Introduction to the special issue: informality matters. Perspectives for studies on political communication.

Author:Kamps, Klaus
 
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1 Introduction

Social sciences describing modern (western) democracies often refer to "media democracy" (e.g., Baugut and Grundler 2009; Blumler and Gurevitch 1995; Marcinkowski and Pfetsch 2009; Sarcinelli 2013) or "mediatization" (e.g., Marcinkowski 2005; Meyen 2009; Reinemann 2010; Schrott and Spranger 2007), accentuating a possible impact of a mass media 'logic' and mass media communication on political processes, on actors, organizations and institutions. After a period of theoretical discussions which were focused on the macro-level and the question whether 'the' media 'dominate' the political system or vice versa (e.g. Schatz, Rossler, Nieland 2002), today a growing number of analyses concentrate on empirical findings regarding the concrete influence mass media might exert e.g. on strategic actors, voting behavior, the political culture or political participation, attitudes and more (cf. Koch-Baumgarten and Voltmer 2009: 299; Marcinkowski and Pfetsch 2009). Relatively speaking, such studies frequently arise in communication sciences while political science appears to be far more interested in the media's impact on political structure, the transformation of political organizations and institutions (e.g., Habermas 2006; Benz 1998; Schrott and Spranger 2007; Winter and Willems 2007).

Particularly in analyses of policies and the political decision-making process, approaches dominate which concentrate on associations and the influence of political structures and institutions (Blum and Schubert 2009; Schneider and Janning 2006; Schubert 1991; Sebaldt and StraBner 2004). 'The Media' often serve as a basic condition, a fundamental--and normatively postulated (e.g., Habermas 2006)--reference for a generalized 'public' (cf. Kamps, Horn and Wicke 2013: 276; Kamps et al. in this issue). On the one side, communication per se is treated as a conditio sine qua non and only rarely and marginally seen as an influential factor of variance within the policy process (cf. Schneider and Janning 2006: 187-194). On the other side, political settings such as 'informal government' or 'informal governance'--involving public and private actors beyond constitutional boundaries such as the parliamentarian 'sphere' (Benz 2004; Sarcinelli and Tenscher 2000)--may be regarded as specific challenges and chances for strategic modes of communication of political actors beyond 'permanent campaigning' and the communicative appeal to voters or other target audiences (see Baugut and Reinemann in this issue; Jentges et al. 2012). Thus, in recent years scholars have devoted more effort to communicative and medial influences on political actors (e.g. Kepplinger 2007) and in policy-finding and decision-making processes (Baugut and Grundler 2009; Isenberg 2007; Jarren, Lachenmeister and Steiner 2007; Kamps 2012; Kamps, Horn and Wicke 2013; Koch-Baumgarten 2010; Koch-Baumgarten and Mez 2007a; Koch-Baumgarten and Voltmer 2009, 2010; Lesmeister 2006; Vowe 2007).

This introductory paper aims to relate a) informality grounded in political science, especially governance and neo-institutionalism (e.g. Benz 1998; Brie and Stolting 2012; Dose 2013; North 1990; March and Olson 1989), with b) informal communication in policy analysis (e.g. Koch-Baumgarten and Voltmer 2009, Voltmer and Koch-Baumgarten 2010). It will--briefly--discuss perspectives by introducing the studies of this issue. Section 2 will outline the main approaches, assumptions and dimensions of informality in governmental and governance studies. Section 3, then, addresses approaches towards communication in policy studies. Finally, section 4 introduces the contributions to this issue via a heuristic of analytical dimensions of informal political communication.

2 Informality, government and governance

'Informality' as a basic concept in jurisprudence primarily differentiates between such norms that are fixed in a written law or constitution and non-fixed rules as vital parts of the legal practice (cf. Gorlitz and Burth 1998), e.g. because the wording of a law (especially constitutional law) is overly general and recquires clarification (cf. Mayntz 1998: 55). Social sciences use the term in a similar way, but 'formal' is not solely restricted to written norms but also to norms formulated by an actor, instance or organization explicitly empowered to do so. Basically two categories contextualize formality/informality: 1) relationships such as networks (framework) and 2) action and behavior (process) (cf. Mayntz 1998: 56; Grunden 2013: 223). Christiansen and Neuhold (2012b: 4) point to a third category: the classification of an outcome of such processes as 'informal'. As a working definition, then, we refer to an often cited suggestion of Helmke and Levitsky (2004), based on institutionalism, who in a broad sense propose to understand "informal institutions as socially shared rules, usually unwritten, that are created, communicated and enforced outside the officially sanctioned channel" (ibid.: 727; for a detailed discussion see Isenberg 2007: 22-30).

Political science, subsequently, refers to informality when a) in decision-finding and decision-making processes such configurations of actions dominate that are not based on formal norms and b) formal patterns and hierarchical regulations or relationships are replaced by, for example, coordination, cooperation and negotiation (e.g., Stuwe 2006: 546; Mayntz 1998: 59). Three--overlapping--sectors may be differentiated in this respect: in-formal government, informal governance, and informality in policy fields, including lobbying of interest groups and other collective actors e.g. social movements and NGOs.

From a political science perspective, concepts of informality are repeatedly allotted to specific forms of governmental action that complement formal decisions making processes in specific sectors (cf. Manow 1996; Christiansen and Neuhold 2012b: 5). Of course, government is primarily structured by constitutional norms, but in all political systems informal rules play an important role regarding the 'real' configuration of power and influence (Kropp 2003: 23). The new institutionalism (e.g. North 1990; March and Olson 1989; Marcinkowski 2005: 345) explains informal practice as a reaction of strategic actors to complex systems: institutions are 'safe harbors', they reduce uncertainty and give scope for action in sectors where formal norms (constitution, common law) do not regulate such parts of the political process, which have transpired to be vital. Informal rules connect and 'bond' regulated with unregulated corridors for action (Kropp 2003: 23). Political institutions in that sense are a set of permanent rules (formal and informal) organizing a framework of behavior that determines the "range of action available to those actors" (Schrott and Spranger 2007: 5).

Informal government, then, has been proposed as a category for normative and functional analyses of government (Grunden 2013: 220). Normative refers to the question whether and to what extend informality effects democracy and the legitimation of politics and power (e.g. Reh 2012; Sarcinelli 2013). For example, in recent years the increase of commissions, committees, boards and informal 'circles' complementing governmental leadership has been questioned from a constitutional perspective (cf. Blumenthal 2003; Rudzio 2005, 2008; Strunck 2013). Functional analyses refer to the performance and accomplishments of informality in a given context. Scholars like Manow (1996) or Czada (1995), e.g., studied informality under the perspective of effectiveness of governmental decision finding and implementation of regulations in a situation of complex political 'throughput'.

In effect, informality plays a substantial role in policy analyses--besides, of course, structural analyses of 'formal' power and influence. Especially functional analyses (e.g. Czada 1995; Konig 2008) are in the range of governance studies: referring to the inclusion of non-governmental actors in the regulation of collective problems. The governance concept is related to informal government, but focuses on mechanisms of regulation and coordination that are not hierarchically ('power') given (e.g. by constitution), but on a logic of a collective action of constitutional actors and actors of affected parts of the society (cf. Benz 2004: 20; Christiansen and Neuhold 2012b: 1; Dose 2013; Konig 2009: 25). Governance particularly addresses the institutionalization of corporate regulation...

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