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Thesis defence

Reform Success and Failure in the Wake of Scandals

Three Tales of Regulatory Conflict in the Private Military and Security Arena

Add to calendar 2024-05-06 15:00 2024-05-06 17:00 Europe/Rome Reform Success and Failure in the Wake of Scandals ONLINE YYYY-MM-DD


06 May 2024

15:00 - 17:00 CEST



PhD thesis defence by Kyriaki Kourra

It is well-known that scandals and policy fiascos are often politicised. Sometimes, they open windows of opportunity for regulatory reform, inspiring political authorities to convene hearings to assess what went wrong. Atrocities incurred by US-contracted private military and security companies in the Iraq war are cases in point. However, effective and legitimate change depends significantly on who is invited to the table. It also depends on the kind of arguments they can bring to bear on the scandal, employing a conceptually-derived framework comprised of six dimensions of policy advocacy. Empirically, to identify the conditions that facilitate or impede regulatory change, this thesis reconstructs three hearing processes of US congressional committees instigated by three broadly similar ‘scandals’ (or regulatory failures), involving industry transgressions that produced substantively different regulatory reform outcomes. Three key contributions follow. First, this dissertation contends that the potential for regulatory change is strongly associated with the (non-) participation of key actors in democratic processes. Policy change is more likely when actor constellations are wider and the argumentative space is more diverse (including actors excluded from previous ‘quiet’ deliberations). In contrast, in situations where the actor constellation is 'narrower,' privileged actors are more likely to prevail. Second, argumentation is key to the ultimate regulatory choices. Particularly within the unique environment of hearings, the dynamics of power are altered. Although power remains a factor, the structured nature of hearings prevents arguments from being easily dismissed by mere authority. Recognising a situation as scandalous and in need of investigation opens the door to diverse arguments, which can lead to regulatory changes. Finally, the thesis demonstrates that arguments infused with Aristotelian pathos—appealing to emotion—become significantly more persuasive. In one of the three cases examined, the emotional engagement of 'real' actors was decisive. I argue that future work should study regulatory change from an argument-focused approach. This perspective not only challenges traditional power-centric analyses but also highlights the transformative potential of a diverse and open argumentative space in shaping public policy.

Kyriaki Kourra is a PhD candidate in Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute. She also serves as a Research Associate in the Department of Business and Public Administration at the University of Cyprus. In this role, Kyriaki explores the impact of gender on the concept of 'excellence' in business and economics research as part of the TWIN4MERIT project, which is funded by the European Union. Her previous experience includes working in Brussels as a Blue Book trainee with the policy team of the European Commission's Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. Additionally, Kyriaki conducted research during her placement with the Spanish Embassy in Nicosia and contributed to the 'Education for a Culture of Peace' project during her internship with the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research – Home for Cooperation. Her academic journey began with earning a Bachelor of Laws LLB (Hons) from The University of Manchester and a Master of Arts in Political Science from the University of Cyprus, both completed with distinction and supported by scholarships. Kyriaki's background in law and political science has significantly informed her PhD thesis. She investigates the conditions under which regulatory reform is realized following scandals involving transgressions by private military security companies (PMSCs). Her aim is to understand why some scandals lead to significant regulatory changes while others do not.

The Zoom link will be provided following registration.


Prof. Dorothee Bohle (University of Vienna)


Kyriaki Kourra


Prof Mark Thatcher (Luiss)

Prof. Hin-Yan Liu (University of Copenhagen)

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