VAR-EXP

Varieties of Expertise (VAR-EXP)

Understanding public demand for independent experts in democratic politics

(Funding body: Swiss National Foundation)

Summary

Can democratic politics incorporate citizen demands for independent expertise in ways that boost legitimacy and trust in politics? Democratic governments worldwide face the dilemma of how to deal with an ever-increasing call for technocratic expertise needed to govern effectively while remaining responsive to and representative of the citizens who elected them. In the past decade, the economic crisis brought this tension to the forefront of democratic politics, with multiple appointments of technocratic ministers and governments across democratic states and a simultaneous populist backlash against an apparent “out-of-touch” political establishment. More recently, the climate crisis and the global COVID19 pandemic highlighted the role of independent scientific expertise in guiding political decisions, but also the crucial role that citizens’ attitudes play in shaping policy effectiveness and trust in politics. Despite the pressing and complex issues that governments need to address, it is uncertain how democratic politics can include more independent expertise in a way that increases public support for political processes and decisions. 

From the perspective of citizens, we are currently presented with the following empirical puzzle: on the one hand, citizen surveys show growing demands for independent experts over politicians in political decision-making and a recognition that complex global problems require experts to solve them. On the other hand, we observe mounting public skepticism towards technical knowledge and scientific expertise, paired with soaring anti-elite rhetoric stoked by populist actors across established democracies. How can we reconcile these conflicting observable phenomena and what solutions can we offer for reinforcing support for democratic politics? The ‘Varieties of Expertise’ project addresses this puzzle through three key research questions:

(I) What constitutes ‘politically legitimate’ use of expertise and who is considered an ‘independent

expert’ in the eyes of citizens?

(II) Why do citizens demand more political power in the hands of independent experts?

(III) How and where do citizens want to see political power in the hands of independent experts?

The proposed project advances a new theoretical approach and empirical study of expert political power in established democracies from the perspective of citizens. It bridges research work in political behaviour, democratic legitimacy, regulatory and public policy studies. The three central research questions of the project will be approached comparatively, using a mixed-methods approach that includes: (i) a cross-national survey of 20 democracies, (ii) qualitative focus groups in four countries of in-depth study (IT, CH, UK, SE), and (iii) experimental methods. 

Overall, the ‘Varieties of Expertise’ project will contribute to efforts to ameliorate public responses to political decisions, decrease political polarization and re-build political trust between citizens and political actors across established democracies. Insights will be highly relevant for scholars and political practitioners concerned with the design of political arrangements that can boost public acceptance of policies in contested areas, such as health, environmental, economic and immigration politics.

NOW HIRING FOR 2 PhD POSITIONS

In the context of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) project “Varieties of expertise: Understanding public demand for independent experts in democratic politics”, the Department of Political Science at the University of St.Gallen invites applications for two 

PhD Positions

in the group of Dr. Eri Bertsou. The SNSF project examines whether and, if so,  how democratic politics can incorporate independent expertise in ways that boost citizens’ perceived legitimacy and trust in politics. It bridges work in political behaviour, democratic legitimacy, regulatory and public policy studies to determine: (i) What constitutes ‘politically legitimate’ use of expertise and who is considered an ‘independent expert’ in the eyes of citizens? (ii) Why do citizens demand more political power in the hands of independent experts? (iii) How and where citizens want to see more political involvement of independent experts? This is a comparative project across European and other world democracies, as well as four countries of in-depth study (Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and the UK).

Requirements

  • Ability to develop your of own PhD project in the framework of the overall SNSF project
  • Master’s degree in political science or a related discipline
  • Interest in comparative politics, political behaviour and/or democracy
  • Interest in theory-driven empirical research with policy impact
  • Excellent written and spoken English language skills (knowledge of other languages is a plus).

What we offer:

  • A multifaceted position within a small research team, the opportunity to conduct individual research
  • Competitive salary for 4 years provided by the Swiss National Science Foundation
  • Participation in the PhD Programme International Affairs and Political Economy (DIA), which offers advanced methodological and substantive training, as well as professional development
  • Being part of an internationally active team at a renowned university

Applicants should submit their full application (in English) no later than April 10, 2022 using the University of St. Gallen’s online application system. Application documents required:

  • Cover letter
  • CV
  • Example of academic work (e.g. MA thesis or a seminar paper)
  • Copies of relevant  Bachelor and Master certificates and transcripts
  • The names and contact details of two referees that can provide recommendation letters. 

For further inquiry, please visit the Department’s website (www.seps.unisg.ch) or send an email to Eri Bertsou (eri.bertsou[at]unisg.ch).