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.

Brazil between the first and sec­ond rounds of gen­er­al elections

Ricar­do Pagliu­so Regatieri18. Octo­ber 20228 min read

On Octo­ber 2, Brazil­ians went to the bal­lots to vote for pres­i­dent, state gov­er­nors, sen­a­tors, as well as fed­er­al and state rep­re­sen­ta­tives. In the pres­i­den­tial race, the cen­ter-left-wing for­mer president…

The Future Mel­oni Gov­ern­ment and the Long Drift of Ital­ian Democracy

Adri­ano Coz­zoli­no11. Octo­ber 202211 min read

“Rome wasn’t build in a day” – and nei­ther is a rad­i­cal right-wing gov­ern­ment like the one now form­ing in Italy fol­low­ing the elec­tions held in Sep­tem­ber 2022. The result…

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…

Intro­duc­ing Pod­cast Series: Democ­ra­cy in Question

S08E04: Olek­san­dra Matvi­ichuk on Human Rights and Ukraine 

29. Feb­ru­ary 202447:01

This episode explores human rights in rela­tion to Russia’s full-scale aggres­sion on Ukraine. How do account­abil­i­ty gaps play a role in restora­tive jus­tice? And what are effec­tive approach­es for documenting…

S08E03: Dilip Gaonkar on the “Degen­er­a­tions of Democracy” 

15. Feb­ru­ary 202447:16

This episode explores con­tem­po­rary fears about the decline of democ­ra­cy. Is the cur­rent down­ward spi­ral actu­al­ly part of a rhyth­mic oscil­la­tion of democ­ra­cy? And giv­en its cen­tral­i­ty to mod­ern political…

S08E02: Yanis Varo­ufakis on “Tech­nofeu­dal­ism”

31. Jan­u­ary 202447:06

This episode explores the con­cept of tech­nofeu­dal­ism and the role of dig­i­tal plat­forms in gov­ern­ing the lives of indi­vid­u­als. How has the cloud cre­at­ed a feed­back loop that removes agency…

S08E01: Nan­cy Fras­er on “Can­ni­bal Capitalism” 

17. Jan­u­ary 202458:47

This episode explores the pit­falls of under­stand­ing cap­i­tal­ism as a mere­ly eco­nom­ic sys­tem. How does this nar­row con­ven­tion­al view obscure dis­tinct sources of non-eco­nom­ic wealth? And what is revealed by…

YIS­ARES 2024: Demo­graph­ic Imag­i­nar­ies: Soft Author­i­tar­i­an­ism, Majori­tar­i­an Iden­ti­ty Pol­i­tics and Demo­graph­ic Anxieties.


15. July 202420. July 2024

Loca­tion: Budapest, Hun­gary (CEU Campus)

Inter­na­tion­al sum­mer school con­vened joint­ly by the Research Group Soft Author­i­tar­i­anisms, Uni­ver­si­ty of Bre­men, Worlds of Con­tra­dic­tion, the Research Train­ing Group Con­tra­dic­tion Stud­ies and the Cen­tral Europan Uni­ver­si­ty’s Open Soci­ety Uni­ver­si­ty Net­work (OSUN)

Con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ments and far-right move­ments across dif­fer­ent coun­try con­texts share a set of strik­ing­ly sim­i­lar strate­gies that can be summed up as ‘demo­graph­ic imag­i­nar­ies.’ They facil­i­tate a back­lash against pro­gres­sive repro­duc­tive and women’s rights, same-sex mar­riage, and LGBT+ com­mu­ni­ties, the use of coer­cive poli­cies and rhetoric against reli­gious, eth­nic, and oth­er minori­ties, or anti-immi­­gra­­tion poli­cies. Demo­graph­ic anx­i­eties are nur­tured by con­spir­a­cy myths such as the nar­ra­tive of the “great replace­ment,” just as much as by oth­er forms of majori­tar­i­an iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics which imag­ine the major­i­ty (be it: white, Chris­t­ian and het­ero­sex­u­al, Hin­du Nation­al, Turk­ish Sun­ni Mus­lim, or Euro­pean etc.) as threat­ened by polit­i­cal, eth­nic, reli­gious, sex­u­al and oth­er minori­ties and their strug­gles for equal rights.
These demo­graph­ic imag­i­nar­ies are at the core of soft author­i­tar­i­an attempts to recon­sti­tute the body politic, trans­form­ing the pop­u­la­tion along eth­nic and social lines to uphold the elec­toral major­i­ty. A wide range of tac­tics from ger­ry­man­der­ing to neo-Malthu­sian devel­op­ment poli­cies and pop­u­la­tion con­trol, anti-abor­­tion leg­is­la­tion, anti- and pro-natal­ist dis­cours­es and poli­cies, are used to secure pow­er. By the inher­ent­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry con­cept of soft author­i­tar­i­an­ism, we mean to empha­size the spe­cif­ic ways in which democ­ra­cies are cur­rent­ly being under­mined from with­in. It describes a spe­cif­ic form of gov­ern­ment that delib­er­ate­ly blurs the lines between demo­c­ra­t­ic and author­i­tar­i­an rule.
This Sum­mer School will address the cen­tral role of these demo­graph­ic imag­i­nar­ies in facil­i­tat­ing soft author­i­tar­i­an pol­i­tics in dif­fer­ent parts of the world. It aims to approach this top­ic from an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and glob­al­ly com­par­a­tive per­spec­tive. Look­ing into the spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal, juridi­cal, cul­tur­al, tech­no­log­i­cal, and dis­cur­sive prac­tices in the dif­fer­ent coun­try con­texts, will prob­lema­tize how these nar­ra­tives and poli­cies remain entan­gled with long­stand­ing nation­al­ist, racist, and sex­ist notions and colo­nial fan­tasies. It will exam­ine how they are reframed today and the tech­no­log­i­cal infra­struc­tures and data-polit­i­­cal pre­sump­tions they involve. The Sum­mer School there­fore has the over­all goal of grasp­ing the extent of these pol­i­tics, their con­tra­dic­tions and effects, and the dan­gers that they entail for demo­c­ra­t­ic and peace­ful liv­ing together.