Resilient Institutions (Graduate Research Group)

Funded by Gutenberg Nachwuchskolleg (GNK) 2021-2024
Speaker: Claudia Landwehr
Participating researchers: Kai Arzheimer, Philipp Harms (co-speaker), Sascha Huber, Gunnar Otte


Processes of polarization and the rise of populism seem to undermine foundations of liberal and democratic institutions, giving rise to concerns about the state and future of democracy itself. We assume that the liberal democratic order ultimately rests upon a procedural consensus on the legitimacy and efficacy of its institutions, which grants these institutions resilience in times of trouble. Societal transformation processes such as globalization, digitalization and pluralization cause challenges to this consensus and seem to make institutional adaptation and reform necessary. Against this background, the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic with its consequences constitutes a major shock, triggering a crisis in which institutions need to prove their stability and resilience in a situation where cracks and fissures in the procedural consensus have already become apparent.

The graduate group seeks to assess the resilience of liberal and democratic institutions in the face of these challenges. By resilience, we mean the capacity to maintain normal functioning through characteristics such as stability, but also flexibility and adaptability. Our definition of institutions includes all sets of formal and informal rules, norms and procedures that facilitate interaction and intersubjectively binding contracts and decisions. Our particular focus, however, is on the more formal institutions of liberalism and democracy, including, but not limited to, the principles of the rule of law, universal human rights and the exercise of individual and collective autonomy through democratic procedures.

The Resilient Institutions group will assess factors that compromise or enhance institutional resilience both with regard to longer-term structural transformations of societies and in light of the Covid-19 shock. Supervisors and graduate students have backgrounds in different disciplines that each study institutions from a distinct angle: economics, political science and sociology. From this broad interdisciplinary perspective, the PhD-projects explore how societal transformation processes and the acute crisis create challenges for liberal representative democracy. Collaboratively, the group will seek to map the scope and content of the procedural consensus on liberal democratic institutions in order to gain an estimate of how firmly these are rooted in mass support and thus how likely they remain to withstand contestation. In their individual projects, graduate students address questions regarding the importance of diffuse support for democracy, the effects of institutional design on democratic legitimacy, changes in processes of opinion and will formation, shifting loyalties and emerging new cleavages.

The research group offers graduate students close supervision by a team of mentors, an inspiring research environment with opportunities to participate in regular seminars and events and to acquire additional skills and qualifications, and the advantage of being part of an interdisciplinary team that pursues a joint research Agenda.

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Concluding Workshop, 14.02.2024