Jonathan Klüser and Marco Radojevic
Research on policy agendas and agenda-setting has developed into an important subdiscipline of comparative politics, which seeks to understand how political actors allocate scarce attention. The theoretical origins of the field describe agenda-setting as a “conflict of conflicts,” that is the political struggle over the question of which issues receive attention. Modern scholars have expanded on these ideas and turned them into important theoretical models of the agenda-setting process. The most influential of these models are Kingdon’s multiple streams approach and Baumgartner and Jones’ punctuated equilibrium theory. The former analyses the emergence of issues in the separate streams of policies, politics, and problems, whose coupling is necessary for any issue in order to be considered for political decision-making. In contrast, the latter stresses the importance of negative and positive feedback mechanisms in order to explain long periods of incremental policy change and sudden radical changes, which characterize the policy process.
Inspired by the second approach is the Comparative Agendas Project, which is a comprehensive and comparative data collection effort about policy agendas using a unified taxonomy. These data enable scholars to research the entire political process from media inputs via government throughput to legislative output. Studying governmental agendas, it is paramount to stress that—against common wisdom—political ideology does not play a decisive role in the agenda-setting process. Rather, both leftist and rightist governments seek to portray themselves as potent problem-solvers and respond to problematic societal condition in order to prove their competence. Looking at the media as one potentially powerful political agenda-setter, it turns out that newspapers and television channels’ power to steer the political agenda hinges on a variety of conditions. Generally, media outlets are most successful in setting the agenda if they report on issues that otherwise would not have been brought to the public’s attention. But even then, the media’s role appears to be restricted to narrowing down the issue menu from which politicians can choose when setting their agenda.
The study of political agendas is by no means limited to these areas, as shown by the hundreds of articles that have been published in major political science journals over the past decades. While the agenda approach has not yet developed into a theory of politics, it has certainly become a major subdiscipline of comparative politics, which has helped make sense of the political world.
Sharath Srinivasan and Stephanie Diepeveen
From global amplifications of local protests on social media to disinformation campaigns and transformative state surveillance capabilities, digital communications are changing the ways in which politics works in Africa and how and with whom power accrues. Yet while digital information technology and media are relatively new, the role of communication in state power and resistance on the continent is not. The “digital revolution” provokes us to better account for this past to understand a rapidly changing present. From language and script, to print and broadcast, to mobile applications and digital databases, how information is circulated, processed, and stored is central to political power on the African continent. The story of political change in Africa cannot be told without attention to how power manifests with and through changes in the technologies that enable these communication practices. A communication technology perspective on the study of politics in Africa provides a more sober analysis of how power relations circumscribe the possibilities of political change than more normative approaches would. Even so, a communication approach allows for social and ideational factors to mix with material ones in explaining the possibilities of such change.
Communication technologies have been central to what political actors in Africa from the precolonial past to the early 21st century can and cannot do, and to how political change comes about. Explorations across time, political era, and technological development in Africa allow us to unpack this relationship. In the precolonial period, across forms of centralized and decentralized political organization, oral communication modalities reflected and enabled fluid and radial logics of authority and power relations. Changes in moral and practical ideas for political organization occurred amid early encounters with traders and Islamic scholars and texts and the movement of people to, from, and within the continent. Colonialism, which heavily focused on narrow extractive aims, required alien central authorities to overcome the vulnerability of their rule through knowledge production and information control. Equally, the same communication technologies valued by colonial authority—intermediaries, print, radio—became means through which resistance ideas circulated and movements were mobilized. In independent Africa, political aims may have changed, but communication infrastructures and their vulnerabilities were inherited. The predicament facing postcolonial governments had a communications dimension. Later, their ability to forge rule through control and allegiance had to contend with a globalizing information economy and demands for media pluralism.
A communications perspective on the history of power on the African continent therefore guides a fuller understanding of change and continuity in politics in a digital age by drawing attention to the means and meanings by which legitimacy, authority, and belonging have continued to be produced and negotiated. Transnational configurations of information flows, global political economy logics of accumulation and security, and communicative terrains for contesting authority and mobilizing alternatives have been shown to possess both distinctly new characteristics and enduring logics.
In the European Union (EU), there are two consultative committees, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions (CoR). Both, the EESC and the CoR are involved in EU decision-making but lack formal competencies to influence European secondary law directly. Instead of having votes or veto rights concerning EU directives or regulations, the two consultative committees provide recommendations to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. In addition to providing advice to the two EU legislative chambers, the two consultative committees can also approach the European Commission and give input into the drafting of EU policies at the very early stage.
