The Search for the Social Contract in an English Region

Research funded by a Regional Studies Association Early Career Grant December 2016 – May 2018


This research examines public and private sector engagement with local government and governance institutions in Leicester and Leicestershire. This is an interesting area for scholars of place leadership as the City has a directly elected mayor, a position which attracted a turnout of 59% at the last election in 2015, far higher than those seen in other areas of England with an elected mayor. The research involves working with local policy-makers (City, County and District Authorities, LEP and Mayors Office) as well as members of the business and voluntary sector and community groups.

This research will establish what sub-national institutions have to be/do/represent in order to establish a social contract with the local population and economy. It will do this by using a case study of the Leicestershire region and analysing data through the lens of Social Contract Theory (principally through the work of Rousseau, Hobbes and Locke).

This research is setting new boundaries as it is one of the first to use Social Contract Theory to analyse regional studies data. This will develop our empirical understanding of how sub-national governance can engage with the local population and business community in these ways to form the networks that drive local economies. The use of Social Contract Theory allows for new theoretical insights which will extend regional studies theories relating to network building, trust and regional leadership. Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau argued that it is only when it is clear to the population that a government or institution can provide them with protection and prosperity that they will submit to their authority. This research will use Social Contract theory to assess what sub-national institutions need to be able to offer to their populations in order to increase engagement.

The research uses a mixed methods approach of around 50 in-depth qualitative interviews with policy-makers, business people and community groups as well as a short quantitative survey. The first set of results will be presented at the 2018 RSA conference in Lugano, Switzerland.


About the researcher

Martin Quinn
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