Lead: Simon Reid-Henry

The focus of the Democracy theme is on three programmes of work running throughout the year. The aim is to encourage cross-disciplinary engagement within and across each of these three categories, with a view to developing future work on democracy across the Faculty. Events will shine a spotlight on both the tensions and possibilities of democratic politics in historical, comparative and theoretical perspective.

The three Democracy sub-themes are:

Actors and Institutions: this theme will address recent institutional changes within liberal democratic polities. This includes attention to the institutions of capitalist democracy, such as the media, finance and debt, and to the gendered and classed nature of democratic politics. It also includes a focus on the emergence of new parties of movement.

Scales of Democracy: this theme explores how democracy is imagined and articulated by different actors across different political scales, be this regional variations in democratic procedure, grassroots mobilisations, the articulation of political obligation at the supra-national scale, or the challenges of “direct democracy”. Planned events here include: Practicing Democracy in the Neighbourhood (in conjunction with the City Centre).

Democracy’s Values: this theme addresses different ways in which democracy is imagined and acted upon, be this comparative examinations of forms of political rule, investigation into specific democratic techniques, such as “militant democracy”, the role of myth in the functioning of democratic knowledge or counter-democratic arts of the political such as “security” and the primacy accorded notions of “free speech”. Here we will also be considering the impact on older democratic norms of new platforms such as digitalisation, and issues of socio-economic structure and inclusion. Planned events include: The politics of collective obligations.

Forthcoming Events

Reclaiming Democracy: Popular Sovereignty and Participation in the 21st Century (Friday June 28th, 5pm)  
Venue: School of Geography (Room 126), Queen Mary University of London
(Mile End) https://www.qmul.ac.uk/about/howtofindus/mileend/ 

For further info (no booking required): s.halvorsen@qmul.ac.uk 

A public seminar with Professor Gianpaolo Baiocchi (New York University) and Professor Jenny Pearce (LSE), to explore strategies for reclaiming democracy in and beyond Latin America in the 21st Century. 

Supported by: School of Geography, School of Politics and International Relations and the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Sponsored by: Queen Mary Latin American Network (QMLAN) and Latin American Geographies in the UK (LAG-UK).


Gianpaolo Baiocchi is a sociologist and an ethnographer interested in questions of politics and culture, critical social theory, and cities. He is professor of individualized studies and sociology at NYU. He has written about and continues to research instances of actually existing civic life and participatory democracy. His most recent work is We, the Sovereign (2018, Polity). Prior to this he published: Popular Democracy: The Paradox of Participation (Stanford University Press, 2016), which he co-authored with Ernesto Ganuza; The Civic Imagination: Making a Difference in American Political Life (co-authored with Elizabeth Bennett, Alissa Cordner, Stephanie Savell, and Peter Klein; Paradigm Publishers, 2014 )that examines the contours and limits of the democratic conversation in the US today. He is also the author, along with Patrick Heller and Marcelo K. Silva, of Bootstrapping Democracy: Experiments in Urban Governance in Brazil (Stanford University Press, 2011) and Militants and Citizens: Local Democracy on a Global Stage in Porto Alegre (Stanford University Press, 2005). He is the editor of Radicals in Power: Experiments in Urban Democracy in Brazil (Zed Press, 2003). An engaged scholar, Baiocchi was one of the founders of the Participatory Budgeting Project and continues to work with groups improving urban democracy. He heads Gallatin’s Urban Democracy Lab, which launched in 2014 and which provides a space for scholars and practitioners to collaborate and exchange ideas for cultivating just, sustainable, and creative urban futures. 

Jenny Pearce is Visiting Research Professor at the  Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the London School of Economics. From 1992 to 2016 she was Professor of Latin American Politics and (from 2004-2014) Director of the International Centre for Participation Studies (ICPS) in the Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford. She is a specialist in issues of violence, conflict, social change and social agency in Latin America and has published widely on these themes. She is particularly interested in participatory research methods in contexts of violence and insecurity. More recently she has also worked on problems of participation and conflict in the north of England, following the Bradford riots of 2001. She continues to work on knowledge exchange and building a Community University in the north of England as Visiting Professor at Edgehill University’s Institute for Public Policy and Professional Practice. She is currently working on a book on Politics and Violence. 


