Report of the jury NKWP/VPW Jaarprijs Politicologie by Wolfgang Wagner
Each year, during the Politicologenetmaal, we extend the ‘Jaarprijs Politicologie’ or the award for the Best Doctoral Dissertation in Political Science defended in the previous year. The competition includes dissertations defended in the Netherlands or in Flanders and dissertations of Dutch or Flemish PhD students defended at a foreign university. The award is a joint initiative of the Dutch political science association and the political science association in Belgium. Each year, the jury is composed of five colleagues; with yearly alternating majorities for the Netherlands and Belgium. This year, our Flemish colleagues were in the majority. The Belgian and Dutch political science associations appointed the following colleagues to the ‘Jaarprijs’ jury:
- Katja Biedenkopf, KU Leuven
- Pauline Ketelaars, Universiteit Antwerpen
- Tom van der Meer, Universiteit van Amsterdam
- Steven Van de Walle, KU Leuven
- Wolfgang Wagner, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Dr. Ruud Wouters, University of Amsterdam, joined the jury as secretary. We wish to thank Ruud for the excellent support he provided over the last couple of months.
This year, we received 57 doctoral dissertations – 10 more than last year! Interesting, in the last two years 60% or more of the dissertations were defended at a Dutch university. This year, more than 60% were defended at a Flemish university. One was defended both in Leiden and in Antwerp. As last year – but contrary to years before 2015, the longlist did not include any dissertations defended by Belgians or Dutch at foreign universities. Almost half of the dissertations were defended by women (27 out of 57 – 47,4%); a steep rise compared to last year.
The doctoral dissertations dealt with a broad range of topics; including electoral volatility, multilevel politics, protest movements, climate governance, political dissatisfaction, the impact of media on political attitudes, e-governance, local governance, public-private partnerships, international relations, war and conflict, EU lobbying and European politics. We received both “traditional” monographs and dissertations that took the form of a collection of published articles.
During a first round of selection – from longlist to shortlist – all 57 dissertations were evaluated by two jury members. Three criteria were considered in the evaluation:
- theoretical scrutiny
- the quality of the (empirical) research
- the contribution which the dissertation makes to political science at large
We received many excellent dissertations but after long consideration the jury decided to retain five dissertations for the ‘Jaarprijs Politicologie’. They are, in alphabetical order:
- Joris Boonen (KU Leuven), Political learning in adolescence: the development of party preferences in a multiparty setting.
- Anna Kern (KU Leuven) Causes and Consequences of Political Participation in Times of Rapid Social Change in Europe. A re-assessment of classical theories on political participation.
- Eelco Harteveld (Universiteit van Amsterdam), Daring to vote right: Why men are more likely than women to vote for the radical right.
- Eefje Steenvoorden (Universiteit van Amsterdam), Societal Pessimism: A study of its conceptualization, causes, correlates and consequences.
- Sedef Turper (Universiteit Twente), Political attitudes in a rapidly changing European landscape: methodological and substantive insights from the ESS-Netherlands panel component.
All of the nominated dissertations formulate an original research question and explore this question in a theoretically, methodologically and empirically profound manner.
Nevertheless, one dissertation stood out for scoring particularly high on all three relevant criteria: theoretical depth, empirical solidity and making an important contribution to the discipline.
The winning dissertation draws not only on modern classics in political science but also on a broad range of political philosophers such as Zygmunt Bauman, Ulrich Beck and Charles Taylor to conceptualize its core concept: societal pessimism.
For the empirical analysis, various datasets are used: Eurobarometer and the European Social Survey in particular. In addition, the author has designed own questions for the Citizens’ Outlooks Barometer and thus gathered data herself. The empirical analysis is spotless. What is more, it makes use of a broad range of methods, including factor analysis, content analysis and various types of regression analyses.
Finally, the winning dissertation makes a major contribution to the field of political science. Its topic, societal pessimism, had been understudied, and the dissertation addresses it very comprehensively: societal pessimism is first conceptualized, then operationalized and finally, its causes and consequences are studied empirically.
In contemporary developed liberal societies, societal pessimism is conceptualized as societal unease, composed of “distrust in human capability, loss of ideology, decline of political power, decline of community and increasing socioeconomic vulnerability” (35).
The dissertation finds that political factors such as instability and perceived corruption, best explain differences between countries, while economic factors such as recession and unemployment best explain differences within countries over time.
The Social en Cultureel Planbureau has published the winning dissertation as a monograph last year; the key conceptual chapter has been published in a top journal: Social Indicators Research.
It is my honour to announce that the jury has decided to award the ‘Jaarprijs Politicologie’ to
- Eefje Steenvoorden for her dissertation on societal pessimism
We also want to congratulate the supervisors, Professor Jean Tillie at the University of Amsterdam and Paul Dekker at Tilburg University.