An interdisciplinary network of scholars who study transformations of and challenges to democracy in past and present

Democracy is under pressure. Across the world, the lure of authoritarianism spreads. Numerous countries show signs of democratic backsliding and autocratic regimes suppress foreign democracies or internal opposition forces. In established democracies, inequalities along lines of race, gender, and class deepen, digital platforms threaten the public sphere and fair electoral competition, and the administrative state escapes democratic control and constitutional checks. This leaves a growing part of society feeling powerless vis-à-vis their government, and distrustful of the representative institutions, feelings which fuel the rise of demagoguery. When democracy does not live up to its promise, authoritarianism becomes the alternative.

The envisaged IOS-platform Futures of Democracy will therefore look at how democracy and its core liberal values can be defended against populism and authoritarianism, against mass indifference, and against elite domination, as well as how it can best respond to the intensifying challenges of migration and climate change. To take up long-standing and legitimate criticism of representative democracy and to invigorate the general trust in its procedures and their outcomes, it will investigate in what possible ways the institutional landscape can be strengthened. For instance, it considers how citizens can and should be more directly involved in public decision-making by additional participatory practices such as citizens’ assemblies and sortition, and how the trustworthiness of the elite can be enhanced by more strictly defining its profile and by introducing more effective accountability mechanisms. As the title of the platform suggests, however, we should be ready to accept that just as there are different pasts and presents of democracy, it will have different futures: as a function of traditions, contexts, and circumstances and as a permanently evolving repertoire of the many forms and potentials of broad and diverse inclusion.

The Platform Futures of Democracy is an interdisciplinary network of scholars who study the major transformations of and challenges to democracy in past and present. Starting from the assumption that liberal democracy is in crisis today, scholars from different disciplines work together to enhance their understanding of this crisis and the alternatives to liberal democracy that emerge across the globe. As such, we build a scholarly network with expertise in democracy that shares ideas and insights into democratic developments.

To stimulate a dialogue among scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds who all work on the theme of democracy, the platform organizes activities to share ideas, work-in-progress, papers and project applications. Therefore the platform hosts monthly seminars and organizes public lectures, conferences and public events.

The platform Futures of Democracy is part of one of the strategic research themes of Utrecht University: Institutions for Open Societies