What is left and what is right in populism? Rethinking populism and popular sovereignty in historical perspective (Wednesday 5 June, 2019)
Organised by: Simon Reid-Henry (Geography) and Eva Nanopoulos (Law)
What is left and what is right in populism [PDF 44KB]

We live in a ‘post-democratic’ moment (Crouch, 2000; Mouffe, 2018). Over the course of several decades, parties on the left and the right alike have flocked to the political centre ground in liberal democracies, adopting a similarly neoliberal approach to “government at a distance” (Krippner, 2012) and overseeing a “shrinking” of the (social) state. At the same time there has been a hollowing out of legislative authority with power having gradually shifted to the executive and the judiciary in what is sometimes characterised as a ‘zombie’ parliamentary system. The result is the kind of saga that Brexit has become in the UK and an impetus to more popular democratic movements, as people seek to more actively express their political voice and agency.

A growing number of academic and journalistic accounts claim to explain this populist moment (Mudde, 2004; Müller, 2016). Yet the focus has been overwhelmingly on the emergence of the populist right (Betz, 1995; Rooduijn, 2015) with relatively little work of substance on populisms of the left specifically. Worse still, particularly in Europe, right and left populism are often conflated, re-configured and lumped together into a form of illiberal anti-democratic politics (Werner, 2015) threatening the pluralist basis of liberal representative democracies.

In this roundtable event we seek to hear from scholars working across a range of disciplines about the relationship between populist and progressive politics as this bears upon the current political climate. Is left populism a ‘myth’? If not, what distinguishes it from right wing populism? Can a progressive vision of the ‘people’ exist (Žižek, 2018) without populism? What do contemporary struggles over popular sovereignty say about core categories of left politics, labour, class, social democracy and democratic socialism?

Speakers: Philippe Marlière (UCL), Stijn van Kessel (QMUL), Emmy Eklundh (Kings), Lorna Finlayson (Essex)


Agenda initiatives in comparative context: Enhancing channels for democratic participation  

Organised by: Mario Mendez (Law)

This workshop will explore the theory and practice of agenda initiatives. These are relatively novel and understudied instruments of direct democracy that allow citizens to request legislative action following a signature gathering exercise. Their origins are usually attributed to Austria, which first made constitutional provision for them in 1920. They now exist in mostly European states, a range of Latin American countries, and some African and Asian states. The first transnational instrument of this kind was provided for by the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Citizens’ Initiative, with a view to creating enhanced channels for direct citizen participation on EU matters. This EU level instrument has now been in operation for six and a half years generating more than 10 million signatures from over fifty registered initiatives. Its institutional design and the practice thereunder will be a central focus of this workshop particularly in light of proposed reforms to the ECI. The workshop will ultimate explore the contribution that appropriately designed agenda initiatives can make for enhanced channels of democratic participation and increased policy responsiveness.
Speakers TBC.

The Changing Role of Citizens in Reforming EU Democracy (15 May 2019)
Organised by: Davor Jancic (QMUL, Law)
Programme - The Changing Role of Citizens in Reforming EU Democracy [PDF 180KB]

The workshop addresses the rising challenges of reforming EU democracy and increasing citizen involvement in EU governance. These challenges have become particularly tangible with the exacerbation of existential crises in the EU, which require swift executive action, often at the expense of genuine democratic deliberation and citizen input. The aim of this workshop is to analyse and reflect on the evolving institutional position of citizens in EU governance. The interdisciplinary pool of speakers will approach citizens not as passive recipients of rights, but as active participants in the shaping of EU decisions and policies. Aiming to assess the galvanisation of citizen participation “in the democratic life of the Union” (Art 10(3) TEU), this workshop concentrates on the nature, benefits and shortcomings of the different instruments of direct and participatory democracy at both EU and national levels. The workshop thus explores the emerging transnationalisation of citizens in EU public law.    


Movement Parties and the Renewal of Representative Democracy (9 April 2019)
Organised by: Lasse Thomassen (SPIR) and Marina Prentoulis (UEA).

After the financial crisis and the square movements of 2011 and beyond, we have seen that parties engage with movements in novel ways, ways that in many instances transform the organisational structures of some parties. These movement parties come in different forms and shapes, but examples include Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, M5Stelle in Italy, and Momentum/Labour in the UK. As a bridge between movements and parties, and between civil society and state institutions, movement parties pose important questions about our contemporary democracy and its renewal. This one-day international workshop explores these questions.
Speakers TBC.

