Maurits van der Veen — Research

Maurits van der Veen


My research is situated at the intersection between international and comparative political economy. My particular interest is in what one might characterize as the political economy of international solidarity: explaining the political choices and economic expenditures associated with policies that do not appear to be straightforwardly self-interested. The two issue areas I have studied most are 1) foreign aid (and international humanitarian policy more generally) and 2) European integration.

I have found that such policies cannot be explained without looking more closely at cross-national patterns in the way policy-makers as well as the broader public think about the issues in question. As such, I am also interested more broadly in the impact of identity and ideas on policy outcomes.

The remainder of this page offers descriptions of (and links to) individual research projects and papers in a number of specific research areas. (Click on the title of each research area to jump to that part of the page. Mouse over individual manuscript titles in each research area for additional information.)

  • Further research information
    Click on the links for a general statement of my research interests, my CV, and my Google Scholar page.
  • European integration and motivations for international cooperation
    What do elites and publics see as the purpose of European integration? Have these visions of Europe changed over time? How do they differ across member states? And what are the implications of all this for the development of the European Union and of a sense of European identity?

  • The political economy of international humanitarianism
    Why do states engage in normative behaviour beyond borders, such as peacekeeping, election monitoring, giving foreign aid, or providing emergency humanitarian assistance? How important are non-material considerations such as reputation or a sense of obligation in explaining patterns in aid or peacekeeping? What explains differences across countries in the choice of targets for development assistance, peacekeeping operations, etc.? And how do states decide the appropriate label for humanitarian crises and challenges?

  • Agent-based modeling
    How do ideas and identities spread through a population? Under what conditions can ideas emerge even when material pressures provide strong constraints? How do social networks, within and across borders, affect the spread of ideas? Is it possible to predict the impact of strong cueing by elites? All of these questions can be investigated not just empirically, but also through agent- based computer simulations.

  • Incidental papers
    Other papers on a variety of topics, including the seventeenth century Dutch tulip bubble, the growing literature of non-fiction graphic "novels" about world politics, and European counterterrorism debates.

  • Datasets
    A handy little dataset to facilitate merging datasets that use different standard country codes, and a file supplying some Dutch aid data missing from the OECD's online aid statistics.

European integration and motivations for international cooperation

Research on European integration has traditionally emphasized national commercial interests and considerations of efficiency and spillover. Intergovernmentalist models focus on the former, while neofunctionalist explanations tend to privilege the latter. Until recently, scholars paid little attention to competing visions for Europe, whether at the elite level or among the general public. Increasingly, however, it has become clear that those visions matter a great deal.

My research investigates the impact of such ideas about European integration on policy outcomes in the European Union. At the same time, I'm interested in explaining the variation in those ideas, both over time and from one country to the next. If, as I argue, ideas about the purpose of European integration are more than straightforward expressions of economic or political interest, it is important to explain both their source and the factors that can change them.

Since EU member states and candidate states have resorted to referenda to make decisions with increasing frequency, and since those referenda have also been failing more often, it has become ever more important to understand the factors that shape ideas about the EU not just among elites, but at the wider public level as well. To study elite attitudes, I focus primarily on legislative debates; for public attitudes, I rely on cross-national public opinion surveys.

Membership in and enlargement of the European Union

Public opinion (and voting behaviour) on European integration

National referendums on European Union issues

The institutional development of the European Union

The political economy of international humanitarianism

I am interested in developing an understanding of the factors that determine why and when countries spend money on foreign policies that appear to have no direct material payoff. My research on the politics of official development assistance — see Ideas, Interests, and Foreign Aid below — has shown that different visions of the purpose of foreign aid strongly shape the overall organization and quality of aid programs. Moreover, they also affect specific program features, such as the total volume of aid and the geographical allocation of aid across recipient states. As a corollary, particular situations -- such as natural disasters -- ought to evoke different reactions among different donor states. Figuring out just how and why donor responses to disasters vary is a project I am currently working on with some undergraduate students (see below).

This approach can be extended to study the aid policies of other countries, but also to investigate the determinants of other humanitarian or seemingly altruistic foreign policy initiatives, such as peacekeeping, election monitoring, etc. I am interested in why countries decide to contribute to peacekeeping or election monitoring operations and, in turn, how their motivations affect the nature of their participation. In the foreign aid field, I have found that considerations of international obligation and reputation play a surprisingly large role; I expect the same will turn out to be the case in peacekeeping or election monitoring, but have not yet begun looking into this in detail.

