Legislators between Accountability and Collective Agency (LACAN)

Parliaments are places of intense competition between government and opposition parties – and within political parties. At the same time, they are collegiate bodies where collective decisions often have to be made across party lines, where cooperation has to co-exist with competition. This opens up a further functional tension: while a certain amount of consensus in parliaments may aid effective decision-making, it may also contribute to the appearance of a political elite whose priorities and language are removed from those people members of parliament were elected to represent.

 

The LACAN project will examine how, and under what circumstances, legislatures display collective agency against the backdrop of unfavorable competitive conditions. Students of parliaments have discovered evidence of the existence of common beliefs and ‘we-attitudes’ in legislatures to complement more competitive, hierarchical and majoritarian modes of interaction. However, this evidence has usually consisted of small-n or cross-sectional studies.

 

The LACAN project seeks to break new ground by examining to what extent, and how, members of legislative assemblies develop and reproduce such an esprit de corps in the face of highly competitive and often adversary interactions in the chamber. What theoretical mechanisms help us understand how they develop and sustain a certain amount of collegiality regardless of the competitive and hierarchical nature of legislative organization and the dominance of majoritarian decision-making? The emergence and persistence of collective agency may vary across legislatures and time and may have beneficial and problematic effects from a normative perspective. On the positive side, it may enhance the deliberative and discursive quality of legislative politics, support the search for compromise solutions under supermajority requirements and maintain a certain amount of institutional resilience vis-à-vis party leaders and executives even under conditions of national emergency. On the more problematic side, it may contribute to the development of an unrepresentative political class whose discourse is unrepresentative of the concerns of the broader citizenry.

        Our Team       

Prof. Dr. Thomas Saalfeld

Principal investigator

Thomas Saalfeld is Professor of Political Science and Vice President for Research at the University of Bamberg. Prior to joining Bamberg in 2009, he held academic positions at the Universities of the German Federal Armed Forces Munich, Hull, Dresden and Kent. His work was published in the British Journal of Political Science, the European Journal of Political Research, International Studies Quarterly, the Journal of Legislative Studies, Legislative Studies Quarterly, the Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica, Parliamentary Affairs and West European Politics.

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David Beck

Researcher

David Beck holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Bamberg and is currently completing his Master's in Survey Statistics. Within the "Legislators between Accountability and Collective Agency" project he is currently responsible for collecting data from several national and regional parliaments via automated data extraction methods. His main research interests include parliamentary behavior, satisfaction with democracy and political communication across different institutional contexts.

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