APSA Annual Meeting and Exhibition 2019 in Washington DC

This year’s APSA meeting and exhibition, convened in Washington DC, had the theme “Populism and Privilege”. With more than 1000 panels and more than 6000 participants, the conference offered a huge array of interesting contributions. Particularly scholars doing research in the area of populism could elect from an  overwhelming number of panels on this topic, covering the measurement of populism, its roots, and its consequences.

As a contribution specifically to the aspect of the roots of populist parties, I presented a paper written together with Georg Wenzelburger on the “Sources of Radical Right Party Support Among Economically Leftist Citizens”.  It looks at why radical right parties – which are often right-wing populists – receive considerable support from citizens with clear pro-redistribution preferences.

With all this research on populism, it was good to also have some change and be able to look into other interesting fields. For instance, the conference featured a number of panels on digital media, change in the public sphere, and the issue of fake news in our time. They contained some exciting contributions with cutting-edge research  e.g. on how to counter the effects of fake news.

Pascal König

New Article on Algorithmic Governance in Philosophy and Technology

Algorithmic decision-making systems are increasingly used in many areas throughout society where they steer the behaviors of a potentially vast number of people. They come into contact with these systems mostly through widely used platforms or services in the private sector. However, the state too shows a growing inclination to employ algorithmic decision-making systems in its operations, e.g. in the managing of resources and processes of so-called smart cities. It is therefore an important question, what kind of governance algorithmic systems establish and how this relates to democratic standards of legitimacy.

I deal with this question in a paper that has been published in Philosophy & Technology. It draws on governance theory and political theory to shed light on the nature of algorithmic governance. It argues that this kind of governance indeed forms a novel way of coordinating behaviors and managing societal complexity – one that is potentially also highly responsive to individual preferences. Yet despite its responsiveness and ability to accomodate pluralistic preferences, algorithmic governance nonetheless is qualitatively different from the  political that characterizes democratic politics. The article develops this argument by comparing algorithmic governance with Thomas Hobbes’ figure of the Leviathan.

Pascal König

A new path in German law and order policy? – Lecture at the IPW colloquium in Heidelberg

Presenting some evidence of why the German law and order policy path might have changed

On invitation by Colette Vogeler, I had the privilege to speak at the colloquium of the Institute for Political Science of the University of Heidelberg on Thursday. Drawing on a study by Georg Wenzelburger and me, recently published in the Austrian Journal for Political Science, I argued in my lecture why we might have experienced a shift in the path of Germany’s law and order policy due to the refugee crisis of 2015/2016.

Based on earlier research Georg and I concluded in a 2016 article in Politics & Policy that Germany does not follow other countries in a substantial harshening of its sentencing and security law or a major build-up of its security infrastructure. Yet, after the refugee crisis hit Germany in the summer and fall of 2015 though we may need to question our own statement. In my guest lecture in Heidelberg I presented a whole set of security sector indicators – both state (police numbers, budgets, legislation) and market ones (personnel, turnover) – which all suggest a marked and (till now) lasting difference to the status quo before the refugee crisis. The data mirrors how public and private security personnel grows in (market) and after (state) the great increase in refugee numbers and how German law and order policy became stricter, more punitive, and linked to the policy sector of migration.

Besides this observation of differences with the status quo ante, Collier/Collier (1991) call for the identification of mechanisms supporting the new path when analyzing possible critical junctures. Based theoretically on Sydow et al. (2009) and empirically on a survey with the administrations overseeing refugee accommodations on the level of the German Länder we were able to highlight such potential mechanisms. The reform of German private security regulation in 2016 e.g. established new rules and procedures, decreasing coordination costs between state security actors themselves and between them and security companies. Such decisions taken in and (at least to some degree) influenced by the crisis might help a new policy path, characterized by a new collaboration between public and private security forces, to lock in.

Afterwards discussing the data with Prof. Zohlnhöfer and Dr. Vogeler of the IPW Heidelberg

Our paper on which my talk in Heidelberg rested is rather exploratory and it is still too soon to reliably test the beginning of a new path in German law and order policy. But the lively discussion after the talk with the very much interested colleagues and students in Heidelberg showed how salient the issue of domestic security has become and how necessary further research activities by policy analysts are (Please, see also the research projects in which the study originated: The Politics of Law and Order / The Political Economy of Private Security.)

Helge Staff

[Photos by Colette Vogeler and Linda Voigt]


Collier, Ruth Berins/Collier, David (1991): Shaping the political arena. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Staff, Helge/Wenzelburger, Georg (2019): Mehr Staat, mehr Markt, mehr Sicherheit. Warum die Flüchtlingskrise einen Pfadwechsel in der deutschen Politik der Inneren Sicherheit eingeleitet haben könnte. In: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft, 47 (4), 45-58.

Sydow, Jörg/ Georg Schreyögg/ Jochen Koch (2009), Organizational Path Dependence: Opening the Black Box, in: Academy of Management Review, 34 (4), 689-709.

