Students Staff

05 December 2014

Are we really all in this together?

Colchester Campus

Anti-cuts demo

Flashback - anti-cuts demonstrators

Tough times can often bring people together… or do they? New research involving academics at Essex is looking into whether governments and the public collaborate in times of spending cuts.

The global team of academics involved in the project will look for answers by studying the way different countries have introduced austerity policies and, in particular, the extent to which the voices of citizens and voluntary groups are heard in shaping and contesting the outcomes of reduced public spending.

Led by De Montfort University and involving Professor David Howarth, from the Department of Government at Essex, this major study in eight countries is the first of its kind to focus comparatively on the voice of citizens in the governance of austerity.

It will include analysing the creation of austerity policies in eight cities: Leicester, Montreal, Baltimore, Dublin, Melbourne, Nantes, Barcelona and Athens. Protest groups, collaborators, volunteers, public sector leaders and officials and businesses will all be invited to participate in the research.

Professor Howarth explained: “Austerity politics has put increasing pressures on cities and their capacity to deal with the host of social and environmental challenges they face. This project offers the opportunity to analyse how cities in different parts of the world are responding to these challenges and what this means for citizens and our understandings of democratic governance.”

Professor Jonathan Davies, who is leading the project at De Montfort University, added: “Our study will tell politicians and activists much about how collaboration works as a way of governing and contesting austerity. We are not trying to ‘sell’ collaboration, or suggest those suffering from cuts and wanting to resist them should collaborate. Our primary objective is to understand whether, and if so how, collaboration contributes to public governance in austere times.

“In gathering and comparing a large body of data we will learn about the changing role of government under austerity and whether governing is becoming more elite-focused, remote and hierarchical, or perhaps even more inclusive despite the challenging times in which we live.”

The 30-month project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will examine issues such as:

  • The effect of austerity on Governmental decision-making
  • Are different kinds of collaboration emerging?
  • Is collaboration a way of subverting or resisting aspects of austerity?
  • When collaboration serves the community, and when it does not
  • Activists’ strategies for speaking truth to power and challenging austerity.

Lessons and insights from the research will be shared with participants and could prove a useful guide to future policy makers and publics.


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