Dealing with the review process – The artist and the PhD

Thijs WillemsBy Thijs Willems / Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Imagine you’re an artist. You’re a painter currently carefully transforming an empty canvas into a magical landscape. No less than eight months you spent inside your musty little attic room to paint. But without complaining for a second, as you believe to be creating what will become your masterpiece. Autumn passed, as you were convinced that the colors of the leaves falling off the tree would be inspiration enough to turn the white canvas into a mosaic of playful colors. Winter was spent inside, to reflect the shadows and contrasts in the sky onto your painting in order to give it that necessary touch of drama. The summer passed and, instead of enjoying warm, long evenings in the park with your friends and a bottle of wine, you spent hour after hour to capture the right hue of color for the sunbeams behind the clouds.


Eight months passed and, after much deliberation, you decide the time has come to show your masterpiece to the public. You invite an eclectic bunch of experts, big names and hotshots in the world of art, to give their initial thoughts and suggestions. They seem to love it! “Amazing colors, I can see you put your heart in it”, says one. “This is really interesting, it tells the Big Story of Life”, another adds.

The conversation continues for a while, and after all the compliments have been shared, the Cubist starts: “But…” As an artist you’re used to critique, so you recognize this word as the start of some, hopefully constructive, commentary.

“But… you really need to add some straight lines to make it more contemporary.” The others nod. The Minimalist: “I agree, but I also think you’ve painted way too much. Too much is happening on the sides of the painting, way too much.” Finally, the Impressionist adds: “I agree with the aforementioned comments. And yet… You haven’t captured the true essence of the sun. There’s too much detail and I’d rather see short, thick strokes of paint.” The experts leave and, slightly blown away, you start redoing your masterpiece with care. To satisfy the Minimalist, you cut off three inches from the sides of the painting; for the Impressionist to be happy, you transform the subtle colors of the sun into thick, broad patches of yellow and red; to make your painting more contemporary, as the Cubist requested, you fill the sky with random squares. You slowly step back to ponder your masterpiece and in awe you come to realize that this is not your work anymore.

This story could easily be told in a different context, where the PhD is the artist, the painting his/her paper, and the experts the reviewers of a journal. Getting your work published may be a daunting task, especially for new scholars. You spent a great deal of time, energy, and sometimes even love, in writing about your research. You are the proud artist of this text and you feel it is a worthwhile read for others in your field. You know you will have to reach this broader public by getting your paper published in one of the journals in your field. You finish the paper, submit it to a journal, wait, wait some more, wait a bit longer, and then you finally receive the review reports. It may be a desk rejection (the most common response of journals), a major or minor revision, or a straightforward acceptance (that seldom happens).

In my opinion, the major revision is the most challenging kind of review report to deal with. It often implies the editor and reviewers see, somewhere hidden between the lines of your text, the merits or contributions of your paper. The reviewers, then, often ask questions, critique your argument or provide suggestion on how to make the still implicit contribution of your paper more explicit. This may often involve serious and even impossible requests: “You position your paper in the context of Theory A, but we think it is more appropriate for Theory B, C or D. Please write a new paper”; “The theoretical point is really interesting, but the research is not convincing enough. Do the research again”; “We need much more detail in the theoretical and empirical part of the paper. Also elaborate your discussion further and include points 1 to 7. Oh… and please shorten the paper with at least 2,000 words”; “I don’t like your chosen methodology. Can you make a survey study out of your ethnographic data?”

