No. 11 : May-August 2014

Knud Erik Jørgensen

Political Research and Inter-national Studies in Europe

Academic Foresights

How do you analyze the present situation of political research and international studies in Europe?

The European Corporation for Political Research (ECPR) used to be an association supporting political research, scholarly pluralism and largely autonomous standing groups. Personally, I have been fond of the ECPR and enjoyed ECPR events ever since participating in my first workshop in 1989. Unfortunately, the current Executive Committee of the ECPR has chosen to focus its energy on political and legal disputes, the exercise of disciplinary power and governance characterized by serious irregularities. During my brief membership of the Executive (April 2012-September2013), I witnessed several “interesting” processes. It is well-known that disciplinary power comes in many shades.  Whereas some experiences it with/in institutional review boards (Johnson 2008), others have analyzed it in the context of scholarly debates (Jørgensen and Valbjørn 2012). It should therefore come as no surprise that scientific societies also are characterized by the exercise of disciplinary power and the policing of (imaginary) borders. Conditions within APSA, to which the Perestroika movement reacted to a decade ago is a well-known case (Yanow and Schwartz-Shea 2010). In Europe there are several similar cases but they are less well-known and that is a pity because then they cannot be debated. With this aim in mind, this contribution will focus on the case of the ECPR.

Part of the problem is that scholarly pluralism is currently under attack, with the ECPR gradually moving from a broad understanding of ‘political research’ to a fairly narrow understanding of ‘political science’. Current ECPR policy is guided by the idea that political science is a master discipline and, moreover, that the ECPR is or should be for political scientists only, and, finally, that Standing Groups (SGs) of the ECPR are forums for various sub-disciplines or fields of research (ECPR 2013a, 2013b). In this perspective International Relations is merely a sub-discipline of Political Science and nothing more. It seems to me that the sociology of ISA and EISA membership provide empirical facts suggesting that the issue is slightly more complex than assumed by the ECPR Executive. The proposed or imposed draft Framework for SGs that will fundamentally change the nature of SGs explicitly limits membership of the Standing Groups to political scientists, a move that would be “in strong contrast to both the strong interdisciplinary tradition within ECPR and current trends in international political research. This provision will require Standing Groups to ask a significant proportion of their current members to leave, including a number of current Standing Group chairs” (SGs Joint response 2014). While there is a clearly detectable general trend across Europe and beyond to reduce political science to methods and research techniques, the specific cause for homogenizing the ECPR might be increased competition from the European Political Science Association (EPSA) and its expanded portfolio of activities (conferences and publication outlets) not to speak about income from membership fees.

In your opinion, how will the situation likely evolve over the next five years?

ECPR Standing Groups have for more than 25 years thrived in their capacity of being largely autonomous thereby cultivating a rich undergrowth of activity within political research. They might not always have been particularly recognized for their activities, something the annual ECPR reports to the Charity Commission documents with much clarity. The lack of recognition is also demonstrated by the fact that SGs are not regulated by the ECPR’s Constitution, this in stark contrast to PSA, APSA and ISA constitutions. However, the lack of recognition has been balanced by their autonomous status outside the ECPR’s responsibilities vis-à-vis the Charity Commission and English charity law. The funny thing is that despite the fact that Standing Groups are not mentioned in the ECPR’s Constitution, the Executive claims they are, referring to Article 18 of the ECPR’s Constitution (ECPR 2013b). It is the first such reference in the ECPR’s 45 years long history and without any sound legal foundation.

