Carla Hoetink: Dutch political culture after 1945

Carla Hoetink

Carla Hoetink (1980) is a researcher and lecturer in political history. In recent years, she has studied the language and culture of Dutch politics, often in comparison to other European countries.

When asked to describe Dutch political culture, she feels compelled to tackle the stereotype of the calm and pragmatic culture. “While it may be true that Dutch politics is more focused on getting results than on fiercely debating opponents, this image doesn’t do justice to how inspired politics has been practiced in the past. Yet, there is a tradition of seeing parliamentary politics primarily as doing business and achieving results rather than giving a voice to the people that we can trace all the way to the days of the Republic."

Carla’s first book, titled Over lijken: ontoelaatbaar taalgebruik in de Tweede Kamer (2006, with Peter Bootsma), reflects her desire to write in an accessible academic style for wider audiences. In her current research, Carla focuses on formal and informal rules in Dutch politics. Of her work, she says: “What I want to show most of all is that the culture of an institution is a thing in and of itself. Every institution has its own rules and rituals. This may seem self-evident, but such things are constantly being debated. This parliamentary culture may seem self-evident, but is in fact constantly being debated. Even more so: this institutional culture is politically relevant: to what parliamentary politics is about and to who gets what when and how. Parliamentary culture matters, in other words.”


In 2018, Carla’s thesis, titled Macht der gewoonte: Regels en rituelen in de Tweede Kamer sinds 1945, will be published by Uitgeverij Vantilt. “Deviant behavior in politics is a reflection of unwritten rules. Since informal rules are not committed to paper, they can only be deduced from ‘circumstantial evidence’, for example statements by the Speaker or other Members of Parliament.” As such, doing research into written and unwritten rules is a question of reading with and against the grain in records of parliamentary debates, in memoires and newspaper articles. “Sources can come from anywhere.”

“Politicians such as the communist Marcus Bakker, the agrarian “Farmer” Koekoek, and Hans Janmaat were often seen by the established order as nonconformist within the parliamentary culture. It is often with deviant newcomers that established parties mark their behavior as undesirable. But there were also moments when members of established parties were set aside for not conforming to the rules. In principal, each Member of Parliament is elected on an individual mandate. Yet, as in every other institution the culture demands a certain kind of behavior. A MEP is to a large extend free to behave as he or she wishes, but will always be directed by expectations of what is ‘parliamentary’ and what is not.”

Reflecting on the current state of research in her field, Carla rejoices in the fact that we live in a time in which there is a broad interest in politics, even though we are way past the time when politics was the most important field of research altogether. “There is much to learn when it comes to citizens’ faith in politics. Another point of interest are the many organizations which intermingle in political processes. A multilevel perspective on governance from a historical viewpoint will add much to our understanding of what politics is and where it takes place. We are also returning to history from below: how do societies and individuals experience politics and how do they come into contact with it?”

Already looking forward to future research projects, Carla among other things expresses an interest in the architecture of power and political representation. “I find it interesting to see what meanings the politicians involved wanted to inscribe into buildings such as town halls and parliament buildings. With the architecture of representation you look at the intentions which influenced a building’s design and how it was received and experienced. Parliaments tend to present themselves as truly national institutions, housing in national heritage. Comparative research will provide proof to the contrary. Take for instance the Hungarian parliament building, which is a nearly exact copy the British Houses of Parliament. This design was chosen to emphasize the legitimacy of the institute. We want to see if there is some sort of transnational representative architectural style, a European model.”

CV: Carla Hoetink is professor of political history. Her first book, Over lijken: ontoelaatbaar taalgebruik in de Tweede Kamer, co-written by Peter Bootsma, was published in 2006. She has contributed to a new history of the Dutch House of Representatives titled In dit Huis: Twee eeuwen Tweede Kamer (2005). A commercial edition of her thesis, Macht der gewoonte: Regels en rituelen in de Tweede Kamer sinds 1945 (defence in March 2018), will be published in the second week of September 2018 by Uitgeverij Vantilt.