Political Parties and Democracy in the City (29 March, 2019)
Organised by: Sam Halvorsen (Geography) in conjunction with the City Centre.

E.E. Schattschneider famously claimed that modern democracy would be “unthinkable” without political parties and there is broad consensus that parties are crucial for creating and consolidating democracy. Yet studies have overwhelming taken the nation-state as their unit of analysis, examining parties’ functions and procedures in allowing the people to be represented and participate in national government. Although there has been a growing interest in sub-national and supra-national party systems, the urban remains a marginal concept in party scholarship. This is out of sync with growing evidence that the city has become central to practices of democracy, from urban citizenship to urban social movements. In this context this one-day conference asks: how are political parties creating practices and institutions of democracy in the city?

In order to explore this question, the conference is seeking contributions from scholars from a range of discipline in order to grapple with political parties’ democratic functions at the scale of the city.

Suggested themes for discussion include but are not constrained to:

  • Party systems at the urban scale
  • Political parties and urban policy
  • The organisation of parties at an urban and intra-urban level
  • Participatory urban governance and political parties
  • Scale, representation and the city
  • Populism(s) in the city

Speakers and discussants include Prof. Jane Wills (University of Exeter), Dr. Nick Clarke (University of Southampton), Prof. Tim Bale (QMUL), Dr. Javier Sajuria (QMUL)

Fascism and Democracy (12 March 2019)
Organised by: Rick Saull (SPIR) 

What is the relationship between fascism and democracy? Fascism can be seen as an ideology, political movement and state form which emerges in context of a crisis within democratic forms of representation.  Fascism claims to represent the ‘will of the people’ and challenges existing political elites. Fascism flourishes in contexts where existing forms of political representation appear to have failed and competes with other political parties for mass su pport. Successful fascisms were based on a wide social appeal drawing support from across the class divide. However, fascism is also committed to the destruction of the workings of democratic government alongside a murderous assault on its democratic opponents and fascism resulted in the construction of ‘states of terror’. In this discussion on the relationship between fascism and democracy we are joined by three distinguished scholars to address the difficult and disturbing relationship between fascism and democracy and what the significance of this relationship might be for examining the challenges to, and the crises within, contemporary forms of representative democracy.

Roger Griffin is Professor is Emeritus Professor in Modern History at Oxford Brookes University. He is one of the world’s leading experts on the socio-historical and ideological dynamics of fascism and is the author of numerous articles and books on fascism, including The Nature of Fascism (Routledge, 1993), Modernism and fascism: the sense of a beginning under Mussolini and Hitler (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) and Fascism: An Introduction to Comparative Fascist Studies (Polity Press, 2018).

Daphne Halikiopoulou is Associate Professor in Comparative Politics at the University of Reading. She has written extensively on radical nationalism, the politics of exclusion as well as the cultural and economic determinants of support for far right parties. She is author of Patterns of Secularization: Church, State and Nation in Greece and the Republic of Ireland (Ashgate 2011) and  co-author of The Golden Dawn's Nationalist Solution: Explaining the Rise of the Far Right in Greece (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015 – with Sofia Vasilopoulou).

Alberto Toscano is Reader in Critical Theory and Co-Director of the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Theory at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea (2010), and the co-editor of The Italian Difference: Between Nihilism and Biopolitics (Re:press, 2009 – with Lorenzo Chiesa). He is also a member of the editorial board of the journal, Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory.

Rick Saull is Senior Lecturer in International Politics at Queen Mary, University of London. In recent years he has published widely on the history and politics of the far-right and is co-editor of The Longue Durée of the Far-Right: An International Historical Sociology (Routledge, 2015 – with Alexander Anievas, Neil Davidson and Adam Fabry).

The Role of Free Speech within Democracy (15 February 2019)

What is the status of free speech in contemporary democratic institutions? What kind of speech is and should be protected? And who is tasked with ensuring its protection? This seminar gathers scholars from law, geography, philosophy, and politics to consider the origins of free speech in democratic institutions and to discuss and debate its effectiveness in ensuring democratic legitimacy.
Free Speech and Democracy Programme 2019-012 [PDF 80KB] Register here

Speakers and discussants include Prof. Jacob Rowbottom (University of Oxford), Dr Manjeet Ramgotra (SOAS), Dr. Simon Reid-Henry (QMUL), Dr. Robert Simpson (UCL), Prof. Alison Scott-Bauman (SOAS), Prof. Eric Heinze (QMUL)