I exaggerate a little bit, but the point I’m trying to make is that the review process is challenging, especially when you realize ‘your’ paper turns into a text that is different than you had intended. Below are some suggestions that may help you deal with this process:

  1. Even in case of a major revision, realize the reviewers and editors see considerable potential in your paper. Congratulations!
  2. In case of truly rigorous revisions you need to deal with a dilemma: re-write your paper to satisfy the reviewers with a chance on publication, re-write the paper and still end up with a rejection and a paper that only remotely looks like yours anymore, thank the journal and find another outlet (although the chances are pretty high the process at the other journal might be quite similar)
  3. When do you submit your paper? It might be easier to re-write a paper that was good enough but not yet perfect than a paper in which every word or punctuation mark has been deliberated at least three times. Maybe write a paper that is good enough to be taken in review? The perfect paper does not exist and reviewers will always have certain demands for a revision
  4. Make a careful choice about the fit between your paper and the journal you plan to submit to. Be aware of the current debates, what interests the readers of this journal, what is their writing style, etc. The reviewers need to understand why they should publish your paper instead of one of the other 50 submissions.
  5. Turn the problem around: journals have a ‘problem’ too (see Hollenbeck, 2008). They often have very limited space to publish interesting work, so the role of editors is to find the right paper to attract readers.
  6. Use footnotes. Sometimes, the reviewers want you to expand on certain concepts while you simply do not have the space to do so. You can still acknowledge their comments (and show the readers of your paper you have considered alternatives), without taking up too many valuable words.
  7. Treat the reviewers as experts, as in most cases they will be (provided you chose a respectable journal). So, their suggestions are not meant just as critique but are actually potential ways to make your paper more interesting.
  8. However, do not follow all suggestions religiously. Show some guts and refuse certain points of critique if you do not agree with them. However, always write an extensive cover letter when you submit the revision. Here you can explain choices made, how you went about revising the paper, and carefully argue why you did not follow some of the reviewers’ suggestions. In the end, this is all of help in constructing a more convincing argument.
  9. Leave the review report for a while. The moment you receive a report that contains more pages than your initial submission, it is quite difficult to digest it all at once. Read it, leave it, and then read it again after a week or so.
  10. Read the reports together with colleagues. They are a little more distanced than you are and will probably be able to distinguish the reviewers’ main points from only minor remarks.
  11. If all still does not go well, ventilate your aggression. I highly recommend the Facebook page ‘Reviewer 2 Must Be Stopped
  12. There may be many more tips… Please share your tips below!

In the end, the goal is to end up with a paper that has become better. A part of becoming a scholar is, perhaps, to learn how to deal with critique and use it to your own advantage. Even Albert Einstein’s applications have been rejected.



Thijs Willems is a Phd candidate in the Organizational Science department. His research projects focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’.


Hollenbeck, J. R. 2008. The role of editing in knowledge development: Consensus shifting and consensus creation. In Y. Baruch, A. M. Konrad, H. Aguinus, & W. H. Starbuck (Eds.), Journal editing: Opening the black box: 16 -26. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Social information: using the crowd to crowdfund a project

claire_teunenbroekBy Claire van Teunenbroek / Reading Time: 4 Minutes

In figure 1 you can see the famous Cloud Gate of Chicago designed by Anish Kapoor, or as it is more commonly referred to ‘the Kidney Bean’ at the Millennium Park. I took this picture during my conferences-attending in Chicago and I was personally quite impressed by this picture. It looks really ‘arty’, doesn’t it? At first, I felt really foolish taking a picture of a giant bean while trying to maneuver the camera is such a way that you could see me in the reflection of the bean. You could also say that I felt uncertain if it was appropriate to be so self-centered. However, when I looked around I concluded that it was more than ok since everyone was doing it. In other words, the behavior of others decreased my uncertainty and I, therefore, felt more comfortable with my one behavior.  Essentially, this is a very practical explanation of the effect of ‘social information’.


Figure 1

Social information is simply described as any information concerning the behaviour of other individuals and tells you about what is normal in a given situation. For example, think again about the situation of the Kidney Bean. The individuals around me were also taking selfies, which informed me that it was normal to do so. The Kidney Bean has served a nice example which will help us move onto the main theme of this blog: philanthropic crowdfunding. Philanthropic crowdfunding is a funding method that uses an online context, meaning that donors can make their donations online. Crowdfunding is more that this, but for now we will keep  this description and explain it in more details below. Philanthropic crowdfunding is not as successful in assembling money as it should and could potentially be. My goal is that of using social information ton increase the success of philanthropic crowdfunding. I have opted to focus  on one specific type of social information: the donation behaviour of previous donors.

