The Nils Klim Prize interview with Sarah Hobolt

- You are a young scholar and have a comprehensive bibliography in your research. What themes of your research do you look upon as the most important?
My primary research interests concern the functioning of democracy in contemporary Europe. I am interested in how, when, and why citizens’ preferences are represented at national and European levels of government. In particular, I study the interplay between citizens and political parties in shaping opinions and translating these opinions into policy outcomes. Much of my research has focused on elections and referendums in a Europe-wide context. By conducting and analysing voter and elite surveys and media studies across Europe, my research seeks to understand to what extent electoral processes provide voters with adequate tools to express their preferences and, in turn, politicians with the right incentives to govern with the interests of people in mind.
- How do you define your current intellectual project?
I am currently completing a book project, entitled Blaming Europe: Attribution of Responsibility in the European Union. This book addresses the twin questions of whether citizens blame and credit EU institutions for policy failures and successes, and how that matters for democratic processes in Europe. “Who is to blame?” is a familiar question that emerges in response to events such as the eurozone crisis, but the complex multi-level government structures in the EU make it an increasingly difficult question to answer. The research project demonstrates, promisingly, that well-informed citizens can make sense of the complex divisions of responsibility in the EU. However, it also reveals that even if citizens can navigate the multi-level structures of governance that in itself does not enable them to hold their EU representatives to account. The wider aim of this project aims to contribute to the current debates on post-crisis governance structures in the European Union.
- What role or function do you think social science should have in the 21st century?
In my view, social science plays a crucial role in defining society’s sense of itself and generating new social knowledge both for society at large and for those who make policy decisions that shape our lives. Social science can help us understand, and suggest solutions to, the central challenges of the 21st century, such as inequality and exclusion, war and terrorism, oppression and tyranny, and climate change. I think a key task for social scientists in the 21st century is to engage more with individuals and institutions outside the narrow academic community, particularly with policy-makers, to disseminate knowledge and increase the impact of social scientific research. Such engagement, however, should not come at the expense of academic independence and scientific rigor.
- What is your view on research prizes like the Nils Klim Prize?
Research prizes, such as the Nils Klim Prize, play an important role in providing encouragement and recognition of scholarly achievements. That is particularly invaluable for younger scholars. They can also help to increase the visibility of research more generally, and make it more attractive to young people to join the academy and make their own discoveries. Personally, I am incredibly honoured and grateful to have been awarded the prestigious Nils Klim Prize. As a Nordic scholars working outside my home country of Denmark, it is also of particular significance to me to receive this recognition from the Ludvig Holberg Memorial Fund.