Dr Matthew Wood
Lecturer in Politics
Deputy Director of the Crick Centre
Telephone: +44 (0)114 222 1683
My academic interests are diverse, but focus on how political authority works in an age of public distrust and disenchantment with politics. In particular, I am interested in how public institutions that aren’t formally elected –‘arm’s length agencies’ – create legitimacy and authority in controversial policy areas like water, medicines and the environment. Traditionally, this has been by claiming expertise and being accountable to government. However, in an age of ‘anti-politics’ public trust of all kinds of public institutions is precarious, and can’t be assured so easily.
I am dedicated to understanding and explaining the challenges all kinds of public institutions face in this era of uncertainty and helping inform how they navigate this context. This informs all my research, teaching and impact activities. I’ve held visiting positions and been invited to present this research at Havard University, UC Berkeley, Free University Berlin, Copenhagen Business School, University of Canberra, University of Sydney, Griffith University, Brisbane, Utrecht University, Mainz University and University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. I teach on Masters and Undergraduate modules, and my research has been awarded the prestigious Political Studies journal Harrison Prize.
As an ESRC Future Leaders fellow, Deputy Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre and elected Trustee of the Political Studies Association, I work on these problems at multiple levels – international, national and bottom-up – using quantitative and qualitative methods. My work is focused on Governance and Public Policy, but employs concepts from International Relations, Political Economy, Political Theory, Sociology, Social Theory and Security Studies. I also aim to make my research accessible and useful to policy-makers and the public through ‘co-production’, which I’ve written about at length.
International – the EU
Funded by the ESRC, my work on legitimacy in the European Union is focused on how expert agencies like the European Medicines Agency, Chemicals Agency and Environment Agency, have gained legitimacy from stakeholders in industry, civil society and the wider public. The project is co-designed – so practitioners have a say on the research questions and methods best suiting their needs. The findings have been published in the European Journal of Political Research. I’ve won consultancy contracts to advise on studies of EU stakeholder engagement, and worked directly with agencies to design and evaluate surveys of their relevant audiences.
In light of Brexit, my work on EU legitimacy has also focused on engaging the public. As an ESRC Knowledge Exchange Fellow in 2016 I directed a short video with youth organisation ShoutOut UK and Prof Anand Menon (Kings) entitled ‘How Democratic is the EU’. The video has over 500,000 views, after reposting on multiple sites. The original is available here. I have also organised public events on Brexit through the Crick Centre, for example in May 2016 at St Mary’s Church in Sheffield, attracting over 200 people.
National – experts and politicians
My award winning work on national governance compares how elected politicians and expert bodies work together to secure legitimacy through stakeholder engagement in contested policy areas. My monograph Hyper-active Governance looks at three ways they do this – politicians defending experts, empowering them to tackle crises, and revising their mandates to involve the wider public (defend, empower, involve). The key point is politicians can’t simply depoliticise decisions by giving power to experts, they have to actively work with them in a politicised context. This work has been published in Public Administration, Political Studies, Critical Policy Studies and Local Government Studies. I welcome invitations to speak on the findings.
To continue this agenda, I’m leading ACCOUNT - the UK leg of a global survey of expert agencies in seven countries. Working with Prof Thomas Schillemans at Utrecht University and the UK Association of Chief Executives, the survey of expert agencies focuses on how they work with government and other key stakeholders. We’re presenting findings at a workshop on 1st June 2018 to invited academics and practitioners from around the world.
Bottom-up – anti-politics and new forms of political action
I am fascinated by how bottom up movements of citizens can change how politics works, because it has big implications for government. In a co-edited book with Prof Colin Hay, Matthew Flinders and Paul Fawcett (Canberra) Anti-politics, Depoliticisation and Governance, we bring together a global range of contributors to debate how creating expert bodies around the world has changed the public’s political views and practices. Have the public become depoliticized, or just engaged with political actions in different ways? Working with Jack Corbett (Southampton) I also co-edit a book series Anti-politics and the Democratic Crisis (Routledge), and from September 2018 will run a third year undergraduate module of the same name. I also lead the UK leg of Varieties of Democracy, a quantitative project focused on coding the evolution of democratic engagement over the past 100 years.
I’m happy to supervise Doctoral students focused on any of the above and related topics. I’m especially keen to advise students interested in communicating the impact and policy relevance of their research, and work with policy-makers keen to better understand policy-making in a world of anti-politics.
Visiting Fellowships and Positions
Impact, Public Engagement and Teaching
Fawcett, P., Flinders, M., Hay, C. and Wood, M. (eds) (2017) Anti-politics, Depoliticisation and Governance, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
I blog regularly for outlets like the UK and EU project, LSE Impact blog, The Conversation and the PSA, and have appeared in local and national media (BBC Radio Sheffield, City AM). I submit my work regularly to Parliamentary select committees, having significant impact, for example in the Commons Public Administration Select Committee and Committee for Exiting the European Union, and the House of Lords European Union Committee.