Research Programme

The Institutions of Politics: Design, Workings, and Implications

The current research programme of the Institute of Political Science is primarily concerned with the analysis of institutions, in the broadest sense of that term. Since the foundation of the institute, and not least as a result of its initial origins within the Faculty of Law, a concern with institutional analysis has always figured prominently on our research agenda. More recently, this traditional emphasis has been reinvigorated through the major renewal of interest in institutions in the international political science literature, and through the impact of those new modes of thinking which are included under the rather loosely defined heading of “neo-institutionalism”. In this sense, this new wave of international literature has brought back to the fore the issues and concerns that have always played a prominent role in our own research profile. In common with this international political science literature, we define institutions in a very broad sense. That is, we recognise that political institutions are more than the simple aggregations of individual political activity, but provide the rules and pay-off structures that constrain individual behaviour, and that also contribute to the formation of political preferences.

In this programme political institutions are therefore analysed both as dependent variables (in terms of their formation and design) and as independent variables (in terms of their impact on the attitudes, behaviour and values of political actors). Moreover, within this broad definition, we also pay particular attention to the normative and theoretical aspects of institutions, and thus we devote a substantial part of the research programme to the question of how institutions might be designed, and to the implications of their functioning. One of the great strengths of our research programme is therefore the synergy which is created through the bringing together of both empirical and normative approaches in our analyses of the design, working, and implications of political institutions. We also take a very inclusive attitude as regards the remit of our research programme, in that we emphasise the analysis of institutions both in the Netherlands and cross-nationally, and in that we are concerned with systems that operate both at the national and inter- or supra-national level.

In the interests of fostering coherence and cohesion across the institute of Political Science as a whole, this present research programme seeks to knit together what had previously been three separate but overlapping sets of research concerns that were organised within three separate research projects. These were first, The Establishment and Working of Political Institutions and Democratic Processes; second, Values, Visions & Political Regimes; and third, The Dynamics of Political Change and Adaptation in the International Order. These divisions were also formally maintained up to the end of the most recent VSNU evaluation period and hence through to the end of 2000, with the integration into this present single programme dating from the beginning of 2001. In our view, the intellectual whole that can now be achieved by way of integrating the three separate components is of far greater value than the sum of the individual parts. This greater cohesion also has the advantage of offering the Department a more distinct profile and identity in research terms, while building on what have been recognised as our traditional strengths, both nationally and internationally. Integration has also got a major practical benefit, in that the gradual reduction in the size of the research capacity of the institute in recent years made it more difficult to sustain the three separate programmes as self-sufficient entities.

In 2001 the Institute’s research activities were assessed by a committee of the VSNU as part of the national assessment of research in political science, public administration and communication. The assessment covered the period 1995-2000, for which we prepared a lengthy Scientific Report in March 2001 dealing with the design, development and relevance of each of the then three separate programmes, and including also full details of the academic results achieved in the period under review. Copies of this report are available on request. Despite a shrinking capacity across the period concerned, we were happy to be able to report quite a high and sustained level of productivity over the years. The three programmes were positively evaluated by the VSNU in its report, dated December 2002. The first programme in particular, The Establishment and Working of Political Institutions and Democratic Processes, which accounted for some 60 per cent of research input, and which now also provides the core of the integrated programme, was one of only a handful of programmes in political science, public administration and communication to be awarded the highest score for research quality, productivity, relevance and viability. The report concluded that this was one of the best programmes in the country as a whole: “in times of declining resources, it has provided a profound Dutch input to the world-wide discussion on general institutional problems of democratic government.” The report also supported the integration of the three original programmes with one another, while adding that this can work only if it is well prepared and supported institutionally.

Last Modified: 21-02-2014