public sphere is expanded beyond the narrow confines of formal institutions. The result is a remarkably transparent political system but also one in which clear lines of accountability are blurred and concern with corruption is magnified.
The limited role of ideology and programmatic policy debate. Leaders are largely elected because of who they are rather than what they stand for. As a result, political contestation focuses on the qualities and characteristics of individual politicians rather than party manifestos. Indeed, a number of Pacific Island states, such as Tuvalu or the Federated States of Micronesia, do not have political parties at all.
Strong political polarization. The absence of ideological difference should theoretically breed consensus but in fact, small state politics is often characterized by extreme polarization. Political competition between personalities is often fiercely antagonistic precisely because they have few ideological differences, and therefore politicians have to focus on personal disagreements to differentiate themselves. In combination with the limited role of parties, this also potentially creates political instability, as political alliances are regularly broken.
The ubiquity of patronage. In small states nobody is faceless. Relatives and friends stick together in more visible and unavoidable ways. This leads to political dynasties and various other types of collusion. It also means that politicians in small states typically experience considerable pressure from constituents, who are often the same relatives and friends, to personally provide material largesse. Failure to do so can lead to electoral defeat. Patronage in the public sector is also common in small states, and public sector appointments are often made on the basis of political loyalties.
The capacity to dominate all aspects of public life. An expanded public sphere and the absence of specialist roles create opportunities for individuals to dominate politics in a manner that is virtually impossible in large states. Pluralism is uncomfortable and dissent is often stifled while dependent constituents can be easily bought off.
Based on these similarities, we argue that hyper-personal politics has both the democracy-stimulating and repressive characteristics. For example, the familiarity between citizens and politicians is often regarded as democracy-enhancing, as it creates better opportunities for political representation and responsiveness. In addition, this closeness can foster political awareness, efficacy, and participation among citizens because political decisions often have a direct impact on their personal lives. Moreover, the close connections between citizens and politicians provide a formidable obstacle to executive domination, as their extensive social connections prevent politicians from resorting to full-blown oppression or violence.
But, it is clear that personalism simultaneously presents obstacles. The relative absence of ideology and the focus on political individuals undermines substantive representation. Patron–client linkages create social and economic dependency and unequal access to public resources and strong polarization and personality clashes can breed political instability and turmoil. Moreover, the opportunities for political leaders to accumulate untrammeled powers without the customary ‘checks and balances’ carries the risk of executive domination or dictatorial politics.
Hyper-personalism, it seems, provides mixed blessings for democratic governance, at least in small states. Certainly, not all of the six characteristics we identify are relevant for large states; the benefits of smallness both exacerbate and offset the consequences of personalism. In which case, the hyper-personal politics of small states might prove to be a better outcome than the combination of limited ideology, polarization, and leader dominance increasingly common to large and wealthy western democracies. Either way, these extreme cases highlight that hyper-personal democracy is both possible and yet very different to the experience of North America and much of Europe. The lesson is that rather than personalization precipitating a crisis of democracy, it presents as a crisis for a particular type of democratic politics common to a handful of large and rich states.

Jack Corbett is Professor of Politics at the University of Southampton.

Wouter Veenendaal is Assistant Professor at Leiden University.

A version of this article was originally published on the OUPblog. The original article is available at this link:

New Book, Shaping Migration between Europe and Latin America: New Perspectives and Challenges, and Upcoming Book Launch on 16 Nov. 2018

A new book, edited by Ana Margheritis, is out. This volume is the result of an international conference organised by Ana at University of London in 2015, featuring top specialists from both regions. The book is entitled Shaping Migration between Europe and Latin America: New Perspectives and Challenges and offers an interdisciplinary and timely examination of changing international migration patterns between Latin America and Europe. It focuses on two world regions historically linked by human mobility and cultural exchange but now responding to significant demographic changes and new migration trends. It examines strategies pursued by state and non-state actors to address the political and policy implications of mobility, and asks to what extent is cross-regional migration effectively managed today, and how could it be improved? Essays provide an integrated and comparative view of the links between the two regions and highlight the formal and informal interstices through which migration journeys are negotiated and shaped.

Publication details and table of context can be found here:

The next book launch will take place at ILAS, University of London on 16 November 2018 (Room G12, Ground Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU).