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


Natasha Deasy