Deutsche Vereinigung für Politikwissenschaft
Frist: 18.02.2020

CfP – Configurations of Democracy. ECPR General Conference 2020, Innsbruck

ECPR General Conference – University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria 26 – 28 August 2020

Section: S 15 “Configurations of Democracy”

Section Chairs: Norma Osterberg-Kaufmann (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin) and Christoph Mohamad-Klotzbach (Julius Maximilians University Würzburg)


The starting point of thoughts on configurations of democracy lies in the Meaning of Democracy research. This research is based on the thesis that the actually prevailing meanings of democracy go beyond the previously operationalized understanding of democracy. The meanings of democracy are distinguished from understanding of democracy by the fact that understanding of democracy individually mean different representations of a still identical object and continue to enable uniform measurement, while meanings allow for conceptual ambiguity. One of the most important tasks of comparative democracy research will be to systematically record these meanings empirically and bring them together to form a common, globally oriented and trans-culturally based democracy concept. The Western conceptual history of democracy has already undergone several comprehensive transformations of meaning. Probably the most serious transformation has been from small-scale, direct- democratic models to large-scale, representative democracy models (Dahl 1989, Keane 2009). As the next major shift in meaning, the literature discusses the expansion of the discourse on the meaning of democracy beyond the Western context of discourse, which is expected to lead to a confrontation of globally different ideas of democracy (multiple meanings) (Little 2018).

Due to these developments, comparative democracy researchers have in recent years increasingly criticized the universalist concept of democracy, standardized survey research as a methodology, and a Eurocentric perspective. They refer to Eurocentrism-critical developments in political theory and Dallmayr's (1997) demand to enrich their canon with non-Western perspectives and to pursue comparative political theory (Ackerly/Bajpai 2017, Little 2018). I.e. an extreme relativistic position, that considers any empirically detectable meaning of democracy to be per se equivalent and incommensurable - because culturally different - with the traditional concepts of democracy, makes a scientific, contemporary and comparative study of democracy in the 21st century impossible.

An alternative approach is proposed, taking into account these strands of discussion. Through the 'metatheoretical' perspective of perceiving democracy as a configuration of attributes, a rigid universalist view can be overcome without exposing oneself to the problem of conceptual stretching (Sartori 1991) by completely opening up the concept. The basic question of this approach is: Which attributes are associated with democracy (subjectively and objectively) and how can they be systematically compared and brought into dialogue?

The overall objective of the Section on “Configurations of Democracy” (ConfDem) is to identify possible elements of meanings of democracy and the configurations resulting from them. This enables us to explore commonalities and differences in content as well as the distribution and expression of different meanings of democracy and to gain a deeper comparative understanding of democracy as it exists empirically in the minds of citizens and political and academic elites (worldwide). The focus should be on the measurement of meanings of democracy, which must, however, be preceded by a theoretical discussion. The aim is to meet the challenge of a mutual dialogue between theory and empiricism and to create a forum for an open discussion between normative and empirical as well as theoretical and methodological principles.

Panel 1: The Western Imprint of Meanings of Democracy &
Panel 2: The Non-Western Imprint of Meanings of Democracy
The first two panels will discuss possible basic elements of ConfDem. The central question that we will address here is: Which basic democratic-theoretical ideas are elementary for democracy? This question will be dealt with in the first two panels. The procedure is more like an inductive logic, since we regard the existing literature as "empirical" material, which we would suggest analyzing for potential ConfDems without concrete assumptions. In the first panel (The Western Imprint of Meanings of Democracy), we focus on the existing literature of classical and contemporary Western democratic theories, which are the basis of the concepts of democracy in our discipline. These concepts of liberal democracy will be critically reflected and will reveal the central elements of democracy by breaking down existing core principles (freedom, equality, and control). The second panel (The Non-Western Imprint of Meanings of Democracy) expands the search for central elements of democracy. This time, using the perspective of Comparative Political Theory, we take into account non-Western concepts of democracy to gain insights about meanings of democracy and their attributes, e.g. in Asia, Africa, Latin America or the MENA region.

Panel 3: Methods to Measure the Meaning of Democracy
The discussions and potential issues of the first two panels provide us with insights into the challenges of ConfDem's data collection and analysis. Our key question is: How can we measure the meanings of democracy and identify key attributes? Papers proposing an inductive or a deductive approach are addressed in this panel. As with inductive approaches, deductive approaches pose different challenges, which will then be discussed in a problem- oriented manner on the basis of previous considerations and empirical research experience.

Panel 4: Empirical Findings on the Meaning of Democracy
Panel 4 is devoted to the question of whether and, if so, in what structural form the ideas on ConfDem can be found in reality. This means that we want to know how consistent the meaning of democracy is in reality. In this panel, we would like to discuss empirical data from different regions of the world that have been collected through an inductive or deductive methodological approach in order to capture the meaning of democracy on a global scale.

Please submit your paper proposal for S15 “Configurations of Democracy” via the ECPR homepage by 19 February 2020 at the latest.

Panel 2 will be chaired by Sophia Schubert (Sophia.Schubertfu-berlinde) and Alexander Weiß (1weisswebde), please contact them directly to submit your paper in panel 2.