The specific relations between the ECPR and the Standing Group on International Relations (SGIR) have always been characterized by a degree of tension. Indeed the SGIR was highly skeptical about joining the ECPR in the first place and a few years after joining the Steering Committee voted about leaving the ECPR. The Committee decided reluctantly to stay but tensions continued. Given the nature of the SGIR (being an association itself) and the ECPR such tensions are perhaps unavoidable. However, their significance goes beyond problems in the family. Thus, one of the origins of the current dispute between the ECPR and the SGIR is the Publication Board of the ECPR deciding to take legal advice against the SGIR. In this context the ECPR’s academic director, Martin Bull, stated, “it has come to light that, pursuant to an agreement dated 18 January 1994, the ECPR does, in fact, part own the journal with the publishers.” If correct, it is remarkable that the ECPR for 20 years has been unaware of the SGIR’s flagship journal, the European Journal on International Relations (EJIR). Obviously, the claim is false. However, having opted for a confrontational approach, a process of harassment by the ECPR followed. Numerous opportunities to address the dispute at Executive meetings were consistently rejected. To date there has been no response to the SGIR’s memorandum on ECPR-SGIR relations (SGIR 2013), that is, apart from claiming it is “inaccurate” and “aggressive”. Having been thoroughly informed about the process through which the SGIR became the owner of EJIR, also by the two key persons involved – professor John Groom and professor Ken Newton – the Executive merely concludes that nothing new has come to light. The Executive does acknowledge that Sage’s academic society partner is the SGIR but mysteriously continues to contest SGIR ownership of the journal. ECPR-SGIR relations therefore remain poisoned.

It is very difficult to explain to outsiders why the ECPR Executive has decided to derail relations with the SGIR. Essentially the Executive has never provided reasons for its actions nor evidence to support its claims, legal or not. What seems to characterize the decision-making process is that a small committee of four trustees plus the academic director formulates policies/positions that subsequently are rubber stamped by the other trustees. Searching for explanatory factors, the well-known rule of thumb to follow the money might be applicable in this case. It could be a simple correlation but it might not be a coincidence that the first year in a decade where the ECPR’s financial balance is in red coincides with the Executive’s attempt at appropriating the European Journal of International Relations.

In the Trustees’ Annual Report 2012 (TAR), the Executive has gone public with its position (ECPR 2013c), so this brief article provides a welcome opportunity to specify that in contrast to the Executive’s wishful thinking, the SGIR and the editors do not manage the EJIR on behalf of the ECPR. The SGIR has since contracting the EJIR been running the journal completely independent of the ECPR and, notably, on behalf of the IR community. Moreover, EJIR does not add to the richness and diversity of the ECPR's membership benefits. It is well-known that the ECPR has institutional members, typically departments of Political Science. The abundance of false and unfounded claims, as seen in the TAR 2012 Report, is hardly among the best means to reach a mutually acceptable resolution of the dispute.

What are the structural long-term perspectives?

On the one hand, the ECPR Executive claims to want a strong IR dimension within the ECPR, yet has rejected all SGIR compromise proposals that would secure such a strong presence of IR. On the other hand, the ECPR has decided to leave the World International Studies Committee (WISC) and discontinue relations with IPSA. The SGIR has for its part always favoured a strong IR dimension within the ECPR (workshops, sessions, sections and panels) and continued to support initiatives in that direction. Apart from attempting to appropriate the EJIR, that is, a journal the ECPR has never done anything for it is very difficult to figure out what exactly the eleven ECPR trustees want. So far they have plunged into a series of legal and political disputes, managed to alienate more than half of the 40+ Standing Groups and, thus, hardly been serving the interests of the charity they represent.


ECPR (2013a) ECPR Standing Groups Sub-Committee. The Standing Groups of the ECPR – Towards a New Framework. Document for discussion with Standing Group Convenors, Bordeaux September 2013.

ECPR (2013b) Draft Framework for Standing Groups and Research Networks, November 2013.

(ECPR 2013c) Trustees’ Annual Report 2012

Johnson, T. S. (2008) Qualitative Research in Question A Narrative of Disciplinary Power With/in the IRB. Qualitative Inquiry 14(2): 212-232.

Jørgensen K.E. and Valbjørn, M. (2012) "Four dialogues and the funeral of a beautiful relationship: European studies and new regionalism." Cooperation and Conflict 47(1): 3-27.

SGIR (2013) Memo on SGIR, ECPR, EJIR and EISA, 7 January 2013.

SGs joint response (2014) Initial Response to the Draft Framework for Standing Groups and Research Networks (signed by 24 Standing Groups).

Yanow, D. and Schwartz-Shea, P. (2010) "Perestroika Ten Years After: Reflections on Methodological Diversity." PS: Political Science & Politics 43(4): 741-745

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Knud Erik Jørgensen is a professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University. He is a former member of the ECPR Executive Committee and president of the European International Studies Association.

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