» Archive for: January, 2016

Democratisation in Indonesia

Democratisation in Indonesia

By Kristian Stokke/ Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo

Recent decades have seen a global spread of democracy and increased attention to decentralisation in discourses, institutional arrangements and practices of governance. At the same time, economic globalization and the global spread of neo-liberalism have pushed public administration towards market and network forms of governance. Taken together, these processes have created new and widened spaces for different actors with very diverse interests, capacities and strategies, but also reduced the public affairs that come under democratic control and limited the substance of popular participation. Most post-transition states have thus not achieved well-functioning democracy but can be more accurately described as flawed democracies.

These problems of weak popular influence on public affairs means that it is necessary to ‘bring politics back in’ – to politicise democracy – both in academic analyses and through political struggles and broad alliances. This means to draw attention to and further the ways in which people participate or are represented in the governance of public affairs, and to enhance the strategies and capacities of various actors to use and transform minimalist democratic institutions in a more substantive direction.

But how will this come about? In a recent anthology on democratization in the global South, Olle Törnquist and I argue that it is possible to make advances on the basis of formal democratic institutions, even in deeply flawed democracies (Stokke & Törnquist, 2013). While acknowledging the importance of structural constraints on democratization, we insist on the centrality of ‘transformative democratic politics’. By this we mean political agendas, strategies and alliances that use formal and minimalist democracy to introduce politics and policies that may enhance people’s chances of both using and improving democracy.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of political and developmental approaches to democracy assistance and how can they be further developed to promote substantive democracy and citizenship?

Carothers (2009) points to a divide between political and developmental approaches to democracy promotion among aid organizations. The two approaches hold distinctly different views on the value and concept of democracy, the understanding of democratization and the means for democracy assistance.

However, recent years have seen a convergence between the two approaches in the sense that both have come to place a strong emphasis on state building as a precondition for democracy. This convergence on state capacity building accentuates these critical questions. While there is general acceptance that functioning state institutions are crucial for democracy, peace and development, the mechanisms whereby initial state building is followed by political liberalization and substantial democratization remain unclear at best. In fact, it may be argued that such institution building in the context of authoritarianism may be more likely to consolidate and legitimize semi-authoritarian forms of rule.

This danger of institutionalizing minimalist and illiberal democracies supports the argument in favor of a gradualist or transformative approach to democracy, whereby pro-democracy forces are empowered to use minimalist political spaces to push for more substantive forms of popular representation and to promote policy making towards people-centered social and economic development. The implication of these critical remarks is that international democracy assistance needs to balance developmental state building with political assistance to pro-democracy forces to ensure substantive democratic transformations in terms of representation, justice and welfare.

I am looking forward to your comments and to discussing the potential of Transformative Democratic Politics of Citizenship during an ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation Research on 1 February 2016.

Will Derks / Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD)


Representative democracy is deteriorating. It seems unable to live up to the expectations we once had and meets increasingly with scepticism from citizens who feel detached and disenfranchised — it is, in short, in a crisis of legitimacy. Something similar, no doubt, could be said about the political party, which today is among the world’s most distrusted institutions, often lacking in vision and ideology and no longer able to aggregate the aspirations of the citizenry in an era of much less conformity than the one in which this institution was once conceived.

There is a whole range of responses to this major development. Political populism is now discernible all over the world, to some extent providing a valid diagnosis though without offering a feasible remedy. Technocratic “solutions” are rife as well — meant to enhance representative democracy’s efficiency but at the same time invigorating its legitimacy problem. Think of so-called “quangos” which implement legislation without being democratically accountable. Some see the answer to representative democracy’s ailment in sortition (rather than, or in combination with, elections): a means to select citizens for public office that was used in classical Athens. Numerous initiatives are also being taken to involve citizens directly in political decision-making, even in connection with constitutional drafting processes.

All this may be bewildering, but what seems certain is that we are on the brink of a new era and that democracy is on its way to becoming more direct, deliberative and participatory. The technology that today is changing the world so profoundly and quickly is coming to democracy’s aid in this respect, as more and more (free and open source) software is becoming available that facilitates what has been dubbed “strong democracy” — a democratic system in which citizens govern themselves to the greatest extent possible.

In the last few years, a growing number of initiatives have been taken across the globe to set up platforms for collective, on-line decision-making. Amongst these are Airesis, Loomio, DemocracyOS, YourPriorities, IserveU, LiquidFeedback and MyMadison. These platforms constitute a fascinating development and a most promising technological break-through. They are all sophisticated and visionary tools for solid participant-driven proposition development and decision-making processes — also for users that are not very tech savvy. Small wonder that they have already acquired a certain international reputation and are now being used to facilitate democratic processes in various countries, in diverse contexts and in a variety of organisations, including political parties. In The Last Vote; The Threats to Western Democracy, his recently published analysis of the trials and tribulations democracy is presently going through, senior journalist Philip Coggan states: “If there is one region of the developed world where democracy seems to be most threatened, it is Europe.” The coming into being of these digital platforms suggest that we need not despair, that help is under way and that there is hope for democracy, even in Europe.

Let’s discuss the future of democracy! Leave your comments on this blog – or join our ISS Dialogue on “Transformative democratic politics of citizenship” on February 1, 2016!

We Are Here Academy, Amsterdam


The We Are Here Academy is an educational initiative offering university-level courses for undocumented individuals, taught by professional lecturers on a voluntary basis. The We Are Here Academy upholds the rights for any person, whether or not in possession of legal status, to pursue an education. It gives voice to people who have been silenced. All the courses taught at the academy are designed to enable students to make their voices heard, and to facilitate their protest.

