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Democracy research for everyone

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Professor Staffan I.LindbergThe University of Gothenburg is home to the world’s largest research project on democracy. Staffan I. Lindberg presented the project at a seminar held Wednesday in Almedalen* and told the audience how it enables anybody to be a democracy researcher.

Previous measurements of democracy, performed by for example US-based Freedom House and Polity Forum, have focused on election systems in different countries. However, democracy covers so much more than that, said Staffan I. Lindberg, professor of political science and principal investigator for the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Research Programme.

‘Democracy also includes – for example – access to healthcare. To put it drastically, if you’re dead you can’t vote. Education, economy and gender equality are other factors affecting people’s ability to exercise their democratic rights. The work with V-Dem is based on this insight.’

14 million pieces of data , 329 indicators and 167 countries

V-dem is a gigantic database containing 14 million pieces of data from around the world. The project has four principal investigators, 15 project managers, 37 regional managers and over 2,000 experts from all over the planet. V-dem measures democracy using 329 indicators and divides the rather broad concept of democracy into seven categories: electoral, liberal, participatory, majoritarian, consensual, deliberative and egalitarian democracy. To date, Lindberg and his colleagues have studied the development of democracy in 167 countries from 1900 until today.

‘We can for example compare 40 countries in Africa with 100 countries elsewhere. What we find is that freedom of expression, freedom of movement and freedom from slavery have increased but that Africa is still trailing the rest of the world. African women have never enjoyed as many rights as today, but a lot of work remains with respect to solid legislation.

Anybody can search the database

The EU has decided to use V-dem for their studies. But the database is open to anybody, said Staffan I. Lindberg.

‘You can either choose one country and see how it has developed in different respects, or you can choose a specific indicator and compare different countries.’

Lena Ag also participated in the seminar. She told the audience about Kvinna till Kvinna, an organisation supporting women in conflict areas.

‘Women generally have no voice in peace negotiations, and since poverty is a women’s problem, lack of participation can be due to something as simple as not being able to afford a bus ticket.’

The audience was invited to ask questions at the end of the seminar. What does democracy research have to say about human rights, gender equality and equal opportunities? Speakers at the seminar were Staffan I. Lindberg, professor of political science at the University of Gothenburg, Lena Ag, secretary-general of Kvinna till Kvinna and Marcin de Kaminski from Sida.

*The first week in July holds the biggest political event of the year, called Almedalen, in Visby, Gotland. The University of Gothenburg participates in different ways, an important part is arranging research seminars.

PHOTO: Johan Wingborg/University of Gothenburg