Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

"Trust Me, I Know What I'm Doing!" Competence Fields as a Means of Establishing Political Leadership

Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

"Trust Me, I Know What I'm Doing!" Competence Fields as a Means of Establishing Political Leadership

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Problems of political leadership have recently not only arisen considerable scientific interest, but also found their way into the European Commission's research priorities (European Commission, 2013). The roles of political leadership in recognising, acknowledging, facing, and overcoming the current deep social and economic crisis in Europe have already been, and are yet to become, subjected to critical scrutiny, and the ways how political leaders diagnose problems, prescribe solutions, and mobilize followers should be analysed (European Commission, 2013, p. 15).

This work focuses on the relationship between leaders and followers, or, in our terminology, between leaders and constituencies.2 We are particularly interested in discursive procedures through which leaders secure electoral support of the constituencies.

We largely discard the traditional median-voter approach to the relationship between political leaders and constituencies in favour of a more dynamic approach, bringing into the centre of analytical attention the so-called competence fields. Instead of passively mirroring the preferences of the median voter, we see leaders as active communicative agents, whose speech acts are primarily directed toward convincing the constituencies of their leadership abilities.

Such discursive construction of competence becomes, however, particularly problematic in times of crisis. As Mastropaolo (2012, p. 217) notes: "Post-modern politics credits itself with being managerial and problem-solving, but this reputation is not particularly easy-to-wear". It is particularly difficult, for example, for the leaders of a country on the verge of bankruptcy to submit convincing proofs of their competence. Hence we argue that in times of crisis leaders will resort to various rhetorical maneuvers in attempts to compensate for this structural deficiency. They will also try to shift the attention of constituencies toward those competence fields in which they could more "cheaply" establish themselves as competent.

Ethnicity can be regarded as one such field and we provide an example of how it can be investigated with the help of an agent-based simulation model. A socio-historical context of inter-ethnic tensions, like the one of former Yugoslavia, provides a multitude of "ethnic clues" that can be easily "picked up" by prospective political leaders, in their attempts to establish a field where they could prove competence with minimal expenditure of resources. In times of crisis, difficulties in establishing competence in the fields of economic prosperity, social justice, and the like, increase the pressures on prospective leaders to "play the ethnic card".

While the first part of the article discusses mainly theoretical background and implications of the notion of competence fields, in section 6 we consider how this notion can be empirically grounded. We call for a combined application of both traditional social-scientific methods (interviews, discourse and contents analysis, participants observation), and the novel methods from the fields of information retrieval and computer modelling (natural language processing, social web and opinion mining, sentiment analysis, speech recognition, social network analysis, agent-based modelling and simulation), that have been enabled by the advances in computing technology.

2. The notion of competence fields

The classical approach to the relationship between political leaders and constituencies proceeds by way of the so-called median voter theorem, stating that on a scale from the left- to the right-wing political opportunities, the most successful political agenda is the one preferred by the median voter (Downs, 1957), i.e. the voter who occupies the median position on the scale. Downs has shown that, in a two party system, a party that best represents the median voter will receive the majority of votes and win the election. Hence the median voter theorem predicts a tendency of political parties to move toward the middle of the political attitudes' range. …

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