Social democracy after the Third Way: restoration or renewal?

Matthew Flinders
Matthew Flinders

By Matthew Flinders. This was originally published on the Oxford University Press blog.

An invitation from the British Library to give the first in a new public lecture series called “Enduring Ideas” was never a request I was going to decline. But what “enduring idea” might I focus on and what exactly would I want to say that had not already been said about an important idea that warranted such reflection? The selected concept was “democracy” and the argument sought to set out and unravel a set of problems that could – either collectively or individually – be taken to explain the apparent rise in democratic disaffection.

Such is the world we live in that a lecture is no longer a lecture but rapidly becomes a multi-media “artefact” and the beginning of a global discussion. I suppose this is probably not quite true of all lectures, I’ve been to quite a few that really do need to be forgotten, but I’m pleased to say that the intellectual ecosystem seems to have exploded in all sorts of ways that I could never have imagined. Continue reading

The potential side-effects of mediatisation: a case study of the politics of German higher education

Andres Friedrichsmeier & Frank Marcinkowski
Andres Friedrichsmeier & Frank Marcinkowski

By Andres Friedrichsmeier & Frank Marcinkowski

Decision makers, be it in the field of higher education politics or in other fields of public policy making, typically claim to be processing a great deal of information. To a substantial degree, this includes news media information. Nonetheless, the same decision makers also pride themselves on basing their decisions on more reliable grounds than a vacillating media coverage. Almost two decades of public management reforms improved the availability of objective measurements and performance data, and introduced quasi markets to feed in public demands. Matching public expectations no longer necessitates resorting to news media and its representation of a public attention that is skewed by news values. Or is it the other way around? Is the influence of news media on decision making rather on the rise, resulting from an increasing reflexivity of public governance and a related need for direction that is no longer provided by the state? On the face of it, the significance of news media coverage is boosted by a new imperative of marketing the value of public sector outcomes. The need for public marketing results from the use of economic measures in public sector producing qualitative outputs that are difficult to attach a price tag to.

But these new imperatives of going public evaded focus in times of high hopes in the capability of management controls to objectify public sector governance. But they come with potential side-effects. An illustration of the kind of side-effects that are to be expected and of how to investigate them empirically is provided by Andres Friedrichsmeier and Frank Marcinkowski in their Policy & Politics article: The mediatisation of university governance: a theoretical and empirical exploration of some side effects. Continue reading

Claims of the increasing irrelevance of universities are ideology masquerading as evidence

Matthew Flinders
Matthew Flinders

By Matthew Flinders, Will Jennings and Gerry Stoker. This was originally published on the Political Studies Association blog.

In a recent column in The Telegraph, Allister Heath claims that the humanities and social sciences are suffering from increasing groupthink, inwardness and irrelevance – creating an environment in which certain political outlooks are suppressed and academic research rarely resonates beyond the hallowed halls of the university. Such an account simply does not square with the realities of universities in 21st Century Britain. Heath praises the University world of the twentieth century but then neglects the golden rule that drove that work and is still present in twenty-first century academia: make sure you have robust evidence to support your arguments. In terms of academic research, the supposed thought police of the left are in little evidence in the pluralistic university faculties that we know across the U.K., places in which rich debates over theory and methods take place.

When it comes to Heath’s arguments over the narrow reach of academic research in terms of citation, Heath’s arguments rely on tenuous evidence. The claim that “98 per cent of academic papers in the arts and humanities are never cited in any subsequent research” comes from a twenty-five year old study that was at the time shown to have been misleading. Continue reading

The Welfare state: A Case of Plus cá change?

Anthony McCashin
Anthony McCashin

by Anthony McCashin, Trinity College Dublin

Paul Pierson shaped the terms on which we considered the sources and scale of welfare state change. Would a critical review of Pierson’s claims still endorse them? Our Policy & Politics article entitled How much change? Pierson and the welfare state revisited attempts to answer this question.

First, welfare state resilience: while appropriate, perhaps, to Pierson’s analysis of ‘early’ retrenchers like Reagan in the US, or Swedish Social Democrats in the 1990s, this term no longer reflects the variety and depth of change – especially in social security. Second, globalisation: here Pierson is on more certain ground. On the one hand, there are strong nationally based drivers of change- such as ageing and health care costs. On the other, individual welfare states have quite distinct economies (and institutions) and these filter the influence of globalisation. Welfare states remain specific and diverse and are not flattened into conformity by globalisation. Continue reading