European Research Council for the project ‘State Encroachment on Civil Society? A Comparative Study of Parties, Interest Groups and Welfare-Providing Organisations in Contemporary Democracies (STATORG)

Nicole Bolleyer has been awarded €864,972 by the European Research Council for the project ‘State Encroachment on Civil Society? A Comparative Study of Parties, Interest Groups and Welfare-Providing Organisations in Contemporary Democracies (STATORG)’.

The five-year project ‘State Encroachment on Civil Society?’ which will be hosted by the Center for Elections, Media & Parties (CEMaP) will link research in politics, sociology and comparative law and involve a team of a postdoctoral research fellow and two PhD researchers from different disciplines. In essence, the project compares the regulatory frameworks governing membership-based, voluntary organizations (VOs) in long-lived democracies and assesses how these frameworks affect organisational behaviour. It studies interest groups, parties and welfare-providers as three types of voluntary organisation interacting with democratic states at different stages of the political process.

State control over organized civil society is at odds with pluralist values and supposed to weaken organisations’ linkages to citizens. Simultaneously, specialist literatures in political science and sociology point to ‘their’ VOs’ entanglement with the state, while comparative legal and public policy scholars note that governments, in recent reforms, increased their control over which organizations receive funds and how funds can be used. In times of austerity, welfare state retrenchment and declining trust in elected institutions the regulatory frameworks governing VOs are changing, deeply affecting organizational life in a democracy. The project examines whether close state-voluntary relations compromise organisational autonomy and reduce these organizations’ (supposedly) beneficial effects on democracy. In a first phase, it compares the regulation of interest groups, parties and welfare-providing voluntary organisations across 19 long-lived democracies and, based on this, theorizes distinct normative conceptions of state-voluntary relations underpinning democracies. In a second phase, the project studies how individual organisations adapt to ‘most different’ regulatory regimes and how this adaptation affects their likelihood to survive.

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