Yisares 2022: Young international Scholars Autumn Research School 2022
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?
Hayal Akarsu (Utrecht University)
Evren Balta (Özyeğin University)
Darren Byler (Simon Fraser University)
Éric Fassin (Université Paris VIII Vincennes – Saint-Denis)
John Keane (University of Sydney/ WZB Berlin)
Seraphine F. Maerz (Goethe University Frankfurt)
Svitlana Matviyenko (Simon Fraser University)
Shalini Randeria (Central European University)
Ranabir Samaddar (Calcutta Research Group)
Yatun Sastramidjaja (University of Amsterdam)
Kristóf Szombati (Humboldt University Berlin)
Renata Uitz (Central European University)
The Young International Scholars Autumn Research School is organized by the Research Group “Soft Authoritarianisms” at the U Bremen Excellence Chair Prof. Dr. Shalini Randeria, the U Bremen Research Project “Datenpolitiken und Autoritarismus: Digitale Verflechtungen und demokratische (Un-)-Möglichkeiten”, the Research Training Group “Contradiction Studies” and the Collaborative Research Platform “Worlds of Contradiction” (WoC) at the University of Bremen. It is funded by the University of Bremen and WoC.
Due to the unforeseeable development of the COVID-19 and possible travel restrictions in autumn 2022 the research school will be held as an online event. The programme is divided into five modules on three consecutive days: 27-29 October 2022.
Due to the generous funding by the interdisciplinary research platform Worlds of Contradiction (WoC) and the University of Bremen, participation will be free of charge.
Welcome & Introduction
Short break before Module 1
Keynote and Seminar: Flexibility as ‘Soft Authoritarian’ Technique
Soft authoritarian rule is characterized by a cunning way of combining democratic and authoritarian techniques of government. Elections are held, constitutions rewritten, inspection committees and reforms implemented, while power is centralized, media and opposition harassed, and the rule of law undermined. Often, these regimes are therefore regarded as in transition: either as not-yet democratic or in terms of democratic backsliding. But, what does it mean to understand these modes of soft authoritarian government in their own right, as modes of governing which flexibly combine authoritarian, illiberal and democratic legal and administrative practices? John Keane argues that these “new despotisms”, as he calls them, “strive to be flexible”. They have the skill to pragmatically adapt to and learn from crisis. This makes them particularly resilient and durable. Elaborating on different empirical cases, this module aims at taking a closer look at flexibility and adaptability as specific to these forms of government. It provides both an introduction to the key conceptual approaches and addresses the concrete practices of these “learning despotisms”, while also asking what they mean for envisaging change and opposition.
Speaker: John Keane (University of Sydney / WZB Berlin)
Chair: Ulrike Flader (University of Bremen)
Coffee Break and Virtual Networking on the Weser Riverbank