>André Krouwel’s well received presentation at SSEES about party transformation – which drew on earlier doctoral research specializing on Otto Kitscheimer and the ‘ctach-all’ made a number of very valuable, and possibly long overdue points about the way political scientists have studied parties: there has been a profusion of party ‘models’ on offer, many saying essentially the same thing using different labels and usually (over)emphasisng one particular aspect of party change (ideology, organization, or whatever) depending on the most striking developments of the moment or the cases on which authors were most familiar.
While model-heavy much party scholarship, he pointedly suggested, was evidence-light: either the data was not there or was not easily accessible (historical party development; contemporary parties’ use of state resources) or it posed methodological headaches (problems of coding pary programmes and documentation; obtaining data on small parties grouped as ‘others’ in even official statistics.
A ruthless synthesis of the many (often redundant) models was therefore in order and clearly André offered us one breaking party development into several dimensions and – for practical purposes – superficially rather recognisable historical phases: more radical, however, was the implicit suggestion in his work that party scholars‘ model-making and model fitting obsessions have led them to think in the wrong terms: rather than studying parties and typees of party – more often than not trying to pin them down in terms of various ideal-typical models – they (we) should be studying and comparing different types of party transformation.
At one time, I thought this a weakness of East European party studies – the unusual historical circumstances of CEE tending to buckle models based on West European experiences – but now I wonder if it is a more general affliction. In party studies, it seems, the Emperor has no clothes – due to weak and patchy data – but he may have been claiming to be wearing the wrong kind of clothes in the first place. Refreshingly, as well Andrew offered us to no underlying Grand Narrative of party development: there are many transformations in many directions, depending on historical circumstances. Some parties, such as the Dutch Socialist for example – an East Europeanist might think of Hungary’s Fidesz as a parall, have atavistically re-invented mass membership and ancilliary organizations.