Soft Author­i­tar­i­an­ism, a con­cept that appears con­tra­dic­to­ry, aims to cap­ture the cur­rent fuzzi­ness of democ­ra­cies slid­ing into author­i­tar­i­an rule the world over. For­mal elec­tions bol­ster the pow­er of strong­men, majori­tar­i­an democ­ra­cies under­mine the rights of minori­ties, the rule of law is hol­lowed out using the con­sti­tu­tion, and dis­cours­es of free­dom of expres­sion are deployed to dis­man­tle fun­da­men­tal human rights.

Our Research Group stud­ies in com­par­a­tive per­spec­tive the flu­id and flex­i­ble polit­i­cal, juridi­cal, social and dis­cur­sive con­fig­u­ra­tions which blur the line between demo­c­ra­t­ic and author­i­tar­i­an prac­tices of rule. It exam­ines how soft author­i­tar­i­anisms of var­i­ous vari­eties are estab­lished and con­test­ed in dif­fer­ent con­texts. How are these new forms of rule legit­imized dis­cur­sive­ly, imple­ment­ed insti­tu­tion­al­ly? How are respon­si­bil­i­ties and account­abil­i­ty watered down, pow­er cen­tral­ized and its trans­fer imped­ed? What forms of mobi­liza­tion and action by cit­i­zens attempt to stem the slow and sys­tem­at­ic ero­sion of lib­er­al demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions? In what ways has the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic exac­er­bat­ed author­i­tar­i­an ten­den­cies and are they here to stay?

Our three con­trastive case stud­ies link­ing ethnog­ra­phy with dis­course analy­sis and doc­u­men­tary research focus on Poland, France and Turkey/​the Turk­ish-Euro­pean diaspora.

Zwis­chen Apathie und Hoffnung

Ulrike Flad­er14. Decem­ber 20218 min read

Zum „san­ften“ Autori­taris­mus in der Türkei. Die strate­gis­che und flex­i­ble Ver­flech­tung von demokratis­chen und nicht-demokratis­chen Prak­tiken ist ein Charak­terzug ‚san­fter‘ For­men autoritär­er Regierung. Ein Ver­ständ­nis von der Pro­duk­tion von Affek­ten wie…

The Weaponiza­tion of Repub­li­can Val­ues in France

Hagen Stein­hauer23. Novem­ber 20218 min read

There is an ongo­ing bat­tle for cul­tur­al hege­mo­ny in France. Far-right ide­olo­gies are being nor­mal­ized, their stig­ma­tiz­ing vocab­u­lary thus not only gains pub­lic accep­tance but also comes to shape the…

Didi­er Fassin: Death of a Trav­eller. A Counter Investigation.

Jens Adam22. Sep­tem­ber 202110 min read

Ein 37-jähriger Mann wird auf dem elter­lichen Hof von der franzö­sis­chen Polizei erschossen, nach­dem er sich nach dem gewährten Freigang nicht ins Gefäng­nis zurück­begeben hat­te. Jens Adam rezen­siert Didi­er Fassins…

On Dai­ly Encoun­ters and Pub­lic Infra­struc­tures: What Keeps Democ­ra­cies Alive?

Jens Adam6. July 20217 min read

Democ­ra­cy in Ques­tion? – Through a Soft Author­i­tar­i­an Lens In this com­ment, Jens Adam reflects on episode S2E5 of the pod­cast series “Democ­ra­cy in Ques­tion?” fea­tur­ing Till van Rah­den. Once…

Intro­duc­ing Pod­cast Series: Democ­ra­cy in Question

S04E09: Cur­rent State of Affairs in Putin’s Russia

27. June 202238:09 min listen

This episode presents a descrip­tion of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Putin’s total­i­tar­i­an Rus­sia and ana­lyzes whether there is hope for change com­ing from with­in the coun­try itself. It is a…

S04E08: Fal­ter­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tems and the need to recon­struct democracy

8. June 202237:45 min listen

Episode Sum­ma­ry Why is democ­ra­cy fal­ter­ing around the world even in coun­tries where it was pre­vi­ous­ly well estab­lished? Why an unelect­ed, non-demo­c­ra­t­ic body like the House of Lords has joined…

S04E07: The French Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion and the State of Democ­ra­cy in France

25. May 202242:47 min listen

In this episode the focus is on the lat­est pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in France and the state of its democ­ra­cy. What were the sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences between this elec­tion and the previous…

S04E06: Per­spec­tives on Putin and Rus­si­a’s Inva­sion of Ukraine

17. May 202233:09 min listen

This episode dis­cuss­es how Vladimir Putin’s world­view was shaped and explores his pos­si­ble motives for invad­ing Ukraine. Also exam­ined is the glob­al response to the inva­sion, which has not been…

Sit­u­at­ing Soft Author­i­tar­i­an­ism Between Geopo­lit­i­cal Com­plex­i­ties and Every­day Prac­tices. Young Inter­na­tion­al Schol­ars Autumn Research School (YIS­ARES) 2022


