My research and teaching construes the state as a problem-solving device that allows modern and complex societies to address and overcome all kinds of challenges.
I‘m particularly interested in contemporary developments that threaten to undermine the problem-solving power of the state, in particular the intensification of political conflict and the growth of policies, rules and regulations. Intensified conflict can polarize societies, damage their institutions and distract them from “really big” problems. An important focus of my research is to identify the factors that allow societies to address problems and manage conflicts under heightened pressure. Policy growth, for its part, threatens to overburden public administrations and undermine the implementation of policies. My research analyzes the causes and consequences of policy growth and seeks to support public administrations in handling more complex tasks and coping with greater implementation loads.
I have worked on a number of related projects within this broader framework.
My Work on Policy Controversies and Political Blame Games
This line of work investigates how politicians act ‘under pressure’, i.e. when blame from citizens, the opposition, or the media threatens their re-election prospects and the policies they support. Blame games are political events that develop on the occasion of controversial or problematic issues when politicians begin to blame each other. I have conceptualized blame games as microcosms of conflictual politics, the study of which tells us a great deal of how political systems change if they switch into conflict mode. Political systems are in conflict mode when they have to solve problems and find answers to their citizens’ demands under more conflictual conditions. One of the central insights of my research on blame games is that countries have their own very peculiar – and more or less successful – ways of managing their political and policy problems during blame games.
My Work on Blame-Seeking and the Erosion of Democratic Norms
Existing research on norm erosion and democratic backsliding primarily focuses on why many politicians nowadays are eager to violate democratic norms. What existing research usually neglects is how politicians do so without being ostracized. After all, it’s very puzzling that established politicians and parties seem unable to stop norm violators. My research tackles this peculiarity by zooming in on the conflicts between norm violators and established politicians who want to preserve the democratic rules of the game. A particular focus is on the elaborate „blame-seeking“ strategies that illiberal politicians increasingly employ to provoke and distinguish themselves from the political establishment. This project contributes to our understanding conflicts about the (re)interpretation of democratic institutions.
My Work on Public Administration and Policy Implementation Under Pressure
Although long ago Pressman and Wildavsky, two pioneering implementation scholars, informed political scientists that ‘High hopes in Washington are often dashed in Oakland’, political scientists still seldom look beyond Washington when examining the implications of conflictual politics. My work on public administration and policy implementation under pressure seeks to change that. This project examines the implications of intensified political conflict for administrators. My research suggests that front-line workers, such as youth advocates, often implement policies in ways that run contrary to the ideas embodied in these policies in order to shield themselves from the conflict that rages at the political level.
My Work on Policy Growth and Administrative Overburdening
My current research on policy growth explores the reasons for why countries adopt ever more rules and regulations and examines how growing policy portfolios can overburden public administrations. This project shows that policies adopted in response to increasing public demands (relating to issues such as social protection or public health) only have the desired effect if governments expand implementation capacities in lockstep with newly adopted policies. My research, on which I collaborate with Xavier Fernández-i-Marín, Christoph Knill, and Yves Steinebach, suggests that democracies need to radically expand their administrative capacities if they want to remain effective problem-solvers.