Wenzelburger, Georg/Staff, Helge (2016): German Exceptionalism? An Empirical Analysis of 20 Years of Law and Order Legislation. In: Politics & Policy, 44 (2), 319-350.

Teaching policy analysis – A research seminar for BA students

A small group of students, close support by lecturers, and a hands-on research approach characterize the seminar

The Federation of the Automotive Industry, Greenpeace, Verdi or even a local citizens’ initiative are examples of the articulation of specific interests or political preferences apart from parties or forms of direct democracy. All these actors are actively trying to put their issues on the government’s agenda and influence decision-making. But who are these actors? Is that really “democratic”? And how exactly are such particular interests incorporated in the policy process? The proseminar “Lobbyists, NGOs & Associations: The Influence of Interest Groups in the Policy Process” dealt with these questions.

The seminar is funded in the context of the project “Expansion of research-based learning from the first semester onward”. This funding gave me the opportunity to assist in the seminar which was taught by Helge Staff this summer term. While I am still pursuing my master’s degree it was an exciting chance to look behind the scenes of teaching. In this blog entry I want to give you an idea of the chances and challenges the seminar had in store for the students as well as for the lecturers.  The core idea of the seminar was to introduce the students to policy analysis focussing especially on the influence of interest groups on agenda setting and decision-making processes. The proseminar placed a special emphasis on the joint development of techniques within the scope of “learning by researching” and should thus promote the enthusiasm for applied empirical research with simple methods already in the first semesters of a BA. The ultimate aim of the seminar for the students is to write an empirical term paper presenting the results of their own research projects.

Playing “ACF-taboo” as part of the overall gamification approach of the seminar

The first session of the seminar, which took place on April 26th focussed on the systematic teaching of essential theories relevant for understanding the impact interest groups can have on the political process. The theoretical foundation for the seminar was given by the Power Resource Theory and the Advocacy Coalition Framework. The students elaborated the theories together with the lecturers and then internalized the insights through interactive playful repetitions. To internalize the important concepts of the Advocacy Coalition Framework, we played ACF-Taboo. The students each had to describe one concept of the ACF, which was part of a graphical illustration. Yet, they were not allowed to use other words included in the graphic to describe their concept. While one imagines this game to be pretty easy, it was harder than expected to not use any of the other concepts in the description. We also repeated the Power Resource Theory by playing Powerpoint-Karaoke. Each student had to present two or three slides dealing with the approach. While it was easy for them to present the theory-based slides, it was a bigger challenge to present the empirical slides, which for example contained data on the correlation between trade union density and social expenditure in various countries. Nonetheless, all students mastered the task very well. Building on their theoretical knowledge the students developed a common analysis grid, which they will use to carry out their own research projects.

So far, the students were lacking the methodical knowledge to conduct their own research. Therefore, the second session of the seminar focussed on introducing methods of empirical research that are suitable for the projects the students are expected to carry out. The students are asked to investigate an interest group based in Kaiserslautern or the surrounding area by means of the common analysis grid we developed in the first session. This analysis grid containing legal foundations, political and general resources, belief systems and many more concepts, meant to help the students to describe their interest group with regard to their participation and their influence in the policy process.The methods of choice to gather relevant information were document analysis and expert interviews. Yet, many problems can arise in the course of an interview. To prevent this, we simulated an interview situation, in which two students could practice their skills and the others monitored closely. Equipped with theoretical and methodological knowledge, the students now have time to research local interest groups.

Simulating an expert interview with the students during class

The results are due at the end of June. In the meantime, I offer a tutorial on scientific working in order to provide theoretical basics of academic writing and to accompany the individual writing process by providing practical knowledge. For me it was a challenge to prepare and hold my own seminar and tutorial sessions, as it was the first time I switched sides, from being a student to being a lecturer. At first I felt overwhelmed by questions like which information is relevant for the students to successfully carry out their research? How to spice the theories up with some empirical data? Are the exercises too easy or too complicated for the students to master? Yet in the end it was a lot of fun, I myself learned a lot about interest groups and their influence on policy processes and it also gave me the chance to reflect my own learning behaviour as a student from a different perspective. In the last seminar session in the end of June the students will present their results and I am already looking forward to get to know more about some local interest groups.

Kira Wolf

Guest lecture by Professor Nils Bandelow on the Advocacy Coalition Framework

Yesterday, Professor Nils Bandelow, Chair of Comparative Politics and Public Policy at the University of Braunschweig, made a trip to Kaiserslautern to talk about the state of the art of one of the most prominent theoretical approaches in policy research, the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF). In his guest lecture, as part of the lecture on comparative policy research by Georg Wenzelburger, Nils Bandelow shared his expertise on the framework and gave insights about the tenets of the ACF as well as its development over the years.

Nils Bandelow started off with a presentation of proponents of the ACF who have played a major role in developing the framework.  He went on to point to differences between the American and the German reading of the framework, critically reflecting on the core elements of the ACF and their usefulness. In doing so, he also discussed why major questions that arise when working with the framework – who are the actors; are there stable goals/preferences; who comes together in coalitions and which impact do they have? – are not so easily answered.

