Restructuring Political Conflict in the Age of Globalisation


Theoretical background and objectives

Globalisation brings about new structural conflicts, both between and within national contexts. We suggest that these new conflicts found potentials for processes of political mobilisation in national political areas. They are of crucial importance for the political articulation of globalisation's consequences. We show that globalisation has transformed the basis of politics in Western Europe by giving rise to what we call a new 'integration-demarcation' cleavage. Processes of increasing economic, cultural and political competition linked to globalisation have created latent structural potentials of globalisation 'winners' and 'losers'. The mobilisation of the group of 'losers' by new challengers – parties of the new populist right –, and transformed established parties of the liberal and conservative right has provided the key impetus for the transformation of the party systems.

In this study, we first address the question of the development and the stability of the new 'integration-demarcation' cleavage, and its political manifestations, by analysing political conflict structures in the national party systems between 1970 and 2005. Moreover, we integrate the European level of the multilevel political system into our framework, that is, by studying the European election campaigns. We do not assume that conflicts at different levels of the political system are identical, but we do assume that the relevant political conflicts in our country cases will manifest themselves both at the level of national and of European election campaigns. Finally, we go beyond the party arena and pay particular attention to public protest, a much less institutionalised space than the other arenas, and one open to all kinds of political actors. We also include the study of public debates as a new way to analyse the structuring of political conflict. Since we define public debate as all communication related to a particular issue, it is independent of the arena in which it occurs but specific to that issue. We examine three issue-specific debates that are closely related to the new cleavage: immigration, economic liberalisation and European integration. The study of these debates allows us to analyse the political structuring of the new conflicts in greater detail.

Within the MIT research programme this project contributes to the study of institutions and the way political mobilisation and interethnic conflicts are influenced by state institutions and attitudes and perceptions of ordinary citizens. More generally, immigration constitutes a crucial issue of the new integration-demarcation cleavage and it thus appears that the study of immigration can easily be related to broader societal developments. This also becomes clear in a subproject, in which we explore public debates regarding Islam and Muslim immigration in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. To get a full picture of these debates we are interested in which issues dominate the debates, which actors participate, which positions are taken, and which arguments are mobilised. Exploring three countries with an ethnic model of citizenship allows us to control for important cultural factors and to focus on three other explanatory variables: the dominant model of political participation, the relationship between the state and church/Islam, and the strength of right-wing populism. By doing so we go beyond existing studies that concentrate on state activities or on mass-level attitudes. We demonstrate that above all the relationship between the state and church/Islam, thus issue-specific opportunity structures, influence the debates.

Research design, data and methodology

Our study systematically covers six types of comparisons: Across time, by comparing political spaces and conflict structures for the 1970s, the 1990s and the 2000s; across countries, by comparing six West European countries; across territorial levels, by comparing national and European elections; across political arenas, by comparing political conflict in institutionalised channels of electoral campaigns with the arena of protest politics, and public debates cutting across arenas over an extended period of time; across political issues, by comparing the framing of issues and the actor constellations constitutive for the new structural cleavage (economic liberalism, immigration, European integration); across supply and demand, by comparing the demand side of the structurally determined political potentials with the programmatic supply of the parties. Political supply has been studied on the basis of a media content analysis (newspapers), whilst the analysis of the demand side relied on election surveys. Six west European countries are studied: Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Main content

Ausgewählte Publikationen

Kriesi, Hanspeter/Grande, Edgar/Dolezal, Martin/Helbling, Marc/Höglinger, Dominic/Hutter, Swen/Wüest, Bruno (2012): Political Conflict in Western Europe. Cambridge/New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, XVII, 349 S.
Helbling, Marc/Tresch, Anke (2011): "Measuring Party Positions and Issue Salience from Media Coverage. Discussing and Cross-validating New Indicators". In: Electoral Studies, Vol. 30, No. 1, S. 174-183.
Helbling, Marc (2012): "Public Debates, Integration Models and Transnationalism in Western Europe". In: Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3, S. 241-259.
Helbling, Marc (2010): Public Debates on Integration and Immigration in Six West European Countries. EUI Working Paper RSCAS 2010/22. San Domenico di Fiesole: European University Institute (EUI)/Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS)/EUDO Citizenship Observatory.
Helbling, Marc/Hoeglinger, Dominic/Wüest, Bruno (2010): "How Political Parties Frame European Integration". In: European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 49, No. 4, S. 496-521.
Dolezal, Martin/Helbling, Marc/Hutter, Swen (2010): "Debating Islam in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Ethnic Citizenship, Church-State Relations and Right-Wing Populism". In: West European Politics, Vol. 33, No. 2, S. 170-190.
Dolezal, Martin/Helbling, Marc/Hutter, Swen (2008): "Zwischen Gipfelkreuz und Halbmond. Die Auseinandersetzung um den Islam in Österreich und der Schweiz - 1998-2007". In: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft, Jg. 37, H. 4, S. 401-417.