Cleavages, governance and the media in European metropolitan areas

Period October 2009 to September 2013
Conductor Prof. Dr. Daniel Kübler (Universität Zürich / Zentrum für Demokratie Aarau)
Prof. Dr. Frank Marcinkowski
Dr. des. Urs Scheuss
Karin A. Hasler, lic. rer. soz.
Institution National Competence Centre in Research „Challenges to democracy in the 21st century“, Zürich (Schweiz)
Location zda Zentrum für Demokratie, Aarau (Schweiz) und NCCR democracy21, Zürich
Funding SNF – Swiss National Fond
Tags mediatization of politics, metropolitan governance, media and democratic accountability


Topic and research question

Globalization leads to reconfigurations at the sub-national level, as it fosters the emergence of functionally integrated urban regions – so called metropolitan areas (see Brenner 2003b). Urban regionalization contributes to the denationalization of policy-making in the form of a “downward” expansion of political decision-making, emphasizing particularly the role of sub-national government levels.

The emergence of metropolitan areas and issues of governance therein are widely researched topics (see Ostrom 1972; Dente 1990; Keating 1995; Lefèvre 1998; Lowery 1999; Frisken and Norris 2001). This project innovates in that it investigates the link between governance and the media in the emergence of metropolitan areas as spaces of democratic politics. It will focus on media coverage of issues related to area-wide governance in European metropolitan areas. The overall question is whether the emergence of metropolitan areas as functional spaces of governance is paralleled by an emergence of public spheres at the metropolitan level, and how the strategies and practices of various actors such as policy-makers or the media contribute to this process.

Hypotheses and research questions

The project will focus on two sets of research questions, relating to (a) the responsiveness of metropolitan policies, i.e. the ways in which preferences and demands are aggregated into policy decisions with an urban regional scope, and (b) the accountability of metropolitan policy-making, i.e. the extent to which responsibility for policy outcomes at that level are attributed to those who actually made the decisions.

Ad a) Responsiveness: Theoretically, one could hypothesize that preference aggregation and decision-making according to the metropolitan government-model is of a higher democratic quality, as this model also entails the setting up of majoritarian decisional arenas composed of democratically elected representatives. New regionalism, by contrast, allows non-elected (e.g. private) actors to participate in decision-making and one could therefore assume that responsiveness of decision-makers is inferior. In order to test this hypothesis, this project will investigate the concept and practice of representation that policy-makers assume, in the context of the territorial cleavage structure that characterizes the metropolitan areas under scrutiny (Hoffmann-Martinot and Sellers 2005; Kübler and Scheuss forthcoming).

Ad b) Accountability: Democracy is characterized by the possibility offered to the citizens to “throw the rascals out”. Hence, the better the possibilities for the citizenry of a metropolitan area to hold decision-makers accountable for policy outcomes, the higher the legitimacy of area-wide policies will be. Theoretically, one can hypothesize that the metropolitan government model fares better in this realm, as one can expect higher transparency of decision-making from fully fledged territorial institutions operating according to the majoritarian rule and with elected representatives, than from negotiations taking place among appointed decision-makers in arcane policy networks advocated by the new regionalism approach. We will therefore examine the dynamics of responsibility attribution (see Kirkwood and Brown 1995; Gerhards et al. 2007) in metropolitan policy-making.


Implementing a comparative case study design, we will investigate pairs of metropolitan areas in Switzerland, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, i.e. countries with different traditions of local democracy, that have been shown to affect metropolitan governance significantly. Metropolitan areas under scrutiny will be selected according to the ‘governance model’ of area-wide governance i.e. fully-fledged territorial institutions (metropolitan governments) versus purpose-oriented networks typical of the new regionalism approach.

The project will draw on methods and analytical techniques developed in both political science and communication. As far as political science is concerned, this entails, first, the analysis of quantitative electoral data in order to identify territorial patterns of political cleavages in each metropolitan area under scrutiny. Second, qualitative data stemming from documentary evidence and expert interviews will be used to identify actors taking part in metropolitan decision-making processes, as well as concepts and practices of representation therein. Questions developed in the communication science perspective will be investigated, on the one hand, through a quantitative analysis of media content in order to identify the structure, the content and the modes of presentation of metropolitan policy-making in the media (e.g. visibility of metropolitan governance institutions, presence and diversity of policy actors, attribution of responsibility, framing of policy success and failure etc.), as well as to analyze framing strategies of policy-actors and their impact in the media. On the other hand, expert interviews will be conducted with communication experts in each metropolitan area under scrutiny.