Before I explain more about social information, I will first define what I mean with philanthropic crowdfunding. Philanthropic crowdfunding is a way of assembling money online using an open call, meaning that anyone can make a donation. Crowdfunding builds on a large group of individuals, who each make a small donation, ultimately contributing to assembling a larger amount. If you make a donation at a philanthropic crowdfunding platform like Voordekunst, you will not receive a financial return. However, you might receive a small token of appreciation, but the value of the token is smaller than your donation. Meaning that you give more (in money terms) than you receive. In other words: it is philanthropic. But ultimately, can we increase the donations by adding social information?

I would like to live-test my idea with you! So, let’s see how you would react to social information on the donation behaviour of previous donors. Please imagine the following situation: after looking at my inspiring picture and description of the Kidney Bean art sculpture you are persuaded to make a donation to an art project. You have heard about a site called Voordekunst, which assembles money for art projects. On this site you find an interesting art project and start reading the project description.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 11.50.44

You notice that the project’s information mentions that the average donation amount of this project is 80 euros (depicted in figure 2). Based on previous research, (e.g. Shang & Croson, 2009, Martin & Randal, 2008) we expect you to increase your donation amount, to more closely resemble the social information the website has provided you with (mention of 80 euros). What do you think, would you be persuaded by the crowd? Be honest, would you have changed your donation amount?

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 11.51.05

By using social information I would then use the social power of the crowd to increase the success of crowdfunding. Researchers have also found that if you are a woman you are likely to be more influenced by social information, while men are less affected (Klinowski, 2015). Additionally, if you are a new donor you are also more likely to be affected by social information (Shang & Croson, 2009), since they are assumed to be more uncertain about the amount they should/would donate. However, the effect of social information is not unlimited. What I mean by this is that if the amount mentioned (in our example it was 80 euros) is too high (for example 300 euros), you would most likely not be influenced by this amount (Croson & Shang, 2013; Shang & Croson, 2006).

To sum it up, I want to use social information to increase the donations individuals donate at a philanthropic crowdfunding platform. I expect that confronting (potential) donors with the donation behaviour of previous donors increases the success of crowdfunding projects.

What do you think, is adding such a small amount of extra information enough to increase one’s donation amount?

Claire van van Teunenbroek MSc is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Organization Sciences and works closely together with the Department of Philanthropy. Her research project is about developing and testing multiple techniques to increase the success of philanthropic crowdfunding. 


Croson, R., & Shang, J. (2013). Limits of the effect of social information on the voluntary provision of public goods: Evidence from field experiments. Economic Inquiry, 51(1), 473–477. doi:10.1111/j.1465-7295.2012.00468.x

Klinowski, D. (2015). Reluctant donors and their reactions to social information. Retrieved from

Shang, J., & Croson, R. (2006). The impact of social comparisons on nonprofit fund raising. Research in Experimental Economics, 11, 143–156.

Shang, J., & Croson, R. (2009). A Field Experiment in Charitable Contribution: The Impact of Social Information on the Voluntary Provision of Public Goods. The Economic Journal, 119(540), 1422–1439.


PHD Day 2016

On Wednesday May 11, 2016, the traditional annual PhD day will take place at the Faculty of Social Sciences.  Like previous years, the PhD day – organized jointly by the Graduate School (GS) and the Graduate Council (GC) – promises to be a lively afternoon showcasing the research conducted by PhD candidates at our Faculty.
You are all very welcome to drop by at the Department of Organization Sciences, on the 3rd floor of the main building, A wing.
The program will start at 13.15 pm. Below is a preliminary schedule of the program for the day. You can drop by any time. Drinks are served throughout the program.
PhD Day: Wednesday May, 11, 2016, FSW, Dep. of Org. Sciences, 3A wing
13:00-13:15 Gathering; presenters prepare their posters and powerpoint presentations
13:15-13:30 Welcome by the GS and GC
13:30-14:30 Oral presentations Session 1
14:30-15:00 Coffee Break
15:00-16:00 Oral presentations Session 2
16:00-17:00 Poster session + drinks
17:15-17:30 Announcing the prize winners 
Previous PhD days were a big success thanks to the large number of faculty members paying a (short or longer) visit to the presentations and poster sessions, and the informal yet valuable feedback PhD’s received on their work. We look forward to an even higher attendance this year!
Make sure to encourage all PhDs to contribute to this event, and drop by to celebrate the research conducted by PhDs at our Faculty. PhDs can still join with a poster to informally present their work and compete for the prizes – email asap to (with a poster title)

