Mobilization and Representation under Adverse Conditions

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Our research focus

What do we do?

Political parties are formally the most important institutions for transmitting citizens’ demands into the political process. Representation, however, faces significant obstacles around the world, including economic inequality, illicit lobbyism, and executive aggrandizement. We study representation through political parties under the influence of three conditions that further undermine effective representation: Patronalism, authoritarianism, and military conflict.

Patronal societies display a high degree of informal relations structured through the exchange of personal rewards and punishment, in which formal institutions often reflect and strengthen informal power relations, but do not function independently of them. Parties in patronal democracies like Moldova and Ukraine are often among the least trusted institutions as they are routinely instrumentalized by economic actors in the service of their own agendas. Authoritarianism in our understanding refers to a set of practices of incumbents to restrict political competition. In regimes where authoritarian practices have become dominant, like today’s Russia, political parties often entirely lose their representative capacity, fulfilling instead regime stabilizing functions. War, finally, challenges representation in creating incentives and opportunities for executives to circumvent checks and balances.

How do we study that?

One part of the group’s work focuses on countries of post-Soviet Eastern Europe. We study how parties in the patronal democracies of Moldova and Ukraine represent societal interests in the face of Russia's military aggression, when and how citizens reclaim their political institutions, and when representative functions are taken by non-party actors like civil society and social movements. For the case of Russia, on the other hand, we examine how opposition parties can become pillars of an authoritarian regime.

The above conditions constitute general challenges to representation and so another direction of our work is comparative. Understanding the importance not to essentialize the post-Soviet experience, we conduct comparative analyses that transcend the borders of the region. For example, we compare voting behaviour and policy results across Central and Eastern Europe, or strategies of opposition parties in authoritarian regimes worldwide. In this way, the group also examines to what extent the term "post-Soviet" is still meaningful for a region that is increasingly differentiating more than 30 years after the col­lapse of the Soviet Union.