27. Octo­ber 202229. Octo­ber 2022

Loca­tion: online

The Russ­ian government’s war against Ukraine has exposed mul­ti­ple dimen­sions and geopo­lit­i­cal fault­lines of con­tem­po­rary author­i­tar­i­anisms: The sys­tem­at­ic hijack­ing of state insti­tu­tions and accu­mu­la­tion of wealth through the extrac­tion and cap­i­tal­iza­tion of gas, oil and coal clear­ly stand out as indis­pens­able pre­con­di­tions for Russia’s neo-impe­ri­al­ism and mil­i­tary pow­er. The inva­sion has been accom­pa­nied by the dis­sem­i­na­tion of state-steered lies, dis­in­for­ma­tion and eth­no-nation­al­ist nar­ra­tives. The rem­nants of inde­pen­dent media and the polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion are threat­ened by a sub­or­di­nat­ed judi­cia­ry. And on a glob­al scale the acqui­es­cence of Chi­na and India to Russia’s inva­sion indi­cates bol­stered alliances between author­i­tar­i­an and soft-author­i­­tar­i­an gov­ern­ments. Some pun­dits pre­dict a geopo­lit­i­cal con­fronta­tion between an author­i­tar­i­an block and seem­ing­ly re-con­­sol­i­­dat­ed “West”. The reluc­tance of many post­colo­nial states to sup­port Ukraine fac­ing this attack by its impe­r­i­al neigh­bor con­tributes to cur­rent­ly emerg­ing geopo­lit­i­cal complexities.

These dynam­ics pose new chal­lenges for any crit­i­cal engage­ment with con­tem­po­rary forms of author­i­tar­i­an­ism, which range from ful­ly fledged author­i­tar­i­an regimes to author­i­tar­i­an prac­tices with­in for­mal lib­er­al democ­ra­cies. War, secu­ri­ti­za­tion and anti-ter­ror­ism poli­cies, sup­pres­sion of move­ments against social inequal­i­ties and inhu­mane bor­der regimes have time and again brought about vio­lent polic­ing or author­i­tar­i­an legal and admin­is­tra­tive mea­sures also with­in lib­er­al democ­ra­cies. How­ev­er, in past years, we have wit­nessed an increased dis­man­tling of democ­ra­cy from with­in. In a num­ber of coun­tries, such as Turkey, Poland, Hun­gary or India demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed politi­cians have man­aged to erode demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples, prac­tices and insti­tu­tions. They attack inde­pen­dent media and put immense effort into bring­ing courts under their polit­i­cal con­trol. They med­dle with con­sti­tu­tion­al law to impede pro­ce­dures of account­abil­i­ty and dis­man­tle fun­da­men­tal human and cit­i­zens’ rights and free­doms, to inhib­it effec­tive polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion and a func­tion­ing oppo­si­tion. Often these shifts are accom­pa­nied by dis­cur­sive prac­tices vari­ably dis­cred­it­ing migrants, sex­u­al or reli­gious minori­ties and polit­i­cal oppo­nents. Grad­u­al­ly but sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly the rules of the polit­i­cal game are changed to secure the pow­er of author­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ments and lead­ers, while main­tain­ing a demo­c­ra­t­ic façade.

Dur­ing this autumn school we will take the emerg­ing geopo­lit­i­cal com­plex­i­ties as entry point to explore and sit­u­ate these forms of soft author­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ment anew. We ask whether the cur­rent geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion impedes a fur­ther shift towards polit­i­cal rhetoric and inter­ven­tions hol­low­ing out demo­c­ra­t­ic pro­ce­dures and insti­tu­tions. Or does it per­haps offer new oppor­tu­ni­ties for the tac­it intro­duc­tion of more author­i­tar­i­an leg­is­la­tion, the mobi­liza­tion of hate speech and the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of pub­lic life? What forms of transna­tion­al net­works and rela­tions of author­i­tar­i­anisms can we observe?

In dif­fer­ent the­mat­ic mod­ules we will exam­ine some of the legal, admin­is­tra­tive, dis­cur­sive and dig­i­tal prac­tices with which democ­ra­cy is under­mined in detail. We will look at how illib­er­al dis­cours­es are nor­mal­ized, insti­tu­tions hijacked, laws rewrit­ten, and zones of excep­tion cre­at­ed. We will ask in which way these prac­tices and dis­cours­es real­ly man­age to cov­er up their author­i­tar­i­an inten­tions and deceive their cit­i­zens? And, final­ly, we will explore the forms and scales of vio­lence here­by engendered.

Through­out the whole autumn school, we will also revis­it the dif­fer­ent con­cepts that have been devel­oped to exam­ine the recent con­junc­ture of pop­ulist, anti-lib­er­al and author­i­tar­i­an trends inside nom­i­nal democ­ra­cies. Do we still dis­pose of the right vocab­u­lary to ana­lyt­i­cal­ly dis­sect the con­tem­po­rary moment? Or do we need to adjust our con­cep­tu­al and method­olog­i­cal toolset to make sense of author­i­tar­i­anisms in exac­er­bat­ed geopo­lit­i­cal complexities?