Relatedly, I am interested in debates over the appropriate label for different humanitarian challenges and crises. If the way we think about an issue matters, then deliberate attempts to frame an issue in a certain manner become all the more important to understand. In 1984, Orwell memorably introduced Newspeak, a language developed in order to make "thoughtcrime" impossible; governments and political entrepreneurs often appear engaged in a similar enterprise. For example, governments have gone to great lengths to prevent words with highly negative connotations (genocide, torture, etc.) from being applied to their policies. This represents a challenge to the political economy literature, which tends to view words as only so much "cheap talk" (or, in Shakespeare's words, "That which we call a rose / by any other name would smell as sweet").

Foreign aid (especially official development assistance)

Labeling humanitarian crises & challenges

Agent-based modeling

Agent-based modeling (ABM) is rapidly gaining in popularity as a tool for the development and refinement of theoretical models. While game-theoretic modeling permits rigorous and precise analysis, this is only possible for models that are drastically simplified. Attempting to introduce more realistic assumptions into such models, or to introduce more than just two or three actors, almost inevitably makes them analytically intractable. Computer simulations, in contrast, allow us to investigate systematically and exhaustively the implications of changes in the independent variables, including preferences and identities, for any number of actors.

From a more practical point of view, ABMs allow us to run our own quasi-experiments when the real world does not provide enough data, and to investigate whether the stated assumptions and parameters of a model can (and will) produce the outcomes that we theoretically predict or empirically observe. In my own ABM research, I examine the micro-foundations of identity and preference change, with obvious implications for the empirical research questions listed earlier on this page.

We still have much to learn regarding the diffusion of ideas and identities. For example, how does the social connectedness of a polity affect such a diffusion? Is it easier for ideas to spread in very hierarchical societies? Or in societies where social connections are far-flung rather than predominantly local? The nature of a particular idea or identity is also likely to have an impact. We might expect it to be difficult for incompatible ideas to co-exist or spread, but as the White Queen says in Alice in Wonderland: "I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Incidental papers

Described here are a few research projects that, although related to my basic interests, are not readily classifiable into one of the categories above. Each of these focuses, in one way or another, on the importance of how people communicate and react to particular ideas.

The first paper takes a new look at the seventeenth-century Dutch tulip mania, showing that most common explanations of this early financial bubble are at odds with the empirical evidence, and offering an alternative model based on the notion of information cascades. The second argues that in some cases ideas take on such a significance national decision-making that empirical evidence nearly stops having any impact at all. The third takes a closer look at ideas about terrorism that can be found in different European countries. I show that these often are shaped more by perceptions about the success or failure of the integration of minorities than by past experiences with terrorism itself.

Two papers take a closer look at the rapidly growing supply of graphic novels dealing with global issues and international relations. The works I focus on are non-fiction (usually they are memoirs) and hence "novel" is a bit of a misnomer. But I argue that the combination of graphic images and text is often much more successful at conveying particular insights and truths than is plain text, especially to a student audience. For related reasons, I am also interested in political cartoons and propaganda, and am currently at work on an investigation of comparative reactions to controversial cartoons — which topics are considered out of bounds by different audiences, and why?

Finally, I argue throughout my research for the importance of beliefs about why a particular policy is good or bad. Questions about whether someone supports a policy are much less helpful. The last paper listed shows that questions that fall in the latter category do less well at predicting particular outcome than are more general questions in the former category. The evidence suggests, therefore, that it would be salutary for polling agencies to include more why questions in their surveys.


  • Country code dataset
    Numerous datasets commonly used in international relations research, including ICPSR datasets, World Bank data, etc., use different codes to identify countries. This makes merging such datasets difficult. To help address the problem, I have created a simple, small dataset that lists country names along with a number of common codes. It is nothing special, but I have found can save a lot of time (and eliminate mistakes that recoding by hand might cause).
    Click here for the dataset, and here for the codebook. The latter is pretty minimal, as the dataset is essentially self-explanatory.

  • Netherlands bilateral ODA, 1966
    Both the DAC Aid Statistics CD-ROM and the OECD's online aid statistics do not list bilateral aid for the Netherlands in 1966. This is an error, and at odds with the OECD's own printed documentation from the time. Click here for an Excel file with the missing data, collected from that printed documentation.


Maurits van der Veen's research page
Last update: 2014-01-24.