Laurence Cooley awarded ESRC Future Research Leaders funding

Dr Laurence Cooley, currently a teaching fellow in the International Development Department (IDD), has recently been awarded funding worth approximately £92,000 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) under their prestigious and highly competitive Future Research Leaders scheme. Laurence’s project, which will start in February 2017 and run for two years, is entitled “The contentious politics of the census in consociational democracies”.

In societies that are emerging from violent conflict between different national, ethnic, religious or linguistic groups, peace is often maintained through an agreement that these groups will share power. One of the main ways in which agreement on such power sharing (also known as consociationalism) is reached is through the proportional allocation of roles in government, the civil service, the military and the police to members of the groups that have been in conflict. In order to assess what such proportionality looks like, though, an accurate census is required. The process of conducting a census in this context can be particularly challenging, especially when group leaders know that their share of political power is partly dependent on the results. This can result in intense debates about how census questions are worded, and the conduct of the census itself may be affected by campaigns to get respondents to answer questions in particular ways, in the belief that this will influence their political representation.

Laurence’s ESRC-funded project will explore the relationship between the design of political institutions and the likelihood of the census becoming the subject of contentious political debates – a relationship that has thus far received little attention from scholars. The research will be primarily qualitative in nature and will involve comparative analysis of four societies that have experienced varying degrees of contestation around the census: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kenya, Lebanon and Northern Ireland. In designing and conducting the project, Laurence will work with policy-makers and practitioners in order to generate knowledge about how contentious political debates about the census in deeply divided societies can be mitigated.

Laurence has worked as a teaching fellow in IDD since completing his PhD in Birmingham’s Department of Political Science and International Studies in 2013. He will continue to be based in IDD for the duration of the project, and will draw on the department’s expertise on Kenya and Lebanon, while being mentored by Professor Stefan Wolff of the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security and by Dr Ian Shuttleworth of the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology at Queen’s University Belfast, who are experts on power sharing and the politics of the census respectively. The project will also involve collaboration with Dr Valery Perry of the Democratization Policy Council, based in Sarajevo. The project will build upon Laurence’s previous research on the European Union’s promotion of power-sharing arrangements in the Balkans, and on his recently published piece on the politics of demographic estimates in post-conflict states such as Bosnia. For more details about the research or if you would like to be involved, please do not hesitate to contact Laurence via his profile page.