Call for papers

CFP for an explorative workshop to be held at University of Helsinki, Finland, on Jan 16-17, 2020

Business influence on policy formation in historical research: methodological challenges, empirical solutions and ways forward

The influence of business interest associations (BIAs) and other lobby groups is on the scholarly agenda. One reason is the current political landscape, where it is assumed that interest and lobby groups have increased access to political decision makers. Both in the US and EU, the role of lobby groups in the political system is both established and well documented. Viewed from the Nordic perspective, the role and power of various interest groups in the policy-making processes have traditionally been substantial, especially during the neo-corporatist era of the post-war decades.

Business interest associations have usually been considered especially influential in comparison to other interest groups such as unions, consumer groups etc., as they have better access to policy makers and better resources than other social groups. Moreover, decision-makers are prone to listen to key industry representatives. On the other hand, this does not mean that other groups would not be influential, or that it would be easy for BIAs to exercise influence. There are limits to the BIAs’ power and the influence varies between specific policy areas. Business groups need also to be adaptive rather than active (e.g. Paster 2017).

The connections between lobby groups and the political system have long roots. In historical research, the contacts between interest groups, business elites, and decision makers and their influence in policy-making has been analyzed. One important field has been based on investigations relating to regulatory capture, where strong interest groups/industries ‘capture’ the policy makers and direct the regulatory environment and industrial policies more broadly. Nonetheless, the patterns of influence and platforms on which these are based have changed over time.

The changing role of interest and lobby groups and the new ways that have been adopted to influence policy making, offer new perspectives that can and should be investigated more rigorously. Scholars have increasingly paid attention to the difficulties in studying if, when and how BIA influence occurs, how business interests and policy preferences are formulated, and what strategies business adopts to gain influence. Even more difficult – if influence is detected – is to measure its scale, as Andreas Dür has pointed out recently (esp. Dür 2008, Dür et al. 2019). To answer these questions, in-depth and detailed empirical research with a multitude of sources and methodologies is required. Dür has suggested a combination of three methods; process tracing, attributed influence and preference attainment.

Historical research has great potential for conducting this kind of in-depth empirical work. In practice, many historians use process tracing. However, historical inquiry on business influence also poses many methodological challenges and some methodologies suggested by e.g. political scientists are less well suited for historical material. Historians have also paid relatively little attention to whether actual influence has occurred. Rather, they have assumed that, for example, networking between business and policy makers automatically leads to influence. Nonetheless, recently historians have also attempted to make generalizable claims about BIA influence and its development over time. Matt Grossman (2012) addresses the policy areas in which the US business lobby has been particularly influential historically. A recent book by Oude Nijhuis (ed. 2019) analyses the roles that business has played in the formation of modern welfare states, while Paster & Baggesen-Klitgaard (2019) have studied BIAs’ influence and government responses to them by using two case studies on taxation reforms in Sweden and Austria.  Fellman & Shanahan (2018) have adopted methods from the political science literature to analyze the influence of lobby groups on competition legislation.

These efforts have proved challenging, and it is evident that social science methods need to be adapted carefully to suit the particular needs of historical research and to the availability of archival and other historical sources. Historians need to pay more attention to the methodological and empirical challenges. These questions form the core of this workshop, for which we invite both empirical papers and papers that deal with methodological and theoretical questions. Nonetheless, empirical papers should explicitly address how and what methodology has been utilized, which sources have been used, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the chosen approach. As this is an explorative workshop, no specific limits to time period or country is set.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

  • studies discussing the methodological challenges in, and potential solutions for, detecting business influence in historical research;
  • studies dealing with business interests associations, their policy and interest formulation, and their strategies;
  • studies detecting platforms for BIA access to policymakers, and channels for influence;
  • empirical studies of different policy areas, where influence has occurred, and efforts to trace and possibly measure the influence studies with the help of new source materials that are useful for shedding light on business influence.

Dead-line for submissions of abstracts of 400-500 words is October 30, 2019.

Selected references:

M. Baggesen Klitgaard, M. & T. Paster, (2019), How Do Governments Respond to Business Demands for Tax Cuts: An Analysis of Corporate and Inheritance Tax Reforms in Austria and Sweden. Open Forum Working Paper Series. Harvard: Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, 2019.
P. Culpepper, Quiet Politics and Business Power. Corporate Control in Europe and Japan. Cambridge University Press 2011.
A. Dür (2008), ‘Measuring Interest group influence: A Note on Methodology’, European Union Politics 9(4), 559-576.
A. Dür et al. (2019), The Political Influence of Business in the European Union, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
S. Fellman & M. Shanahan (2018), ’Influence on Competition Legislation: Evidence from the Cartel Registers, 1920–2000’. Business History Review 2018 92 no 4 (Winter), 1-28.
M. Grossman, (2012) Interest group influence on US policy change: An assessment based on policy history. Interest Groups & Advocacy, 2012, 1(2), 171-192.
K. McQuaid, (1994), Uneasy Partners: Big Business in American Politics 1945-1990, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.
D. Oude Nijhuis (ed. 2019). Business Interests and the Development of the Modern Welfare State, London & New York: Routledge.
T. Paster, (2017), ‘How Do Business Interest Groups Respond to Political Challenges? A Study of the Politics of German Employers’, New Political Economy 23(6): 674-689.
N. Rollings, (2007), British Business in the Formative Years of European Integration, 1945-1973. New York: Cambridge University Press.
M. Wuokko (2019), ‘The curious compatibility of consensus, corporatism, and neoliberalism: The Finnish business community and the retasking of a corporatist welfare state’, Business History, 1-29.