Congratulations to Andrea Bandelli

By Socializing Science / Watching Time: 10 Minutes

On April 18, 2016 Andrea Bandelli successfully defended his Phd thesis entitled Contextualising Visitor Participation:Science Centers as a Platform for Scientific Citizenship”.

Andrea Bandelli examined how science museums support this scientific citizenship from the perspective of the museum and its visitors. He found that these museums are places where the public is encouraged and empowered to talk about science, especially the less educated visitors, who have few other opportunities to get involved in science.

Science centers and science museums are not just places where visitors can learn about science; They are also a forum for discussions and debates on the role of science in society. They are, as it were platforms where visitors are “scientific citizens”: places where visitors learn about science and participate in the discussions that shape the role of science and technology in our society.

Bandelli notes that science centers play an important role in the “democratization” of public participation in science. At the same time however, there are barriers that keep them from fully engaging the involvement of the public. For example, fear of doing it wrong, which may block further action.

For more information on Andrea Bandelli, visit his website   at :

Socializing Science would like to congratulate him and invite you all to watch his defense in this clip.

Early Summer Workshops at the Graduate School of Social Science


The Graduate School of Social SciencePh.D. Comic 1s (VU-GSSS) is happy to announce its upcoming (early) summer workshops which will take place in May 2016. The intensive workshops focus on specialized qualitative and/or quantitative methods, and provide you with hands-on experience. Summer workshops are a great way to develop and/or strengthen your skills in between busy semesters of study and work. This year VU-GSSS gives you the chance to start planning ahead with (early) summer workshops.

  • Conducting Meta-Analyses

    (By Prof. Brad Bushman, May 17-20, 2016)

Meta-analyses have become an increasingly important method to summarise a body of evidence on a specific question. More so than traditional narrative reviews, a meta-analysis allows you to objectively combine and test the result of several studies that focus on the same hypothesis. This hands-on workshop is aimed at researchers with general knowledge of conducting quantitative analyses, but who want to learn how to conduct a meta-analytic review.

  •  Programming and Analyzing in R.

     (By Dr. Wouter van Atteveldt, May 23-27, 2015)

R is a statistical toolkit that is becoming increasingly popular for more advanced analyses in the social sciences. Getting started with using R, however, can be quite challenging. This intensive hands-on workshop will get you started using R on your own dataset.

So, what are you waiting for???  Check the Summer Workshops Manual for more information on the courses, credits, fees and timetable here.

Remember to spread the news to fellow colleagues at the VU and at other universities.

To sign up for the courses, or to ask questions and request additional information, email the VU-GSSS at



Congratulations to Dr. Victoria Galán-Muros

By Socializing Science / Watching Time: 7 Minutes

On April 1st, 2016 Victoria Galán-Muros successfully defended her Phd thesis entitled “Universities at a cross-road – how European universities can engage business in research, education and valorisation to the benefit of all”. 

European universities are at a crossroad. Modern societal demands mean that governments are pushing universities to undertake more ‘usable’ research that solves societal problems and to better educate students for the world of work. These demands push universities closer to markets and businesses, which are eager to access talent and cutting-edge research. However, the university culture and structure are often not aligned to this new paradigm and thus cooperation and its management remain challenging.

In her thesis, Galan-Muros Victoria tackles this complex topic to increase the understanding of how European universities engage with business in education, research and valorization.In he dissertation, a comprehensive framework is developed: the University-Business Cooperation Ecosystem, which supports research and practice.

