Comparative Democratic Theory



Workshop Dates: October  11-12, 2013

Location: Texas A&M University- Allen Building Room 2115 Campus Map

Lead Organizer: Diego von Vacano (Political Science)

Supported by the Dean’s Strategic Development Fund, College of Liberal Arts

The workshop explores, in comparative perspective, the meanings, prospects, and problems of democracy in intellectual traditions outside Western Europe and the US. The aim is to have inter-cultural cross-fertilization of ideas with respect to theories of democracy.
There will be panels on democracy in relation to representation, race/ethnicity, religion, and power/inequality.

Participants: Will Kymlicka (Queen’s), Nadia Urbinati (Columbia), Joshua Mitchell (Georgetown), Melissa Williams (Toronto), Leonardo Avritzer (Minas Gerais, Brazil), Enrique Peruzzotti (Di Tella, Argentina), Lawrence Hamilton (University of Johannesburg, South Africa), Ajume Wingo (University of Colorado, Boulder), Leigh Jenco (LSE), Sor Hoon Tan (National University of Singapore), Karuna Mantena (Yale), Andrew March (Yale), Nura Hossainzadeh (Berkeley), Peter Rutland (Wesleyan), Anne Norton (University of Pennsylvania), Diego von Vacano (TAMU), David Switzer (TAMU), Zachary Elkins (UT Austin), Gary Jacobsohn (UT Austin), Nicolas Shumway (Rice), Michael Walzer (IAS), Alan Ryan (Princeton), and Joshua Cohen (Stanford).

Overview of Workshop:

Democracy has fared unevenly across the world. Recently, Turkey, Egypt, Brazil, and other nations have had problems related to democracy. We are currently witnessing a possible wave of democratization in the Middle East. At the same time, Latin America is seeking to consolidate its democratic gains of the last fifteen years, while Africa and Asia display a broad spectrum of popular participation in politics. Can democracy work in different global contexts, using their own intellectual foundations? This is the animating question for this workshop funded by the College of Liberal Arts Strategic Development Fund in conjunction with the Political Theory Convocation Program in the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University.

While people in the West often assume that democracy is the best or only political system, the reality is that it is fragile and rare in most of the world. Political theory, which tends to be centered on the Western experience, has contributed to this notion of the supremacy and availability of democracy as a form of governance. As we witness much of the non-Western world struggle to achieve some kind of democratic order, we need to see how non-Western political traditions view this elusive ideal. Understanding non-Western approaches to democracy and democratization is therefore an important intellectual challenge in an age of globalization. Moreover, they may help address problems of democratization in the United States and Europe.

In recent years, political theorists have tried to think outside the Western box. Efforts at understanding political ideas in different cultural and global traditions have led to the notion of “Comparative Political Theory.” This intellectual approach seeks to compare political ideas and processes across national, cultural, and regional borders. This nascent enterprise, we believe, will have much to say about the problems and prospects of democracy and democratization in the world. In order to think critically about our own form of democracy and also about the possibility of engendering democratic principles and institutions in non-Western states, we need to have a broader knowledge of the variety of intellectual traditions that can elucidate these concerns. Given that recent global networks make ideas more transnational in nature, a comparative and global perspective on political ideas is a matter of both intellectual and practical urgency.

Rather than a “clash of civilizations,” we may find that inter-cultural political theory can help produce cross-fertilization of ideas for improved democratic processes in different contexts.