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Twenty Five Years of Reforming Local Government in a Comparative Perspective: Unity in Diversity?

Comparative Politics
Democracy
Governance
Local Government
Political Leadership
Referendums and Initiatives
Representation
S59
Kristof Steyvers
Ghent University
Ulrik Kjær
Department of Political Science & Public Management, University of Southern Denmark

Endorsed by the ECPR Standing Group on Local Government and Politics


Abstract

Proposal For the last quarter of a century local government has been exposed to a multitude of different reforms and many new concepts have been introduced to administrative and political leaders of the municipalities as well as to the scholars researching this lower tier of the public sector in Europe, North-America and beyond. Terms such as urban regimes, multi-level governance, new localism etc. are now included in the standard vocabulary of students of local government and an alleged overall shift towards local governance has been discerned referring to new modes of place-bound decision-making and the increasing importance of steering networks for the local policy process. As local government has indeed also been at the forefront of more general reform trends within the public sector also concepts like e-government, participatory budgeting, collaborative innovation etc. are now as known in local government circles as they are elsewhere. Often, the local level has served as a laboratory for the testing and subsequent diffusion of seemingly successful reform practices throughout the political system. The process of reforming has probably not yet come to an end but we think that it is time for a more up-to-date and systematic reflection on their variegated nature and not the least where this has left us in terms of impact. First of all, because most research on these matters has been published at the very or near beginning of the 21st century not taking into account the last decade (this goes for important single country as well as comparative studies). This section will aim to provide a more contemporary update focusing on the current state of reform initiatives and practices probing into their actual consequences after a period of maturation and institutionalization. Secondly, while much research has been done into specific areas of reform (e.g. on participatory and direct democracy or on the strengthening of the local executive), less has been said about some of the more general and overall consequences. For instance: How do these new modes of governance interact with their old but shifting counterparts of government? (e.g. what is the relationships of participatory and direct democracy with the transformations visible in representative democracy?) Or, how these new modes of governance interact with one another? (e.g. how compatible is direct citizen involvement with the idea of strong leadership?). We are looking for papers and/or panel proposals focusing on where we are now – what have the impact and the effect been on local government in terms of democracy, effectiveness and/or governance? We see several options for potential more specific panels (and papers herein) within this framework such as for instance: local governance networks (performance and/or democratic anchorage), local political leadership (strategic councils and/or executive strengthening), local policy-making processes (the innovation/diffusion potential), participatory and direct democracy (interactive decision-making, participatory budgets, referenda and/or user-boards), the interplay between elected office-holders and managers, changing patterns of territorial and functional organization in a multi-level system, internal and/or external (post-)NPM at the local level and specific urban innovations with regard to the features mentioned. We welcome proposals for full panels (with four-five papers) as well as individual papers. We prefer comparative papers, but this includes papers comparing local government systems in different countries as well as papers comparing localities within the same country. Within the general framework we welcome empirical studies of different local government settings but we especially welcome papers which at the same time have clear and high theoretical ambitions using their findings to engage in the advancing of the theory-building of the field of local government studies. The section is endorsed by the ECPR Standing Group on Local Government and Politics (LOGOPOL). Prospective Panels We will aim at four to five panels. The following people have already confirmed to be willing to direct one of panels below should the proposal for sections be accepted: - Local political leadership – how mayors rule the (local) world (Prof. Annick Magnier, University of Florence) - The interplay between councilors and managers – facilitative leadership patterns (Prof. Kristof Steyvers, Ghent University) - The resilience of representation – parties and elections in the era of local governance (Prof. Ulrik Kjaer, University of Southern Denmark) - New democratic tools at the local level – reaching out to the citizens (Prof. Norbert Kersting, University of Münster) - New Public Governance and Urban Regimes – urban development through cooptation (Prof. Jefferey Sellers, University of Southern California) Section co-chairs’ biographies Kristof Steyvers is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science of Ghent University (Belgium). His research is conducted in its Center for Local Politics. His main research interests are local political leadership, parties and elections at the local level, local government reform, local governance networks, urban politics with a preference for the comparative approach. He has published on these matters in journals such as Local Government Studies, Lex Localis – The Journal of Local Self-Government, the European Journal of Urban and Regional Studies, Parliamentary Affairs, Public Management Review and Representation. Ulrik Kjaer is Professor of local politics at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. He has previously been visiting scholar at Stanford (1996), University of Colorado (2007) and Rutgers University (2014). His main research interests are local democracy, local elections, local political leadership, women in local politics, and municipal amalgamations. He has published extensively on these matters including articles in journals such as: Local Government Studies, Urban Affairs Review, European Journal of Political Research, Scandinavian Political Studies, Journal of Legislative Studies, Politics & Gender, International Journal of Public Administration, Politische Vierteljahresschrift, and Representation.
Code Title Details
P002 1 - Local Political Leadership - Mayors and Beyond View Panel Details
P140 Explaining Inter-local Collaboration and Regional Governance: The Institutional Collective Action Framework in a Comparative Perspective View Panel Details
P217 Local Autonomy - Functions, Discretion and Access View Panel Details
P219 Local Governance - Vertical and Horizontal View Panel Details
P221 Local Political Participation - Elections, Parties and Civil Society View Panel Details
P241 New Public Governance and Urban Regimes View Panel Details