Critiques and Renewals of Democracy

Outline (in brief):

Democracy and attendant invocations of ‘the people’ have now become virtually the only legitimate form of governance across the globe. Yet the idea that actually existing democracies require rehauling has also been repeatedly raised. They have failed to live up to the ideals of the people, they are democratic in name only, the greed for political power has overwhelmed a  commitment to the people’s welfare.

These and similar concerns have lain at the heart of an unprecedented number of social movements and political parties—in the Global South since the end of the 19th century through to the present day, and in the Global North since at least the end of the Cold War—and they share a demand for the reform and indeed the ‘renewal’ of democracy. This module’s aim is to examine the forms, politics and concrete social effects of the movements and parties that rely on these critical premises, and that therefore, in their own self-representation, constitute an ‘outside’ to formal democratic systems.


TM Coordinators:

core activities: Pilot Projects  Winter school 2018 Workshops


previous Workshop: 

Internal Workshop: Extra-politics: Democracy and the Political Outside

Date: 8 – 9 March 2016, at CSSSC (Kolkata)       Programme


Outline (full version):

Our module addresses a core problem in the thematic of political metamorphoses, ICAS:MP’s guiding research area: we will map how and by whom the very boundaries of ‘democracy proper’ are drawn and redrawn.

While a clear separation and opposition between electoral/formal/elite politics and extra- electoral/informal/subaltern politics is often assumed, we contend that it is difficult to validate such a divide empirically, and posit these putative binaries as in fact mutually constituted in specific conflictive political arenas. Through multidisciplinary research embedded in comparison across regions, our module will rethink the often exclusive focus on the political present in current thinking on the crisis of representative democracy by examining the histories of how ‘the people’ and their relation to ‘politics’ and ‘power’ have been elicited and elaborated across time. We will do this by (1) charting the sources of political cynicism, anger, and distrust, and analyzing their effects on democratic politics; (2) undertaking a sustained examination of the distinctive projects and imaginaries of political reform that have emerged in democracies over time, with a specific focus on innovations in agency (i.e. the emergence of new authoritative institutions and actors of political intermediation such as the courts, media, civil society; epistemic communities of transnational expertise), new concepts of scale (i.e. efforts to animate political sovereignty at the level of the urban, the local or the transnational), and changing concepts and practices of people-making and citizenship; (3) examining changing modes and aesthetics of the circulation of political thought and practice through a focus on media understood in the conventional sense as well as public performance, and thus (4) ultimately contributing to the development of a non-binary political theory of democracy.

India, the country where one-third of the globe’s democratic citizens presently reside, and which has a rich tradition of intellectual inquiry and empirical experimentations with various ‘vernacular’ innovations of democratic form and practice, provides an ideal venue for our investigation.

Module Committee (in alphabetical order)