Articles by John Mills

John Mills

John Mills

Editorial assistant for Politics

Teaching ‘The Professional Political Scientist’ to prepare students for life outside academia

What happens to students after they leave academia is often a blind spot, both for teachers and students of political science. This uncertainty can often be a source of and stress for the latter group. As a result of repeated requests from the student body to address such issues, we created “the Professional Political Scientist,” a module that has been given three times until this date.

Offered as an elective module at the end of the Bachelors program and spanning fifteen credits, it is devised to aid students’ knowledge about how individuals with political science degrees find jobs, situate and translate what they have learned at the University into work-life skills, as well as introducing them to practical skills conventional political science educations often do not offer.

The course is centered around three main themes: working in public service, writing and communication in professional life, and introduction to project management. As much of this competence is lacking within a regular political science department, we use lecturers from several departments across the University along with, critically, a number of professionals coming in from working life.

Although it is too soon to say whether the course has aided their careers, the general sentiment from students has been highly positive. They consistently report satisfaction with learning “new” types of skills and knowledge, like presentation technique, different types of writing, and dealing with deadlines foreign to those set up in the classroom.

Our article in Politics provides thorough description of the course itself, the work involved with its preparation, as well as a number of pieces of advice for colleagues interested in offering similar career preparation efforts at their home departments.

Rasmus Broms is a researcher at the Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg. His research focuses on public finance and institutional quality from a comparative perspective.

Jenny de Fine Licht is a researcher and lecturer at the School of Public Administration, University of Gothenburg. Her main research interests are transparency, auditing, and public acceptance of hard decisions

Did the Tunisian Revolution Politically “Socialize” Participants?

A huge swath of the Tunisian population—available survey data suggest almost 20 percent—participated in the surprising and successful revolution that culminated in the ouster of the authoritarian Ben Ali regime in 2011. The collective efforts of the protesters yielded results of historic proportions and were followed by the country’s first truly free and fair elections in which an array of viable parties participated and the new Assembly would be charged with writing a new constitution. In short, Tunisians had an opportunity for a “fresh start” politically.

In a new article in Politics, we take advantage of this unique set of circumstances to answer a simple, but critical question: were individuals who were swept up in the revolutionary protests more likely to turnout to express themselves politically in the elections that followed? We leverage data from an original survey we fielded in Tunisia in the summer of 2012 that asked respondents about their protest participation as well as whether they voted in the Constituent Assembly elections that followed Ben Ali’s ouster.

We find surprisingly paltry evidence that protesters were more likely to turn out than non-protesters. A simple bivariate comparison shows that protesters were only about 5 percentage points more likely to say they voted than their non-protesting counterparts—almost 30 percent of those who reported engaging in the costly act of protesting against an authoritarian regime reported that they did not participate in the election the protests yielded. Once we control for a handful of stable demographic characteristics, the estimated difference in turnout between protesters and non-protesters dwindles to 2.5 percentage points and falls short of conventional thresholds of statistical significance.

Existing work suggests that younger people are more socially and psychologically impressionable and, thus, may be more susceptible to the socializing effects of an experience like participating in revolutionary protests. However, we find that the relationship between protest participation is weaker among younger Tunisians—a group that played a critical role in the revolution.

We explore several potential explanations for these surprising findings. First, we replicate our analysis using data from the Third Wave of the Arab Barometer and find similar patterns. Second, we consider the possibility that young protesters systematically differed from their non-protesting counterparts in their political attitudes in ways that cut against the socializing effects of participation. However we find little evidence that differences in attitudes about the major political parties that emerged in Tunisia, support for democracy, interest in politics, or attitudes about separation of church and state can explain why we find no relationship between protest participation and turnout among young Tunisians.

The only suggestive evidence we find that the revolutionary protests politically socialized participants is that these protesters were far more likely to report participating in protests that followed the elections than those who did not participate in the revolution. Our data do not allow us to sort out whether this relationship stems from a pattern where those who participated in both types of protests simply had pre-existing dispositions that made protesting attractive or if the experience of participation in the revolutionary protests fostered a narrower “protest-focused” political identity.

