CFP: Analysing Political Change beyond the ‘Democratic Backlash’: Uses and Policies of the Past

November 21st, 2018

Call for Papers: Panel at the Conference of the French Association of Political Science (AFSP), to be held at at the Institute d’Études Politiques in Bordeaux, 2-4 July 2019

Abstracts in English or French (800 words length max.) are to be sent by December 12th to Irene Bono (, and Dorota Dakowska (

Analysing Political Change beyond the ‘Democratic Backlash’: Uses and Policies of the Past

This section aims at linking the analysis of public policies relative to the past and the political uses of history in countries that underwent a regime change. Dealing with the past is an important stake in every newly established regime that may consider the past both through continuities and breaks (Hodgking and Radstone 2003). By analysing public controversies triggered by these policies of the past, this panel seeks to contribute to the international scholarly debate on the (re)definition of democratic and authoritarian regimes and on the dynamics of political change.

In order to go beyond the typological problems raised by terms such as ‘illiberal democracy’ or ‘electoral authoritarianism’ (Schedler 2006; 2013; Börzel, 2015), the section will focus on the boundaries between different regime types and their repertoires of legitimation. It will shed light on regime change through the lens of the policies relative to the past.

These policies come in different kinds: transitional justice, construction or destruction of monuments, museums and other symbols of the past, opening or closing archives, rewriting national history, etc. (Gensburger, Lefranc, 2017). The public controversies triggered by these initiatives may reflect the power relations between majority and opposition (Bensussan & al, 2003) or lead to reconfigurations in institutional arenas (Neumayer, 2018). They may also favour the emergence of alternative memories and sometimes protest movements. The analysis of these controversies as well as of the implementation of policies related to the past (Behr, 2015) sheds light on how those in power seek to legitimate themselves and how they deal (or do not deal) with alternative narratives.

While there is a vast body of scholarly literature on confronting a ‘painful past’ (Mink, Neumayer, 2007), the historicity of European construction (Déloye, 2006), the Europeanization of memory (Gensburger, Lavabre, 2012) and strategic uses of memory as a resource (Mink, Bonnard, 2010), this panel goes beyond the European frame to take into account different contexts in countries that experienced a regime change or authoritarian periods.

While the ‘democratic backlash’ thesis draws on indicators pertaining to political representation and participation and classifies countries as ‘democratic’, ‘authoritarian’ or ‘hybrid’ (Diamond, 2002; Schedler, 2002), we ask how controversies over the past illuminate the relationship between those who govern and the citizens, how a political offer is established and negotiated, and how a sense of political community is fostered.

This panel is not limited to the analysis of professionals of politics; it is open to contributions on the engagement of memory entrepreneurs and representatives of professions (academics, journalists…) in the struggles under study, as well as of groups of citizens. This contextualised analysis should allow to refine general approaches on ‘transitions from authoritarian rule’, ‘transitions to democracy’ or the ‘democratic collapse’ (Tomini, 2017). By analysing the links between the policies of memory and the processes of democratisation or democratic decline, the panel brings a worthwhile contribution to the analysis of system transformations in their complexity.

Contributions are expected to address one or several of the three following themes:

–       The evolution of public policies relative to memory linked to the configurations of political fields; the consequences of the opening/closing of archives; attempts to control the work of historians and journalists; how this relates with the dynamics of regime change.

–       Controversies in the public sphere; confrontations between political schemes relative to the past and citizen initiatives (academics, associations of victims, memory entrepreneurs), international reactions to legislation on the past, etc.

–       Dynamics of definition and redefinition of the past and the present. Legitimation strategies of rulers; struggles over the interpretation and meaning of a dictatorial past or regime change (references to a national narrative, founding fathers, religion, temporalities of democratisation).

The panel welcomes proposals (in English or French) that are empirically robust and grounded in theory, addressing both policies of the past and a regime change and based on single or multiple country case studies. We welcome contributions from various subfields of political science and ask the authors to specify the methodology and fieldwork realised. Abstracts in English or French (800 words max.) must be sent to both panel organisers. In order to facilitate discussion, papers will be sent in advance and the presentations will be kept very short (8-10 min)

Keywords: Policies of the past, memory, regime change, democracy, authoritarianism, legitimation

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