Socializing Science would like to congratulate her and invite you all to watch her defense in this clip.


Congratulations to Dr. Adina Nerghes!!

By Socializing Science / Watching Time: 10 Minutes

On March 29, 2016 Adina Nerghes successfully defended her Phd thesis entitled “Words in Crisis: A relational perspective of emergent meanings and roles in text.. In her own words, Adina explains her research: Can we infer rich information from `big text data’? And how can we use text-analytical methods to infer such rich information from large text collections with different characteristics? These are some of the questions that guided the aims and outcomes of her research.

For more information on Adina Nerghes, visit her website   at :

Socializing Science would like to congratulate her and invite you all to watch her defense in this clip.

Congratulations to Dr. Anouk van Leeuwen!

By Socializing Science / Watching Time: 10 Minutes

On March 16, 2016 Anouk van Leeuwen successfully defended her Phd thesis entitled “Protest! Studies on Protest Politicization, Perceived Protest Atmosphere, and Protest Policing”. In her thesis, she explores protests and their contours: How do demonstrators experience protests’ atmospheres, and why? Does such perception influence his/her willingness to join street protests in the future? And how can it be determined whether one street protest is more political in nature than others?. This are just some of the questions she addresses.

Socializing Science would like to congratulate her and invite you all to watch her defense in this clip.

How campaigns for the good can adversely strengthen negative prejudice and stereotypes.

camiel photoBy Camiel Beukeboom / Reading time: 7 Minutes

Sometimes attempts to do good have adverse effects. Despite our good intentions we may do more harm than good. Some recent campaigns – all aimed at disproving negative stereotypes and prejudices – unfortunately appear more likely to strengthen negative stereotypic associations than to reduce them. Here is why.

I’m black, but I’m not…

One of these campaigns, published by BuzzFeedYellow and widely shared in social media, shows film clips of individuals from various social categories. One film clip shows black individuals, saying “I am Black, but I’m not…”. Another film clip shows homeless individuals saying “I am homeless, but I’m not…” and there are similar film clips about Muslims, Asians, Latino’s, fat people, and more.

The videos present us with Black people saying they are not “aggressive”, “ghetto”, “violent”, “on welfare”, “lazy”, etc. We see homeless individuals saying they are not “evil”, “drug addicts”, “committing crimes”, “homicidal maniacs”, or “trash”; and we see Muslims saying they are not “angry”, “dangerous”, “terrorists”, “hating America”, or “forced to wear a headscarf”.

black but not aggressiveNow, the tricky adverse effect that the negated messages in these film clips likely produce follows from our research on the negation bias. This research (and other) suggests that negations (as in “X is not aggressive”), are processed as if they were affirmations (i.e., X is aggressive). Even though the link is denied, the message strengthens rather than suppresses thoughts about X being aggressive. Thus, hearing “I am Black, but I am not violent” consequently most likely reinforces a mental association between Black and violent in an audience.

Second, the negated messages communicate what is typically expected for the social category – in other words the apparently existing negative stereotype. Watching the film clips thus teaches these negative associations to people who were still unknowing about them. People who already had (faint) awareness of these associations will have them confirmed.

The attempt to change the stereotypic views occurs in the second parts of the film clips. Here, the same individuals mention characteristics that are stereotype inconsistent (“I am Black, but I am actually …”). They contrast themselves to the generic stereotypic view. This presents them as exceptions to the rule, who happen to have some unexpected other (i.e., positive) characteristics. Unfortunately, this likely conveys that they are outliers; they can be set aside as odd individuals in the context of what everyone stereotypically expects. Such exceptions will more likely have the effect of proving the stereotypic rule in an audience, rather than changing it.

