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Leïla Gfeller and Tobias van Brandwijk win Political Science bachelor’s thesis prizes for 2021

2021, again, sees a rich harvest of bachelor theses in Political Science. Students have been tackling fascinating subjects—ranging from European solidarity in the COVID-19 crisis to the representation of women in democratically elected parliaments—and crowning their research projects with interesting, often socially relevant treatises. In total, seventeen theses were nominated. During the various graduation ceremonies the two final winners were announced: Leïla Gfeller and Tobias van Brandwijk.

International Relations and Organisations thesis prize

The Leiden and The Hague bachelor programmes in Political Science each have a thesis prize. The prize for the best thesis in the relatively new specialisation International Relations and Organisations (IRO) which does not have a name yet, has been awarded for the first time in 2020. This year, the jury consisted of Juan Masullo and Babak RezaeeDaryakenari. They faced the difficult task of selecting the final winner from a shortlist of ten theses, nominated by the instructors of the so-called IRO bachelor projects.

The jury evaluated these theses based on the excellence of the research question, social relevance, theoretical framework, empirical analysis, and policy implications. Both members were impressed by the ‘novelty and scientific rigor’ demonstrated by the nominated authors. However, for the sake of choosing the best thesis, they needed to choose the one that stands out among all of the great projects nominated. After careful discussion of the nominations, the jury reached a clear consensus on the best IRO thesis of 2020-2021.

‘Theoretical innovation, scientific rigor, and relevance to societal issues’

The 2021 award goes to Leïla Gfeller for her work on Political Gender Equality and State Violence in Africa: The Impact of Sex Quotas on the Occurrence of Intrastate Conflict Events (supervised by Leila Demarest). The jury motivated this decision by pointing out the ‘theoretical innovation, scientific rigor, clear writing, nuanced conclusions, and relevance to societal issues’ of this thesis.

Thesis prize 2021 BSc Political Science: IRO
Proud author Leïla Gfeller and her supervisor Leila Demarest. Photo: Barbra Verbij

Gender equality and intrastate conflicts in Africa

Leïla Gfeller investigated how political gender equality influences the occurrence of intrastate conflict events in Africa. This research question underlines the role of gender in security and conflict studies. Her project first developed a theoretical framework to understand how sex quotas affect intra-state conflict via examining the role of women in parliament and cabinet. The empirical section of the project carefully evaluated the developed theoretical arguments by conducting mediation analysis. The empirical analysis also is supported by a follow-up qualitative study on the Rwandan case. ‘These findings have implications for governance choices in many countries, with a special focus on the global south’, according to the jury.

Van den Berg Prize (Politicologie and Internationale Politiek)

Students in the bachelor programme Politicologie and the specialisation Internationale Politiek are, if nominated by their thesis supervisors, eligible for the Van den Berg Prize.

The jury for this edition (the first Van den Berg Prize was awarded in 2010) consisted of Prof. Dr. Joop van den Berg, student representative Marit van der Heide and instructors Hilde van Meegdenburg and Marco Verschoor. They had a hard time choosing a winner from the short list of seven theses, because all nominations were of a high quality.

Eventually, most ‘likes’ were given to Van likes naar voorkeurstemmen? Een onderzoek naar de invloed van Twitter, Facebook en Instagram op het aantal behaalde voorkeurstemmen tijdens de Tweede Kamerverkiezingen van 2021 by Tobias van Brandwijk (supervisor: Joop van Holsteijn).

Tobias van Brandwijk receives his prize from Paul Nieuwenburg. Photo: Barbra Verbij

‘Impressive empirical research’

Tobias van Brandwijk investigated the effect of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram on preferential votes. The jury found this theme ‘both topical and socially relevant’. Academically, Van Brandwijk impressed the jury as well. In existing literature, reference is being made usually either to one specific social medium, or to all social media as a whole. Treating social media separately enabled Van Brandwijk to generate new insights. In addition, the jury found his thesis ‘very well written’ and the own empirical research ‘rather impressive’.

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