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Adriejan van Veen: The historical relationship between civil society and socio-political organizations

Representing the research group Repertoires of Representation in this ‘picture’ is historian Adriejan van Veen (1984). Although Van Veen is a relatively new addition to the staff, his background in both history and political science dovetail perfectly in his research at Radboud University.

Of this mixed background he says: “I think it’s extremely useful to broaden your horizon. There are fundamental differences in the methodology of these disciplines, so it’s very productive and informative to know your way around them. The downside of this is that your work has to be categorized somehow. Interdisciplinarity only goes so far. Academia is less interdisciplinary than you would expect.”

Van Veen

Van Veen distinguishes two lines of work in his research. The first concerns the embedding of technocratic, semi-independent (or, as he calls them: ‘alternatively democratic’) regulatory institutions in a parliamentary democracy, such as the Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) and the Dutch Healthcare Authority (NZa). For his dissertation, Van Veen looked at how such institutions legitimized themselves by claiming to represent social and economic interests. “Such semi-independent organizations that are able to make far-reaching decisions are sort of an anomaly within a democracy. I’m interested to see if I can expand upon the theme of legitimization and come to a historicization of that. In the Netherlands we have a long tradition of all kinds of administrative bodies and advisory boards at the margins of our democracy. Following my dissertation, I am very interested in further developing this research in the future.”

Van Veen’s current project falls along the second line of research and focuses on the relationship between social organizations in civil society and the behavioral norms developed in civil society. “I want to know how these norms influence political organizations in society. This project is about creating an integral historiography of cultural and political organization. There is some overlap here with my first line of research, since both lines of research focus not only on the boundaries between politics and governance, but on the boundaries between society and politics as well. I’m interested in the new types of organizations and experiments that originate from this.”

One historical example of such political experimentation was the introduction of the direct electoral system in the Netherlands in 1848, which is the topic of Van Veen’s recently-published article in De Moderne Tijd. “There were no candidates for that election and there were no limitations to passive suffrage. I looked in digital newspaper archives to see what was being reported about those elections at the time. Although you would expect chaos to occur with such a change, there was actually a lot of orderly experimentation. I think this was due to the fact that political unity was highly valued in political culture then. There is this idea that Dutch politics in the mid-nineteenth century was boring, but my research shows that there was actually more happening on the local level than we had previously thought.”

Having just submitted a research proposal to the Thorbecke Fund, Van Veen says: “I want to continue my research into the historical relationship between civil society and socio-political organizations in the Netherlands from 1780-1860. It starts from the question of why there was such a relative lack of political organization and participation on the local level for most of the nineteenth century. There is no satisfying answer in historiography as to why the Netherlands lacked the political clubs and the willingness to revolt that we see in neighboring countries during this period. Some hypotheses have been proposed to explain it, but they fall short in solving this mystery. I would like to give it a try with this research project.”

CV: Adriejan van Veen is assistant professor of political history. He has previously worked at the Department of History at Utrecht University. He has published academic articles on regulatory bodies and experiments with political representation in the Netherlands and also shares his thoughts on political matters in the media.