Not a joke (#geengrapje)

This week Dutch minister Jet Bussemaker launched another campaign in the Netherlands aimed at reducing sexism against women. The goal of this campaign says Bussemaker is to create awareness of daily sexism as expressed in denigrating remarks, jokes and ironic remarks. The campaign website ( presents a film clip in which a number of women provide examples of sexist remarks. These remarks imply that women should smile pretty, be sweet, take care of kids, have their period, serve coffee, become pregnant etc.

Indeed, our research on the irony bias shows that such jokes and ironic remarks have a stereotype confirming and maintaining effect. Just like negations, ironic remarks are most likely used in situations in which a person’s behavior deviates from what is stereotypically expected. For instance when a woman shows dominant behavior in a high status job, an ironic remark (“Well, she sure has a sweet pretty smile”) can function to introduce what is expected for a woman instead. The stereotype expectancies surface in such remarks and thereby have the effect of maintaining them.

#geengrapjeThe adverse effect of this anti-sexism campaign, however, lies in the fact that it confronts its audience with an abundance of the sexist remarks it actually aims to combat. Consequently, the campaign has the same negative effect as the sexist remarks: it activates and maintains negative stereotypic associations with women.

Moreover, the campaign website explicitly notes that making sexist remarks is very common behavior. Unfortunately, depicting an undesired behavior as occuring very frequently (i.e., the descriptive norm) has been shown to be a strong motivator of human behavior. Simply because people tend to do what many other people appear to do (Cialdini, 2003). To make it worse, the campaign invites people to show the unwanted behavior by sharing examples of daily sexism on social media using a hashtag (#geengrapje; not a joke). The consequence: social media are bombarded with sexist jokes with all their detrimental effects on impression formation of women.

The intended message of the campaign is that we should not make sexists jokes. Yet, simultaneously the undesired and stereotype maintaining jokes are demonstrated to us, and both implicitly and explicitly encouraged.

Resisting stereotypes

I realize that the campaigns I discussed stem from good intentions, and they may certainly have positive effects. One positive aspect of these campaigns is that they create awareness of both subtle and blatant forms of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. Creating awareness is obviously good, as it may instigate public debates and brings unconscious forms of discrimination to the surface.

It is, however, frustrating to see that these campaigns simultaneously likely backfire to produce the opposite of what they intend to achieve; feeding negative associations. Stereotypes are highly resistant to change. This is partly due to biased language patterns (only some of which I described here) that serve to maintain them. Campaigns aimed at changing stereotypes must therefore be carefully designed in order to prevent potential unwanted and adverse side effects.


Camiel Beukeboom is an Assistant Professor in the department of Communication Science at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He is also Program Director of the VU Graduate School of Social Sciences and initiator and editor of the Socializing Science PhD blog. (@camielbeukeboom)



Beukeboom, C. J. (2014). Mechanisms of linguistic bias: How words reflect and maintain stereotypic expectancies (Chapt.). In J. Laszlo, J. Forgas, & O. Vincze (Eds.), Social Cognition and Communication (pp. 313-330). New York, NY: Psychology Press. Link:

Beukeboom, C. J., Finkenauer, C., & Wigboldus, D. H. J. (2010). The negation bias: When negations signal stereotypic expectancies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(6), 978-992. Link

Burgers, C., & Beukeboom, C. J. (in press). Stereotype Transmission and Maintenance Through Interpersonal Communication: The Irony Bias. Communication Research. doi: 10.1177/0093650214534975 Link

Cialdini, R. B. (2003). Crafting Normative Messages to Protect the Environment. Current Directions in Psychology, 12, 105-109.

Women’s suffrage: structural conditions & the suffragettes

PalmBy Trineke Palm / Reading Time: 6 Minutes.

Last December Suffragette was premiered in Dutch cinemas. The movie is a penetrating account of the hard fight for the introduction of women’s suffrage in the UK at the beginning of the 20th century. The movie is centered on the role of Emmiline Pankhurst and her suffragettes who strive to acquire this basic political right. Moreover, it provides insights into the societal circumstances of the UK at that time. The movie gets you thinking about (women’s) suffrage in general: how come some countries have been much quicker than others in introducing (women’s) suffrage? What are the factors that influenced this process? And, finally how to put the UK’s stance in a comparative perspective?