Overall, our efforts to take advantage of a unique historical situation to investigate the potential for major events to politically socialize participants cast doubt on the notion that dramatic and successful political efforts necessarily “activate” participants and promote broader patterns of political participation.


David Doherty (website ; twitter @prof_doherty ), Peter J. Schraeder (website) & Kirstie L. Dobbs (website ; twitter @KirstieDobbsLUC )

All work at Loyola University Chicago’s Department of Political Science

Welfare or Politics?

Would you support a policy you like, but proposed by someone you don’t? The answer to this question is complex as it depends on several factors such as the policy design in question. What is more, the spillover from politics to policy is difficult to be identified as they are intertwined: even an honest respondent might not actually know the extent to which his/her preferences are influenced by feelings towards the political actor.

In a recent article, I attempt to tackle this question by a survey experiment in Hong Kong, which is notorious for its skyrocketing housing prices and income inequality. As the most expensive and least affordable housing market in the world since 2010, Hong Kong’s median home price is 18.1 times the median household annual income, higher than all other metropolitans. Most young people in Hong Kong, university graduates included, face much difficulties in buying an apartment. As such, it should be expected that they would benefit from an active government housing policy — even if they do not apply for public housing, an increased supply would lower the cost of private housing units as well, making them more affordable.

On the other hand, CY Leung, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong from 2012-17, was a highly controversial figure. When he ran for office (although the election was not a universal suffrage), he made housing policy his key platform, which initially brought him much support among some intellectuals and professionals. However, he would perhaps be better remembered by his divisive governance, as the Umbrella Movement and the “localism” movement both originated during his term in office. Thus this provides an interesting contrast between the supposedly popular housing policy and his personal character.

The research team successfully surveyed over 1200 respondents. The “experimental” component randomly divided them into three groups. The first group received an information about housing concerns among the youth; the second received the same information plus a cue that housing policy was the priority for Leung’s government; the third group’s cue linked housing policy with the oppositions.

The findings show that politics indeed spills over into support for welfare policies, even one that should be beneficial. Respondents expressed less support for public housing if they were dissatisfied with the political leadership and received the cue that the policy was associated with the government. The support level would be higher if the cue was absent. Before politicians or policymakers initiate “good” policies, perhaps they wish to reconsider their strategies and first cultivate personal support (or at least reduce the level of dislike).

Mathew YH Wong is Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the Education University of Hong Kong. His research interests center on income inequality, democracy, and politics of Asia.

What’s Wrong with Expert Policy Making?

Many people doubt the wisdom of the many and believe that experts, or some people distinguishing themselves by their wisdom, should play a more important role in shaping public policy. The motivation is that most lay people are ignorant about politics – and rationally so, because the impact of their vote is not worth the investment of time necessary to acquire the relevant knowledge – and may even be systematically biased (against markets, foreigners and future generations, for example).

Isn’t it possible to imagine better decision-making mechanisms than giving everyone equal electoral power? The merit of Jason Brennan’s recent contribution to these debates is to offer several possible alternatives. Among those, one is particularly interesting, because it doesn’t entail disenfranchising some citizens, and because it bears similarity to the practice of judicial review: an “epistocratic council”, either with legislative or review and veto power (Brennan’s favoured option). Members of this council would be selected on a meritocratic basis, passing a competency exam. And in order to minimize the risks of a biased test, all citizens could have a say and an equal vote in the determination of the required competencies.

Some degree of popular participation and political equality would thus be maintained in the determination of the required competencies. There would also be formal equality of opportunities to access political power. Differences in skills would of course translate into unequal real opportunities, but this is also the case with elections. Hence, the main difference with electoral representation is that there would be no institutionalized democratic accountability: during their mandate, these technocrats would have free rein vis-à-vis public opinion.

In my view, granting political power (either legislative or vetoing) to such council would generate increased risks of misrule or biases, risks that egalitarian inclusion and democratic accountability help minimize – albeit imperfectly. The risks of misrule stem from the independence from public opinion. Elected representatives do enjoy an important degree of independence in existing democracies. Mandates are not imperative, and citizens being poorly informed have troubles identifying their representatives’ responsibility. Hence, the accountability mechanism offered by elections is poor. Yet poor doesn’t mean useless. Elected representatives’ independence is not total; they still have to anticipate voters’ judgment and worry about their popularity. This can have negative consequences when voters are xenophobic or discount the future, but it is still an important safeguard against misrule. And we do need such safeguard, because a person selected through a competency exam cannot be trusted to behave morally. A person’s morality cannot be tested, for it can be feigned and unchecked power is corrupting.