Elizabeth Ann Stein
Considering incidents that make headline news internationally, given the modern information and communication technology revolution, the facility of citizens to rapidly mobilize represents a considerable threat to autocratic survival. While the speed with which popular movements emerge has increased exponentially, and the news of their existence spreads faster and farther, civil unrest has threatened the stability and survival of dictators for centuries. The paranoia and machinations of dictators depicted in films, such as the portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, while sensationalized, capture the astounding array of threats with which unelected leaders must concern themselves. On the one hand, they must worry about insider threats to their standing, such as conspiratorial plots from people within the dictator’s own circle or mutiny among government soldiers. On the other hand, dictators also must monitor threats originating from non-regime actors, such as new alliances forming among once-fragmented opposition groups or the possibility of sustained insurgency or a popular revolution. From force to finesse, autocratic leaders have developed a broad and evolving range of tactics and tools to diminish both internal and external domestic threats to their reign. The success of dictators’ endeavors to insulate their regimes from forces that might challenge them depends on accurate and reliable information, a resource that can be as valuable to the leader as would a large armory and loyal soldiers. Dictators invest significant resources (monetary as well as human capital) to try to gather useful information about their existing and potential opponents, while also trying to control and shape information emitted by the regime before it reaches the public. New information and communication technologies (ICTs), which have drawn a great deal of scholarly attention since the beginning of the 21st century—present both risks and rewards for dictators; inversely they also create new opportunities and hazards for citizens who might utilize them to mobilize people opposed to the regime. While civil unrest could encompass the full range of domestic, nonmilitary actors, there also needs to be a specific focus on various forms of mass mobilization. Historically, more dictators have been forced from office by elite-initiated overthrows via coups d’état than have fallen to revolution or fled amid street protests. Civil unrest, in its many forms, can affect autocratic survival or precipitate regime breakdown. While mass-based revolutions have been a relatively rare phenomenon to date, the actions of many 21st-century dictators indicate that they increasingly concern themselves with the threats posed by popular protests and fear its potential for triggering broader antigovernment campaigns. The ease of access to information (or the lack thereof) help explain interactions between authoritarian regimes and citizens emphasizes. The role of information in popular antigovernment mobilization has evolved and changed how dictators gather and utilize information to prevent or counter civil unrest that might jeopardize their own survival as well as that of the regime.
Political scientists use the concept of legitimacy to assess the rightfulness of political rule. Their research can approach legitimacy from two perspectives: When taking a normative approach, political scientists develop and justify their own evaluation of the rightfulness of political arrangements. When taking an empirical approach, they study how other people—such as political elites or citizens—evaluate the rightfulness of political rule.
Both approaches have been used in research on the European Union. Scholarly discussions that approach the EU’s legitimacy from a normative perspective revolve around the question of which standards of rightfulness are appropriate for the EU. These depend largely on how the EU polity is conceptualized: as a technocratic regulatory agency, an intergovernmental organization, a federation, a demoi-cracy, or a system of multilevel governance. Since the EU is hybrid polity that possesses elements of each of these models, and is therefore difficult to classify, no consensus has emerged in this debate.
Scholarship that approaches the EU’s legitimacy as an empirical phenomenon examines political attitudes and discourses in European society, asking whether, and why, societal actors treat the EU as legitimate. A diverse set of research methods—including public opinion surveys, content analysis of different kinds of texts, and qualitative interviews with citizens—have been applied to shed light on this question. While this research has not provided clear evidence of a “legitimacy crisis” of the EU, it does show that many Europeans relate to the EU with a sense of diffuse unease and skepticism, in part because they find it opaque and difficult to understand.
Diana Panke and Julia Gurol
Smaller European Union member states face size-related challenges in the EU multilevel system, such as weighted voting in day-to-day policymaking in which EU secondary law is produced or high workloads and fewer resources during intergovernmental conferences (IGC) to set EU primary law. Coping with these challenges is paramount to smaller states’ success. Thus, they can use different strategies, most notably selective engagement and negotiation strategies that do not require much material power, such as persuasion, framing, and coalition-building, as well as the Council Presidency as a window of opportunity to influence the agenda. Applying these strategies allows small states to punch above their weight. Yet, doing so is easier the longer states have been members of the EU. Older, smaller states have more extensive networks, more insights about past policies, and in-depth knowledge on best practices that help them in effectively navigating day-to-day EU negotiations as well as IGCs.