  1. It’s important to consider how WAH* connects to research. In many cases, students or researchers that do research about WAH just ‘take’ knowledge without giving something back. Therefore we believe it’s important that researchers think about how their study can benefit and/or support WAH. How can the knowledge produced in these studies be useful for WAH? What is it in for them? For example, legal research that examines the possibilities of entrepreneurship for refugees in limbo, so they can generate income in legal way. Or, an analysis of the strategies of other protest groups and social movements that could serve as an example or inspiration for their own movement.
  1. Introduce new practices and vocabularies. Such new practices create space for change by expanding the ‘holes’ in the existing framework and raising awareness. This is also how the WAH Academy was established: refugees in limbo are not allowed to register at universities, but they are allowed to learn. This way, we create possibilities for learning and we create visibility and awareness about the restrictions/shortcoming of the current Dutch policy.
  1. Consider how to establish relationships in research. Making connections and initiating collaborations are very important for We Are Here because researchers can help develop a new imagery and vocabulary around refugees in limbo, and describes the presence of the ones that are being denied in their existence. In our experience we continuously need to redefine and renegotiate the existing frameworks in solidarity with the collective struggles we support. How to have relationships based on equality in a society that excludes, divides and produces inequality? How do you position yourself as a researcher? Here, things to consider are for example; how to collaborate when the law doesn’t allow your companions to work?
  1. Reserving space within universities where social movements can propose research, and can connect with researchers that conduct this research for/with them. Such research can arm them with theoretical tools and knowledge that strengthen their movement. For example, researching possibilities for lobby and political campaigning, by combining state of the art knowledge about current political decision making and public opinion with historical perspectives. Or analysis of existing frames and vocabularies, the consequences of those frames for WAH, and possibilities to introduce counter-frames.

* these proposals/statements are not limited to We Are Here, but, naturally, they also apply for groups and movements in similar situations of (political) exclusion.


We are looking forward to your comments – and to discussing our and other examples of doing critical civic innovation research during an ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation Research on January 18, 2016.

What is required to produce, heed and mobilize anti-hegemonic knowledge? If systems, symbolic realms, and power structures are inherently conservative, then one of the hallmarks of progressive knowledge will be its near impossibility to be mobilized. Attempts at radical insurgency have occasionally made the ineluctable system shudder, rarely make even semi-permanent fissures in the edifice. Nevertheless, some tenuous change has occurred, often localized and driven by marginalized groups who patiently and thoughtfully navigate the perils of the prevailing hegemonic discourses.

We attempted to generate such anti-hegemonic knowledge through our Border Justice series at Arizona State University between 2003 and 2011. These 3-5 day long events included public art, film screenings, theatre performances, panels of activists, scholars and writers, student poster sessions, candlelight vigils, and musical performances. These were grassroots efforts led by a group of faculty, students, and staff with cooperation from community agencies, elected representatives, businesses, and activists.

Our evolving objective was to contribute to the creation of an anti-hegemonic discourse on U.S.-Mexico Border issues by providing forums where we privilege the voices of those marginalized by predominant discourses. Our initial event, back in 2003, focused on the killing of young women and girls (the famous femicides) in Ciudad Juárez and was very successful in bringing attention to the real world problem. The experiences of marginalized groups when it is presented through public art, theatre, or testimonies, or through audience participation in art workshops, moot courts, and interactive art exhibits, serves as a shock or frisson that interrupts the predominant discourse if even for a moment. It is in these moments that more traditional discursive practices such as town halls, panel discussions, and poster sessions can make the most impact.

Dream Act Street TheatreRicha Nagar’s recent works detail the challenges faced in generating and mobilizing anti-hegemonic knowledge by critically reflecting on her decades-long solidarity work with a mostly lower-class women’s group in India. To co-author feminisms across borders involves thousands of decisions, building relationships, learning from, listening to, admitting mistakes. This is a journey of radical vulnerability and love, of telling stories, of poetry, of tears and smiles, of trust and hope, distrust and hopelessness. This is not done in an instant. It is done knowing it will probably need to be re-done, that no step is final. It is creation, continuous critical creation.

To produce anti-hegemonic knowledge requires multiple platforms, multiple partners, and multiple roles. A new platform developed to privilege often unheard voices in human rights discourses is the website Global Human Rights Direct, to be launched in mid-January. Global Human Rights Direct was originally designed to connect human rights stakeholders from around the globe via videoconference. It has morphed into an all-purpose social media site for human rights. Our goals are quite ambitious and include: 1) to revolutionize how human rights is taught, how it is conceived, and what counts as expert knowledge in rights discourses, 2) to empower local activists and survivors as they engage in meaningful dialogue with students, instructors, and community groups worldwide, and 3) human rights discourses will be enriched by considering voices that are not normally heard and publicizing issues that are often ignored.

The design of the website is evolving into the creation of a continuing shifting canvas on which users can organically create the website. We are now negotiating numerous difficult issues, such as how a platform designed to empower marginalized voices can simultaneously go viral and remain anti-hegemonic.

I am looking forward to your comments – and to discussing these and other examples of doing critical civic innovation research during an ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation Research on January 18, 2016.

William Paul Simmons, Gender & Women’s Studies, University of Arizona


International Institute of Social Studies

CIRI aims to scale up and identify synergies between existing research at ISS on civic agency and change agents, as drivers of societal change and development. This blog is a forum on which to share and discuss themes and issues which fall within the broad framework of the programme.

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