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The University of Southampton
Economic, Social and Political Sciences

ESRC Research funding success

Published: 25 September 2009 Origin:  Politics and International Relations

Dr Alexandra Kelso has been successful in securing research funding through the ESRC First Grants Competition 2009 for a research project entitled The Scrutiny Universe: The House of Commons Select Committees and the Psychology of Group Processes.

Alix will work on the project for three years, analysing the departmental select committees in the House of Commons in order to better understand how the Westminster parliament conducts scrutiny of government and how effective a check it is on it. The select committee system is notoriously under-researched in British politics, and this project aims to make a substantial contribution to the field and to generate further research in the future.

A particularly innovative part of the project involves its utilisation of group processes literature from the field of social psychology, in order to understand how groups of MPs from different political parties, who frequently battle against each other in the chamber of the Commons and in the media, manage to work together within select committee environments for the ‘good of the group’, and also, inversely, how they use the all-party select committee forum in order to advance their party causes.

The project encompasses a range of research questions, including:

  • How are party identities and party conflicts managed within select committees?
  • What is the role and influence of chairpeople, clerks and special advisors?
  • How do select committee members perceive their scrutiny task?
  • How do different characteristics of committees as social groups impact on their scrutiny outlook and orientation?
  • How are select committee agendas set?
  • What impact does select committee work have on the Commons more broadly?
  • How do government ministers and civil servants perceive the impact of select committee scrutiny?
  • How do the media use select committee outputs and under what conditions do they gain media attention?
  • The research will involve extensive interviews with a range of Westminster actors – MPs, parliamentary clerks, government ministers, civil servants, committee special advisers – as well as detailed study of select committee inquiries and publications during the period of the project.
  • In addition, the project will involve the creation of a dedicated website, used to disseminate on-going research outputs and discoveries about the select committees, in order to help raise awareness about this area of parliamentary scrutiny and academic study of it.

The research award, of almost £250,000, illustrates the continued success of the division of Politics and International Relations in securing prestigious ESRC funding.

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