Furthermore, even the best intentioned technocrats run the risk of being biased. Due to their social position, they might not know what it means to live specific experiences such as being a proletarian, a woman or an immigrant. And deprived from the electoral incentive to gather information from citizens, they risk acting on these biases.

In sum, a council of experts making decisions for the whole is not appealing. Expertise does have a role to play in politics, but in informing deliberations, not in making decisions. Whether this argument applies similarly to judicial review is an open debate.

Pierre-Étienne Vandamme

KU Leuven, Center for Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

Pierre-Étienne Vandamme is a postdoctoral researcher at the KU Leuven Center for Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy, Belgium.


Performing ‘Sectarianism’: Towards an Ethnographic Understanding of Identity Change

In a shifting and unstable world, questions regarding the cultivation, crystallisation, and manipulation of political and social identity categories seem more pressing now than ever before. Against the backdrop of rising populism, grassroots activism, and inter- and intra-communal antagonisms across the globe, how are we to make sense of the shifting sands of identity change? While scholars and commentators in political science and other disciplines have mostly been preoccupied with top-level political changes – the election of President Trump in the US; the manipulation of xenophobia in the Brexit vote; the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe, for example – the details of everyday life that underpin such changes have often been overlooked from a theoretical and policy perspective. In this article, I argue for the need to go beyond such top-down political hierarchies and take seriously the multiple and nuanced ways in which individuals and groups are constantly (re)negotiating, (re)imagining, and (re)interpreting political and social identities at the very micro level.

The paper is based on my doctoral fieldwork conducted among Iraqi Shi’i communities in London, comprising more than two years of ethnography, participant observation, and interviews. Drawing on this rich empirical material, I take the example of Shi’a religious rituals as a starting point from which to develop a theory of identity change that highlights the fluid, contextual, and unstable nature of political and social identities. In particular, the notion of the ‘performative’ – borrowed from the work of Judith Butler – plays a key role in illuminating the ways in which identities are constituted and rendered meaningful by an ensemble of political and social performances. In this sense, as performed and performative social practices, religious rituals both result from and are productive of political identities. It is for this reason that I foreground a micro-level analysis of Shi’a religious aesthetics in the paper. In particular, I explore the ways in which rituals of mourning and commemoration come to performatively constitute alternative articulations of Iraqi-Shi’a identity across time and space.

As a minority branch of Islam (Shi’is make up an estimated 10-15% of the global Muslim population), Shi’ism has often been overlooked in studies relating to Islam and Muslim identity, especially when it comes to Shi’a minority communities in the West. For this reason, my choice to focus on Iraqi Shi’is (who are institutionally and culturally dominant among British Shi’is, though they do not necessarily represent the largest demographic group) should be understood as an attempt to redress the scholarly neglect of Shi’ism and to highlight questions of inter- and intra-communal antagonism, negotiation, and difference as exemplified by the minority status of Shi’ism. Moreover, as a quintessentially transnational politico-religious identity category, the study of Shi’ism represents an opportunity to speak to wider processes of identity change that echo across national borders; especially changes relating to a sense of growing polarisation, fragmentation, and sectarianisation of the global political sphere.

My research findings point to a number of performative practices undertaken by Iraqi Shi’is in the diaspora that are implicated in a wider identity shift in which sectarian and religious forms of identity are taking precedence over nationalistic and community ones. This ‘sectarianisation’ of Shi’a identity in the British context is increasingly significant given the growing profile of Shi’ism both internationally (as a result of sectarian conflicts in the Middle East, as well as the transnational influence of Iran) and domestically (due to rising Sunni-Shi’a antagonism in the UK).

