Call for papers: Conference: “Direct and deliberative democracy. An intercontinental perspective”
Wednesday, March 9. - Saturday, March 12. 2011
Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies (STIAS) Stellenbosch, South Africa

Is there a crisis of democracy? Globally “electoral representative democracies” are highly criticized. Voter apathy and cynicism is growing. But also “unconventional” participation is facing a crisis. New social movements often seem to become violent meaningless protest. Are there any alternatives to the “brick or ballot“?

In this conference on the one hand new forms of "dialogical deliberative instruments" such as participatory budgeting, mini publics, future search conferences, ward committees etc. are discussed on the other hand “direct democratic instruments” such as referendums and initiatives will be analysed. Both democratic channels are seen as an innovation and addition for mainstream traditional democracies. Nowadays democratic innovation seems to be generated mostly in the global South. Brazil and other countries “export” participatory instruments into the old democracies in Europe and Northern America. New “dialogical participatory instruments” such as participatory budgeting were implemented firstly in developing countries in Porto Alegre, Brazil and spread worldwide. Democratic as well as non-democratic countries such as China implement deliberative dialogical instruments. In the last decades referendums and initiatives became en vogue in some Latin American countries. In Africa plebiscites are frequently used in nation building as well as in constitutional processes. In some European countries referendums seem to boom at the local level, where more municipalities implement referendums and initiatives.

There is no in-depth comparative evaluation focusing on these developments. Evaluation criteria encompass criteria such as openness, political control and responsiveness, rationality and transparency as well as effectiveness and efficiency. What are the functions of these political engagements? Are they implemented in planning, conflict resolution? What are intended as well as unintended results? What kind of actors is involved? What are the contexts and experiences as well as the pros and cons in the different continents? The core presentations should give a continental overview. Furthermore these presentations should analyse three to four countries in detail.

Finally the idea is to bridge these two fields of direct and deliberative democracy research. Can dialogical democratic instruments and instruments of direct democracy (Initiatives and Referendums) be combined? Is it useful to combine dialogical and direct democracy? If yes, can this be institutionalized? Are the new instruments one way to reinvigorate democracies or to democratize “non democracies” from below? Or is this “invited space” of direct and deliberative democracy more a rubber stamp factory? Can marginalized groups become meaningfully involved in political decision making?

Deadline for paper proposals and abstracts (200 words) is 15 January 2011. : Prof. Norbert Kersting (Stellenbosch University) (

Papers can focus on theory of deliberative and direct democracy and on a nexus between these two. Papers on effects of deliberative and direct democracy on social movements, civic education and empowerment as well as relevant country studies (India, Brazil etc.) are highly welcome.

The conference is co-organized by Prof Norbert Kersting, Willy Brandt Chair on Transformation and Regional Integration (DAAD)- Stellenbosch University and International Political Science Association (IPSA) Research Committee 5 "Comparative Studies on Local Government and Politics”