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RESEARCHERS TO WATCH

Fighting for democracy

Thomas Piketty's bestseller about capitalism made it clear to Yvette Peters what her next research project would focus on: political inequality.

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Political scientist Yvette Peters from the University of Bergen photographed in Bergen’s City Hall in March 2017.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Political scientist Yvette Peters photographed in Bergen’s City Hall. Her research concerns democratic representation and strengthening political inequality.
Photo:
Eivind Senneset for the University of Bergen

Last year, Postdoctoral Fellow Yvette Peters was awarded a recruitment grant from the Bergen Research Foundation (BFS). The grant was awarded based on her innovative research into questions regarding democracy and political equality. A subject she believes is more urgent than ever in the current global political climate.

A critical look at democratic representation

She points to the bestselling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century by French economist Thomas Piketty as an inspiration for her BFS supported project, which is called The Politics of Inequality. How Representative Democracy (Mal-)Functions in Europe.

“I have long been concerned with the increasing political inequality and lack of adequate representation in both local and national elections,” says Yvette Peters, who works at the Department of Comparative Politics at the University of Bergen (UiB).

The two main pillars of Peters’ BFS-supported project are increasing political inequality and the lack of adequate representation in democratic institutions.

“One of the features noticed throughout Europe is a decrease in citizen participation and a decrease in trust in political institutions. At the same time, an increase in anti-immigrant and anti-European sentiment has taken place,” she says with a note of worry in her voice.

Pushing democracy forwards

What worries the Dutch-born Peters most about the erosion in trust is what underlies this lack of voter participation. Her project aims to look both at the causes of this development by examining representation and political inequality and also, more optimistically, to look at measures to counter this.

“I am concerned with issues that have social relevance and I love to solve puzzles. I believe this is a matter of wanting to understand the world better. This is why I became a political scientist and this is how the BFS-supported project grew from an idea to an actual research project,” explains Peters, who describes her work as comparative politics and says that her project is both research-driven and informed by societal impact.

Her project primarily focuses on national politics in Europe, but also looks at lower levels of government. According to Peters, Norway has a lively local democracy, with many stakeholders involved. She believes, however, that Norway, as well as the rest of Europe, would benefit from a look at its democratically elected institutions and how to improve political representation.

One main feature that is key to her research is the Norwegian Citizen Panel, another project that has been supported by BFS, and which is headed by Professor Elisabeth Ivarsflaten, one of Peters’ main research partners in Bergen.

“The Citizen Panel is a crucial part of my research. It is an amazing infrastructure, which is incredibly useful for the research I plan to do and also helpful as part of the international part of my project,” says Peters, whose project not only encompasses the collaboration of Norwegian researchers, politicians and citizens but also a vast international network.

Transatlantic scope

Over a short and shifting career – she originally trained to become an aerospace engineer – Peters has built an international network across disciplines and across borders. In tune with this, she aims to officially launch her project at Harvard in autumn 2017.

“There are considerable similarities, but also differences, between American and European politics. I believe in trying to bridge those differences and learn from each other about developments from different sides of the Atlantic,” she says adding:

“I am also of the view that American political science has a lot to teach us in Europe, and by bringing in partners from across the Atlantic, my project aims to bring a new dimension to European political science.”

On 25 April, Yvette Peters will be one of three young UiB researchers to give a lecture at the annual Christie Conference in Bergen, a meeting place for academics, industry, politicians, and other decision-makers and agenda-setters in Western Norway.