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Research program

Variants of Democracy – Alternatives to Democracy

Research program of the department “Comparative Research on Democracies” of the ‘Forum Internationale Wissenschaft’, University of Bonn


For a republican or democratic polity the communicative autonomy of political evolution is constitutive. Other than in a ‘theocracy’ or ‘technocracy’ the ‘Political’ is not determined by external points of view. Instead a ‘republic’ or ‘democracy’ is a collectivity which governs itself, according to imperatives set by itself. The ‘self’ mentioned here is the ‘demos’ and this concept of ‘demos’ includes everybody, that is every person who participates in inclusion roles which can take many different forms in the self-determination of the ‘Political’. In modern society everybody has a non-negotiable claim to these forms of participation.

This way of looking at democracy via the concept of inclusion and the universality and diversity of inclusion roles opens up a plurality of comparative perspectives: Variants of inclusion into diverse political systems which may be democratic or even non-democratic political systems; forms of the institutionalization of inclusion roles in the other function systems of society (e.g. the economy, religion, science) the observation of which sharpens our understanding of the specificity of the political. The method of approach of the department “Comparative Research on Democracies” is in principle descriptive and comparative. It makes use of and combines four different analytical approaches to the problem of democracy.

  1. The historical semantics of republican and democratic thinking which has to be understood in our context as a semantics somehow unsettled and turbulent, as a pool of concepts, norms and institutional solutions which in World Society is a pool being known and being accessible in a worldwide way. To this pool entries may be added from all world regions and it is to be expected that many such additions, redefinitions and hybridizations will arise in the next decades. Even the resumption of old concepts such as “humane authority” (Confucianism) and “deliberation” (Roman Law) is a very interesting circumstance. To study democracies means from this first analytical perspective to reconstruct a sociocultural evolution associated with this pool of semantic-institutional variants, to study an evolutionary process which accesses this pool selectively and restructures it incessantly.

  2. The sociological theory of functional differentiation and especially the sociological theory of inclusion which describes processes of inclusion to be observed in all the function systems of society confers on us the possibility to compare processes of democratization with processes of structure formation and structural change in other function systems. The professionalization of the achievement roles of function systems and the formation of a professionalized knowledge elite are to be observed in other function systems (law, medicine, education). In the political system there exists an interesting contrast and conflict of these processes of professionalization with legitimations conferred via political elections. European countries such as France and Italy after World War II have factually been controlled by nonelected elite officials and even in the present-day crisis of democratic governance in Europe we observe once more that there is conferred on experts the claim that they are strongly orientated towards the common weal. Sometimes they are even called ‘sages’ again.

  3. The department “Comparative Research on Democracies” agrees with the hypothesis that for the formulation of future models of political governance a key role will accrue to countries such as China, Brazil, Russia, Nigeria and India. Once more what will be important for us is the comparative perspective which asks which models and variants of political inclusion will be decisive for the political development of the respective country and how the evolution of these models will be controlled by the communicative ecology of politics as a world system and additionally by regional semantic and socio-structural factors. Most of these relevant and perhaps even paradigmatic countries are countries with a large area and significant ethnic diversity. What does this mean for the future of democratic governance in these countries?

  4. The department “Comparative Research on Democracies” will finally in a fourth analytical perspective look for contextual factors of the ‘Political’ which are interdependent with forms of governance and may have significant influence on it. Ideas about individuality and the self-reliance of ways of life; communication cultures and styles of communication; clientelism and self-descriptions of what is thought to be corruption in a respective political system; the forms of living together in large agglomerations or comparatively small communes are only some of the many variables which have to be looked at. In all these respects we have to do with forms of the embeddedness of the political into socio-structural conditions which in themselves are not political but which may have a significant influence on developmental paths of political systems. In contrast to the second perspective which has its focus in comparing the political system with structure formations in other function systems of society, this fourth analytical perspective concentrates on interactions and structural effects which are due to structural couplings between political systems and other function systems and other institutions in society.


                                                                                                                    May 21, 2013

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