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May 23, 2017

Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Comparative Federalism and Multilevel Governance; Associate Professor, Department of Political Science

I have been fascinated by questions related to territory and politics since I was a graduate student. Territory is a core feature of politics: It creates and shapes political communities like regions, nation-states or even more encompassing polities like the European Union. The capability to control territorial boundaries is a critical prerequisite for the exercise of political authority. At the same time, many problems transcend such boundaries and call for effective and legitimate governance arrangements across these boundaries.

My research compares different dimensions of territorial politics, with a special focus on federalism in North America, Europe and Australia. By this I mean systems of governance where roles and responsibility are shared between provincial/territorial and federal governing bodies. Two Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funded projects are at the heart of my current research agenda:

  1. A comparative analysis of long-term effects of federal reforms in Australia, Canada, Germany and Switzerland, and
  2. A project that examines the role of sub-federal units in North American and European trade policy (with my Laurier colleague, Associate Professor Patricia Goff). Examples of these sub-federal units include Canadian provinces, American states, German and Austrian Lander or the member states of the European Union.

While my research program has an empirical focus and is driven by real-world problems, I also make contributions to disciplinary dialogues on methodological and theoretical questions revolving around the comparative analysis of federalism and multilevel governance.

My recent paper, “This is Not a Turn: Canadian Political Science and Social Mechanisms,” with my colleague Mireille Paquet (Concordia University), draws upon this latter research. Contemporary social science has increasingly turned towards a mechanism-based understanding of causal inference. Rather than using co-variation based on large, standardized data-set observations, mechanism-based approaches engage in theory development and theory testing through the identification of complex causal configurations and the study of their distinct effects in different contextual settings. Some scholars even go so far to suggest a methodological “turn” or a “new methodology”.

Mireille Paquet and I organized a workshop at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2016 to discuss the promises of this methodological approach for the study of multi-level politics in Canada and beyond. One outcome of our work was this article that was accepted as a contribution to the 50th Anniversary issue of the Canadian Journal of Political Science. The article examines how Canadian political science scholarship, past and present, has been receptive to mechanism-based approaches, and what it has to offer for future research on Canadian politics. Perhaps the most surprising finding came out of our illustrative survey of past contributions:

The seminal work of leading Canadian political scientists was often guided by what we would call today mechanismic thinking, albeit more implicitly than explicitly. In a sense, many Canadian political scientists, Francophone and Anglophone alike, forestalled more recent methodological developments in the social sciences. That’s why, as indicated in our title, for Canadian political science, mechanism-based thinking does not represent a “turn”.

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