SuffragettesAlthough universal suffrage is usually meant to include suffrage for both men and women, well-known and established democratization theories, like the one of Samuel P. Huntington, take male suffrage solely as proxy for measuring democratization. In contrast, as soon as the bar is raised to include women’s suffrage, Huntington’s . Table 1 shows that the timing of male suffrage is not a proxy for the introduction of women’s suffrage. For example, France, Belgium and Switzerland were early in the introduction of male suffrage, but “late” with the introduction of women’s suffrage. In contrast, Austria and Sweden were relatively late in introducing male suffrage, but introduced women’s suffrage “already” just after the First World War. This reveals that an early introduction of male suffrage does not imply an early introduction of women’s suffrage.

As the table shows, both World Wars created a momentum for extending suffrage to women. However, a war cannot as such explain the timing of women’s suffrage as some countries introduced it after the First World War and others only after the Second World War.

Table 1 Introduction of women’s suffrage relative to male suffrage

quella giusta

Although the democratization literature focuses on male suffrage, suffragettes did not escape academic attention, focusing in particular on the success of women’s movement. For example, in her research Lee Ann Banaszak compares the women’s movements in the US and Switzerland. She focuses on the tactics used by the women’s movements in these two countries to explain their (lack of) success; while the US suffragettes were more confrontational, the Swiss movement used a more consensus oriented tactic. While these studies point at the agenda-setting role of suffragettes, they underestimate the constraining or enabling importance of structural conditions. Suffragettes did not emerge and did not operate in a political vacuum. To understand the conditions under which women’s suffrage was introduced early or late,, we have to look at the structural causes. To this effect, I have used Stein Rokkan’s cleavage theory, about fundamental divisions in society. These cleavages concern fundamental conflicts between different societal groups, which played an important role in the process of nation-building.

Political WomenRokkan distinguishes between 4 cleavages: 1) ethnic-linguistic, 2) religious, 3) sectoral (agriculture vs. industry), 4) class. It is expected that ethnic-linguistic fragmentation will delay the introduction of women’s suffrage, because the “women’s issue” is swallowed by other political conflicts. The same applies to the presence of a class conflict. With regards to the sectoral cleavage, we would that in a society with a relatively large agricultural sector women’s suffrage is introduced relatively early, because women stand on more equal footing with men than in an industrial society. These cleavages are not mutually exclusive – rather, it is the combination that matters.

In my research of 13 West-European countries the absence of an ethnic-linguistic cleavage is a necessary condition for an early introduction of women’s suffrage (with the notable exception of Finland).

Table 2 Early introduction of women’s suffrage

table 1

This is in line with the expectation that either suffrage is extended first to the men of the minority population (at the expense of extending suffrage to women), or this ethnic-linguistic cleavage divides women, preventing them to act as a united front. This absence of the ethnic-linguistic cleavage, however, is not sufficient – see France and Italy (table 3). In these countries a religious cleavage, combined with a class cleavage, result in the late introduction of women’s suffrage.

Table 3 Late introduction of women’s suffrage

table 3

Moreover, in contrast to Teri Carraway claims, my study shows that the class cleavage does not necessarily delay the introduction of women’s suffrage; it all depends on the presence of a religious cleavage.In short, to explain the timing of the introduction of women’s suffrage in Western Europe we have to take into account the societal conditions of a given country. However, this does not play down the importance of the agency of women to put the issue of women’s suffrage on the agenda, as highlighted by Lee Ann Banaszak.

Glass cealingA lot has changed since the introduction of women’s suffrage – the legal and actual position of women in the public realm has been much improved. Nevertheless, the discussion about the position of women in the public domain is still a matter of debate, e.g. the “glass ceiling” in academia and business.

The fight for formal political equality was just a start!

Which structural cleavages play a role in these “new” fights for equality?


Trineke Palm MSc is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration. Her research is funded by a NWO Research Talent Grant and deals with the character of the EU’s foreign policy.