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KNAW grant awarded for ‘People-centered constitutional law’ research project

Recently, Wim Voermans, Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law, and Jaroslaw Kantorowicz, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs and a research associate at the Department of Economics, were awarded a grant from the KNAW Statesman Thorbecke Fund. This grant will enable them to carry out a research project entitled ‘People-centered constitutional law’ over the next four years (2024-2027).

The constitution and its core values

Through their project entitled ‘People-centered constitutional law’, Voermans and Kantorowicz will attempt to identify how people from different countries interact with their constitution and its core values. Previous research – the ‘The Constitution: hearts and minds’ project funded by the Gieskes-Strijbis Fund [link in Dutch] – has shown that Dutch people primarily experience their constitutional law as a set of core values. While they are often unaware of the actual text of the Dutch Constitution, public perception of those values is essential to a constitutional and political system. Judges and institutions can only do so much to enforce the norms of constitutional law – especially in a country such as the Netherlands, which has a ban on constitutional review. The manner in which the population experiences, values, fails to value and handles constitutional norms is key to the functioning of those norms. After all, if a constitution is not 'alive' in people's hearts and minds, its norms will remain a dead letter.

How does this public perception of the constitution work?

Surprisingly we know little about that. In the ‘People-centered constitutional law’ project, they will explore the key role of citizens – the general public – in understanding, interpreting and protecting a constitutional system. They will first of all investigate how citizens in six different countries (Chile, France, Israel, South Africa, the Netherlands and the US) value the constitution in theory and identify with its core values. They will then analyse how the public understands and responds to violations of those values. The innovative interdisciplinary research will then be expanded for each of the six countries by conducting vignette and conjoint survey experiments. These experimental surveys will allow Kantorowicz and Voermans to gain a good understanding of how people experience constitutional and other values. They will conduct compliance readiness assessments relating to the constitution among a broad group in various countries and identify which factors come into play.

This project will involve collaboration with Professor Mila Versteeg from Virginia University in the US, who is a distinguished fellow at the Department of Constitutional and Administrative Law.

More information on the Statesman Thorbecke Fund Programme

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