Nils Bandelow concluded his talk with a plea to extend and modify the framework and to take into account social identity and group theory, to use a more precise concept of actors, to draw on some elements of rational choice theory, and to explicitly limit the scope of what a theory aims to explain and make sense of. In his outlook, he sketched out how these issues can be addressed with the theoretical framework that he has developed together with his team in recent years, the Programmatic Action Framework.

Workshop on Web Scraping and Text Mining

The massive proliferation of machine-readable information that is available online opens up new possibilities for research and for the more efficient collection of large amounts of information. As a result, the ability to gather such information has become an important asset for researchers in different fields. The possible applications and purposes are vast. For instance, one could automate the collection of coordinates for a set of cities from Wikipedia; one might want to collect a set of articles from a  website; or perhaps one is interested in obtaining specific information from available forms provided by the public administration.

Scholars from different disciplines of the University of Kaiserslautern had the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of web scraping in a workshop organized by Georg Wenzelburger and supported by the TU-Nachwuchsring (network for the promotion of young scientists). Over one and a half course days, taking place on the 24th and 25th of May, Dominic Nyhuis gave insights into the theoretical foundations and the practical application of web scraping techniques. Dr. Dominic Nyhuis is the co-author of a comprehensive book on web scraping and has given various workshops on the topic, among others at the ECPR Winter School.

The workshop started with an introduction to the basics needed to understand how websites are structured and how this makes an at least partially automated collection of information possible. Dominic Nyhuis then went on to demonstrate how websites can be processed and parts of these sites can selectively be retrieved using the software R. The course was able to cover various exercises and examples, and participants had the chance to suggest applictions of web scraping they might need for their own research. As an outlook, the course concluded with a brief overview of text mining methods, i.e. techniques that can be applied after text has been scraped from the web.

Pascal König

New article in ZPol on interpretative elements in positivist policy analysis

As part of an upcoming special issue in the German journal “Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft”, guest-edited by Marlon Barbehön, Sybille Münch, and Gabi Schlag, I published an article on potential interpretative elements in positivist policy analysis. The study mostly reviews standard theories of German policy analysis as well as the three main theories of the policy process. Only the last three feature and profit from specific and meaningful linkages to interpretative approaches. In addition, I also reflect on Georg Wenzelburger’s and my own handling of data in the project “The Politics of Law and Order“.

Read more about the article and its formation here.

The article can be accessed here.

Helge Staff

New article in JITP by Pascal König on digital policy in Ireland and Germany

It is commonly held that industrialized countries are undergoing a digital transformation, i.e. far reaching changes in their societies and economies that are driven by advances in digital technologies. Yet these countries also differ in terms of their political-economic and socio-cultural conditions. Does this mean that there are systematic differences in the policies that parties formulate to address those changes – and do we thus see different faces of a digital transformation?

I tackle this question in my recent article, published in the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, based on a systematic comparison between Ireland and Germany. These countries differ markedly regarding the role that the IT-sector plays in their economies as well as regarding their privacy cultures. Despite these differences, however, I do not find persistent systematic differences between the two countries. Instead, there is a clear trend of overall convergence of parties’ policy stances in the time between 2007 and 2017. Parties in both countries, particularly in Germany, have shifted towards putting greater emphasis on aspects of productivity and efficiency. It thus seems that the adaptive pressures and the economic importance of digital technologies prevail over context factors that would seem particularly likely to shape political actors’ policy priorities.

Pascal König

Goodbye Colette! Welcome Pascal and Malin!

With the start of the summer term 2019 there are a few changes in our team. As Georg Wenzelburger is back from his research semester abroad, Colette Vogeler, who substituted him as professor for Policy-Analysis und Political Economy, is leaving us to fill in for Prof. Dr. Jale Tosun at the University of Heidelberg. We enjoyed her stay in Kaiserslautern very much, profited from her rich experiences in teaching and research, and wish her all the best in Heidelberg and elsewhere!

Yet, due to the two succesfull grant applications in the area of algorithm policy, Pascal König, former research associate at the University of Frankfurt, has joined the team to conduct the new project “FATAL 4 Justice”. His work will be supported by Malin Grüninger as a new student assistant.

Furthermore, we have also moved and exchanged our rooms in the Kaiserslautern city center for new offices in the main social science building of the University of Kaiserslautern. You can find us now on campus and in the rooms 57/267, 57-265, 57-465, and 57-480.

Helge Staff

New Article: “More State, More Market, More Security”

Based on and linking our research projects on “The Politics of Law and Order” and “The Political Economy of Private Security”, Georg Wenzelburger and I have published a new article in the Austrian Journal of Political Science. In this study we ask, how Germany’s policy output in the sector of law and order changed due to the refugee crisis and whether this change amounts to a new policy path?

By drawing on several mechanisms of path dependency and by expanding the empirical analysis to private security, we can show that the refugee crisis impacted greatly on German law and order policy. State and market provide more security than before and cooperate more closely – a somewhat new policy path which might be going to last due to reinforcing mechanisms of path dependency. The full article can be accessed here.

Helge Staff