Democracy and Scandal: A Research Agenda

Publication Date: 
June 2013
Comparative Sociology, Volume 12, Issue 6: 851–862.

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In a recent edition of this journal, Scott Brenton (2012) announced a refreshing perspective on the relationship between political scandal and liberal democratic institutions: though scandals are often thought anathema to democratic politics, a cause of public distraction or a sign of institutional degradation, their effect may actually be to reinforce and rejuvenate the polity. We consolidate and then challenge this perspective. We begin by reconstructing Brenton’s observations on scandal as a process model which we term the “scandal reform cycle”. We then suggest a raft of challenges to the model to reveal the complexity of scandals and their uncertain institutional effects. Our larger ambition is to articulate the relationship between scandal and democracy not as a simple question but rather as an ambitious and timely research agenda.