ESRC Seminar Series: Exploring Civil Society Strategies for Democratic Renewal

  • Pena, Alejandro Milciades (Co-investigator)
  • Flinders, Matthew (Principal investigator)
  • Davies, Thomas (Co-investigator)
  • Ryan, Holly (Co-investigator)
  • Bilgiç , Ali (Co-investigator)

Project: Other projectResearch collaboration

Project Details


ESRC Strategic Seminar Series Award for £30,000 to organise six international seminars involving academic and practitioners.

Layman's description

Despite the profusion of new opportunities for exercising the 'voice of the demos' in recent decades, democracy is today faced with an array of challenges. These range from declining electoral participation and the rise of populism in Western Europe (Flinders 2015) to the reversal of much of the 2011 "Arab Spring" (Davies 2014). Keane (2009), amongst others, suggests that democracy needs to be rethought and reinvigorated, and identifies civil society as the key agent of change. However, the precise mechanisms through which such change may come about remain underspecified. Our seminar series will explore a range of contentious claim-making strategies used by civil society, examining their attendant prospects for enhancing and restoring democratic vitality across varied political 'spaces'. The key objectives of the seminar series are therefore as follows:

- To direct a critical scholarly lens on the current 'crisis of democracy' experienced the world over, and develop a more sophisticated framework for understanding both its origins and its implications for political systems and polities.

- To examine how contemporary civil society, social movement and protest actors understand and contribute to democratic politics across a range of new transnational, national, local and virtual spaces. In so doing, one aim is to widen static conceptions of democracy by unpacking its meaning in different arenas and for the different actors that operate within them.

- To identify a variety of popular tactics or strategies used to express and articulate claims on government and illuminate the conditions for their success or failure. In particular, we seek to identify circumstances under which specific strategies of contentious claim-making produce a lasting change, rather than merely increasing 'noise'. Our seminars will provide opportunities to think about new or 'newly transformed' contentious strategies including art-activism, use of digital media, economic strategies, as well as collaborative versus confrontational engagement with governments.

- To bring together insights from multiple academic disciplines, including: aesthetics, anthropology, history, law, non-violent action, political science, strategic studies and sociology to address the problems and promises of these strategies.

- To use each seminar as an opportunity to facilitate an ongoing productive dialogue between academics working across these multiple disciplines and national contexts, practitioners from civil society and governmental actors. The seminar series will offer opportunities for knowledge co-production and foster lasting networks among these different groups. It will engage the wider public through art interventions, open discussion, traditional and social media, and online resources.

- As such, the series would result in policy-relevant academic journal articles and special issues, as well as web resources, including blogs, discussion forums and executive summaries that will inform both academic and public debate.
Effective start/end date15/10/1514/10/17