In this sense, while my empirical conclusions are drawn from a single case study, the theoretical preoccupations underpinning the paper go far beyond the particular case in hand and speak to patterns and processes of identity change more broadly – especially when it comes to the (re)drawing and (re)articulation of in- and out-group boundaries. Paying attention to the micro-level practice of everyday identity performances (such as religious rituals), I argue, allows room for complexity, nuance, and ambivalence in the study of political and social identities. In this sense, the methodological focus on micro-level identity practices contributes to the destabilisation of top-down political hierarchies and gives due recognition to the local, private, bodily, and subjective realities of human experience that have for too long been overlooked in the realm of international politics.

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is a current Research and Outreach Associate at the Centre of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge, where she is investigating intra-communal antagonism and identity politics among Shi’a communities in Europe. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Studies and an MSc in Middle East Politics from SOAS, University of London, and an MA and BA in Philosophy and Modern Languages from the University of Oxford. Her doctoral research drew on the case study of the Iraqi Shi’a diaspora to develop an alternative framework for conceptualising sectarianism as the unconscious of identity formation. Beyond academia, Emanuelle also delivers security and risk analysis on Europe and the Middle East for a range of private-sector clients, as well as having professional experience in consultancy and journalism. In 2011, Emanuelle founded The Arab Review, an online journal showcasing arts, culture, and politics from the Middle East.

The Front National and politics of Euroscepticism in France

Across Europe, the rise of the populist radical right phenomenon has been seen as a backlash against the European Union. The three crises that have hit the EU since 2008 – financial, refugees and Brexit – have created a favourable context for those actors, some like the Italian Lega and FPÖ in Austria recently entering national governments.

In this paper, I look specifically at the case of the French Front National (FN) as a prototype of the Eurosceptic populist radical right, and ask two questions: first, how the FN has navigated the EU crises and seized the opportunities that these crises provided to politicize the EU? Second, how has this politicization of European issues by the FN affected mainstream party competition over Europe in France?

Looking at FN party manifestos and electoral strategies since the early 2000s, I argue that EU crises have produced little change to the party’s core Eurosceptic positions and frames. The Euroscepticism of the FN is embedded in a wider nationalist and populist framework which provides a rich set of political, cultural and economic arguments against the EU. During the crises, the FN has drawn from this Eurosceptic framework and primarily adjusted its issue priorities to exploit the opportunities produced by the crises, mobilizing a wide range of issues and grievances about the EU.

As discussed in the paper, in the FN, Euroscepticism interacts more generally with ‘de-demonization’, that is the strategic trade-off between populist radical right voter mobilization and office-seeking objectives. While it allows the FN to differentiate itself from other actors in the system, producing significant electoral gains, Euroscepticism impedes the party’s ability to achieve governmental credibility. Therefore, it may not be a viable long-term strategy for populist parties like the FN operating in a broadly pro-European context.

Turning to the party system, the paper identifies three main political outcomes of the EU crises: the rise of new Eurosceptic alternatives such as Mélenchon’s populist left and Dupont-Aignan’s sovereigntist right; amplification of existing tensions over Europe within the dominant parties; and mainstreaming of the FN agenda of immigration. Two cases of strong impact of EU crises are found, namely the financial crisis on the Left and the refugee crisis on the Right. In both cases, European crises have activated mainstream party fragmentation, highlighting existing tensions within dominant parties, also resulting in significant policy shifts. In contrast, the Brexit referendum has had a more limited impact, essentially reinforcing existing pro and anti-EU positions among French parties.

Overall, opposition to Europe is increasingly interacting with economic and cultural issues, profoundly reshaping party competition in France. This may take the form of a frontal collision between Macron’s cosmopolitan liberals and Le Pen’s national-populists in the forthcoming EP elections in May 2019.

Gilles Ivaldi, Chargé de recherche CNRS

URMIS-Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis

Politics Best Article Award, 2019

The Politics Best Article prize is awarded every year, to the best article published in the most recent volume. Members of our editorial team have selected four outstanding articles, which showcase the breadth and depth of scholarship published in Politics. The shortlist for the 2019 Prize is currently being reviewed by the Editorial Board and the winner will be announced at the PSA Annual International Conference (Nottingham Conference Centre, Nottingham Trent University, 15 – 17 April 2019).

