Research Programme 1

Accountability and Participation

The Accountability and Participation Research Programme investigates various forms of socio-political dynamics in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. We study institutional change, political processes, and social developments in inclusive and restrictive political contexts. The main focus of research lies in issues of accountability and political participation in different regimes, at national and local levels. We seek to understand how the demand for accountability produces expectations and norms for political participation. We analyse the effects of different forms of participation and mobilisation on accountability and regime legitimacy. Another important subject of analysis is the impact of international norms and global trends in fostering or discouraging processes of participation and accountability.

Formal democratic institutions sometimes belie both being influenced to unequal degrees by different social groups and weak linkages between political elites and the electorate. The prevalence of informal practices such as clientelism, patronage, and corruption that flout constitutional regulations often erodes or even overrides democratic accountability procedures and imperils the rule of law. Our research pays attention to how civil society organises itself, and how it protests and mobilises its members and supporters to assert its demands and get politicians to deliver under conditions of high levels of economic and social inequality. Members of the Research Programme are concerned with the adoption of more inclusive mechanisms of representation and explore the emergence and consolidation of social movements, as well as their impact.

The research agenda includes both state–society and intra-state dynamics of accountability. In many countries, empowered executives and weak control institutions enhance the chances of politics being unaccountable, which hinders democratic processes and jeopardises the ability of citizens to exercise their rights. Deterioration of democratic practices may take place at national or local levels, giving way to the emergence of enclaves of authoritarian politics or forms of local authoritarianism. The Research Programme disentangles the functioning of state institutions and elucidates the different natures of national and subnational politics.

An important area of our research is authoritarian politics. We are concerned with patterns of international diffusion, learning, and cooperation among authoritarian regimes, along with global and regional regime challenges emanating from waves of contention such as the Arab uprisings of 2011. In contrast to conventional understandings that define autocracies negatively by their lack of accountability and electoral legitimacy, we hold that most autocracies in fact claim other forms of political accountability instead. We examine the accountability of state agents and political and intellectual elites and consider the leadership’s responsiveness towards citizens’ demands. We investigate whether autocracies use strategies to limit forms of participation such as local elections, social movements, protests, and petitions or whether they see certain participatory forms as a way to contribute to the accountability and legitimacy of their regime.

Work in the Research Programme relies on context-sensitive research approaches that apply systematic comparative analyses, thereby contributing to the overarching development of Comparative Area Studies. Its members engage in scholarly exchange with researchers in the GIGA regions and seek to connect research trends in the developing countries of these four regions with those taking place in Western, industrialised countries. The Accountability and Participation Research Programme also provides civil society organisations and decision-makers with research-grounded expertise on relevant socio-political events.

Dr. Mariana Llanos

Lead Research Fellow
Head of RP 1

New Publications

André Bank

Comparative Area Studies and the Study of Middle East Politics after the Arab Uprisings

in: Ariel I. Ahram / Patrick Köllner / Rudra Sil (eds.), Comparative Area Studies: Methodologies Rationales and Cross-Regional Applications, New York: Oxford University Press, 2018, 119-129

Jörg Wischermann / Dang Thi Viet Phuong


in: Akihiro Ogawa (ed.), Routledge Handbook on Civil Society in Asia, Abingdon: Routledge, 2018, 129-142