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Practical matters How to find us dr. S. (Stefan) Couperus

dr. S. (Stefan) Couperus

Associate Professor
dr. S. (Stefan) Couperus

I am currently working on:

  • Populism, the Far Right and the Past (special issues with Dr Piero Tortola and Prof Lars Rensmann)

Past and ongoing research projects:

Current project (2021- ): 'Grey' Democracy for a Green Future?

This research project started with a Rachel Carson-Simone Veil research fellowship at the Project House Europe and the Rachel Carson Centre in summer 2021. It critically revisits the symbiosis of post-war Western European democracy and carbon-driven industrial and economic growth and its legacies for the development of environmental politics. It hypothesizes that the hegemonic post-war social imaginary of 'grey democracy' complicated - and still complicates - the development of environmental and climate politics in Western Europe.

Current project (2021-2023): History of Provincial Government

With Prof Dirk Jan Wolffram, Dr Ronald Plantinga and Wiek van Gemert, MA and a number of research assistants I will be working on a longitudinal historical analysis of provincial government and governance in Groningen. This project is funded by the Province of Groningen and will result in a co-authored monograph. My involvement starts in early 2022.

Vision and theoretical conceptualization  of Differentiated Integration (H2020-SC6-Governance, RIA, SEP-210485814), 2019-2022

With Piero Tortola (coordinator) and Lars Rensmann I worked on the historical and theoretical genealogies of the notion of differentiated integration. We investigated sub-state processes of differentiated (dis)integration as an alternative way to conceptualise the past, present and future of European integration.

For an overview of the entire project see:

Postdoc II - Beyond New Jerusalem: the Governance of Planning in Rotterdam, Coventry and Le Havre, 1920-1960 (NWO Veni grant, 275-52-010) - Utrecht University / University of Groningen, 2012-2016 (finished)

The bombardments of the Second World War, which destroyed many cities throughout Europe, are said to have had two evident effects on the urban physique. The first is the unquestionable apocalyptic result of the blitzes, the unprecedented scale of destruction of lives, buildings and infrastructure. The second effect entails the process of plan-oriented reconstruction which was initiated as soon as the ash and dust had settled on the urban ruins.
 With regard to the latter, the success of urban reconstruction is generally ascribed to a generation of energetic planners who manifested themselves during and after the war. Rebuilt cities such as Rotterdam, Coventry and Le Havre, became the hailed New Jerusalems, reflecting the new era of postwar welfare. Beyond New Jerusalem, however, fundamentally questions this reading of history. It argues that the reconstruction of blitzed cities was not merely the result of a widely acclaimed planning frenzy, but was propelled by a governmental practice which was already in existence.
Successful reconstruction was made possible by a political and administrative constellation, emerging from the 1920s onwards, in which planners were but one set of actors. This project will probe into this constellation which facilitated the governance of planning in the cities of Rotterdam, Coventry and Le Havre during the period 1920-1960.
This project makes three claims which will have a broader impact in the field of modern political and urban history. First, the Second World War will be analysed as a period of continuity in governmental practice. Second, notions of urban power and authority will be reassessed as persistent political factors as opposed to their proclaimed usurpation by the centralised welfare state. Third, this project will advance the idea of a converging and transnationally moulded governance of planning, instead of stressing national traditions in local government and urban planning.

Postdoc I - Alternatives to parliamentary democracy: the Netherlands in a European comparative perspective, 1880-1940 (NWO Contested Democracy Programme, 311-99-130) - Utrecht University, 2008-2012 (finished)

For this project I have probed into the history of advisory bodies in the Netherlands, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Belgium, c. 1880-1940. I particularly looked at how, taken together, advisory bodies, whether initiated by (local) interest groups themselves or created by the state, represented a 'second circuit' of representative democracy alongside the accepted institutions of parliamentary democracy. In other words, I have attempted to detach theses bodies from the tenacious interpretative framework of (neo)corporatism, which is preoccupied with questions of output legitimacy (e.g. the degree of conciliation between capital and labour, efficient socio-economic governance). Instead, I have employed an approach that stresses the input legitimacy of advisory councils: to what extent were these extra-parliamentary bodies used as vehicles to represent perceived non-articulated (socio-economic) interests? How were these complexes of representative institutions able to devise their own procedures and routines? To what extent did the dialectics between expertise and interest representation tap into the institutional design of this 'second circuit' of representative democracy over time? And, finally, how were these institional constructions rendered legitimate and from which sources was political legitimation derived?
My emperical work has mainly focused on socio-economic bodies in the Netherlands during the interwar period. The other national cases are based on literary study.
The purport of this research is distilled from a rather recent  set of studies that have put the history of democracy in a somewhat different perspective. First and foremost, the work on the history of French democracy by Pierre Rosanvallon and Alain Chatriot has triggered me to see whether or not a similar non-Jacobinist reading of modern democracy is applicable to the Dutch case. That implies using a less strict conception of democratic practice by not focusing exclusively on the perceived hallmarks of democracy: elections, political parties, parliaments and representative government.
Furthermore, the theory on political representation has taken an interesting turn recently, which allows for a much richer inquiry into historical practices of political representation. In this research I am indebted to the innovative work of the political scientists Andrew Rehfeld and Michael Saward. Their work allows for a more constructivist approach of political representation which stresses performative and discursive practices of 'constituency-building' and claiming a certain representative quality  in contingent historical settings.

PhD - De machinerie van de stad. Stadsbestuur als idee en praktijk in Nederlands en Amsterdam, 1900-1940 (PhD project) - University of Groningen / University College London (Marie Curie 'Building on the Past' Fellow), 2003-2009 (finished)

In September 2003 I started working on what became my PhD research project. Initially the project was planned to be about the way in which Dutch municipalities rationalised and reformed their working procedures in the early twentieth century. Gradually I became more interested in the ideas and intellectual foundations underpinning urban governance in general. The dissertation, ultimately, developed into a book that addresses ideas as well as practices involving what might be called 'the invention of urban governance' during the pivotal first half of the twentieth century. Taking Amsterdam as a case study, I was able to unfold the world behind municipal reform, institutional change and the sociology of local government. The book combines approaches from urban studies, transnational history, social history, legal history and public administration. The defence of my thesis was rewarded with the cum laude distinction - the highest in the Dutch academic system.
The history modern urban governance still plays an important part in my current work. I am particularly interested in the relation between transnational movements concerning urban and municipal reform, and the actual impact of flows of knowledge and experience at the local level. Furthermore, I am elaborating a decentrist approach to transnational municipalism and local government which centres on the significance of individual agency rather than (historical) institutionalism.

Last modified:25 June 2022 3.07 p.m.