The nominees are:

The European public sectors in the age of managerialism, by Giovanni Esposito, Ewan Ferlie and Giuseppe Lucio Gaeta, examines the ways that managerial tools and principles from the private sector have been diffused across the European public sector. Taking a 50-year longitudinal sample of the electoral manifestos of European parties, Esposito et al analyse the relationship between public management reforms, political ideology and public expressions of support for these reforms by political parties.

Gilles Ivaldi’s article, Contesting the EU in times of crisis: The Front National and politics of Euroscepticism in France, discusses Euroscepticism in French politics through the purview of the Front National (FN). Approaching the FN as a ‘radical right wing’ political party, Ivaldi analyses the ways that the party orientates to successive EU ‘crises’ over a 10-year period. He argues that whilst this fixation provides grist for the(ir) mill, demonstrating their grievances about the European Union, it also significantly impedes the party’s strategy of governmental credibility.

In Whose equality? Measuring group representation, Karen Celis and Liza M. Mügge discuss the implications of intersectionality and constructivism for the study of political representation, focusing in particular on the ways that both paradigms – in different ways – challenge the validity of traditional measurements of group representation and political equality. Focusing on feminist studies of the political representation of women, and using qualitative and quantitative methods, their analysis forces us to rethink how politicians frame existing categories, labels, groups and interests.

Finally, Emanuelle Degli Esposti’s article The aesthetics of ritual – contested identities and conflicting performances in the Iraqi Shi’a diaspora: Ritual, performance and identity change explores how performative identity change may come to inform both individual and collective forms of belonging. Drawing on more than 2 years of ethnographic fieldwork, Degli Esposti studies the religious performances of devout Iraqi Shi’is in London, specifically focusing upon the rituals of mourning and commemoration during the Islamic month of Muharram. Her analysis and conclusions reveal an identity shift in which sectarian and religious forms of identity are taking precedence over nationalistic and community ones.

A blog post for each nominated articles, written by the authors, will follow.

John Mills, Editorial Assistant, Politics

Getting our numbers right: a new design for the study of political representation

Political equality forms the heart of a democracy. In recent years, gender equality in representation has become an influential indicator of political equality. The number of women in legislatures was well as their ideas and interests are powerful indicators of the health of democracy. Yet, the taken-for-granted group categories – such as ‘women’ and ‘men’ – upon which many researchers tend to rely to measure gender equality has become highly problematic. Who belongs to which category is not straightforward. For instance, research shows that gender and ethnicity intersect, that some women experience more gender equality than others. If we score women’s presence without variety within the group, we generate numbers on political equality that may well hide inequalities in problematic ways.

We propose a research design to measure group representation that takes context and time-specific intersecting identities and interests as starting point. We argue that we should no longer take for granted that we know who we should count, or that we know what counts as proper representation. We understand representation as a constructivist process of politicians who strategically create groups as well as their needs and interests. Therefore, claims made by politicians on behalf of some groups cannot be assumed to reflect groups’ ideas. It is an empirical question, part of the study, as well as the question whose ideas are not included.

In this exercise we propose two basic questions to increase the chance that we are counting the right bodies and ideas when measuring equality in political representation: Who belongs to which group? What are the political issues and interests of this group? These questions force us to rethink existing categories and labels. They will also reveal groups and interests that are ‘hidden’ because their non-prototypical identities are not mobilized, and their interests are not voiced by political actors.

Our research design suggests a sequence of research steps – as well as some concrete methods- that moves between induction (identity frames by politicians), deduction (testing to what extent citizens identify with these identity frames), and induction (mapping the non-prototypical groups and their interests). Through comparison, researchers can systematically measure, quantitatively and qualitatively, the match between ascribed identities (from above by politicians) and self-identification (from below by citizens). Once groups and their interests are mapped as perceived from below and above, scholars can return to the common practice of counting bodies and ideas.

Dr. Karen Celis – Research Professor
Political Science Department -Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Co-Chair RHEA Center of Expertise Gender Diversity Intersectionality
Co- founder and editor of the European Journal of Politics and Gender

Dr. Liza M. Mügge | Associate Professor | Political Science Department | University of Amsterdam
Director Amsterdam Research Center for Gender & Sexuality (ARC-GS)
Co-founding and lead editor of the European Journal of Politics and Gender