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Authoritarianism Beyond the State

Participation
Institutions
WS02
Marlies Glasius
University of Amsterdam
David Lewis
University of Exeter

Abstract

The research gap Political science has struggled to adequately understand and conceptualise the rise of authoritarianism in global politics in the first decades of the 21st century. Academic research continues to focus primarily on regime type, perceived primarily through the lens of the nation-state. The most basic divide has been between authoritarian states, associated with lack of accountability and high levels of coercion, and democratic states which have adequate accountability mechanisms and allow political life to take shape by way of freedom of association and freedom of expression. Simply focusing on regime type, however, has become increasingly unproductive for contemporary political scientists. In this workshop we open up the research agenda on comparative authoritarianism by addressing authoritarianism in ways that are no longer confined by the ‘territorial trap’ (Agnew, 1994) of the modern state. Since the early 2000s, political scientists have shown a renewed interest in the endurance of authoritarianism, but the orientation has been overwhelmingly domestic and comparative. While there is increasing attention to how states influence each other (Brownlee, 2012; Levitsky & Way, 2010; Tansey, 2016), the contemporaneous research on consequences of globalization has been largely ignored in this new authoritarianism literature. In the twenty-first century, empirical realities increasingly reveal these methodological nationalist (Wimmer & Glick Schiller, 2002; Beck & Sznaider, 2006) approaches to authoritarianism to be inadequate in a number of ways. First, processes of globalization have undermined the degree to which states, including authoritarian states, can be understood as closed and clearly bounded systems. The literature on globalisation, focusing on the transformation of state sovereignty from largely autonomous rule to embedding in systems of multi-level governance has concentrated on developed western democracies (Castells, 1996; Held & McGrew, 1999; Sassen, 2006; Scholte, 2000;) and to a lesser extent, fragile states and conflict zones (Kaldor, 1999; Duffield, 2001), but has neglected the authoritarian state. Authoritarian rule has proved durable, but its twenty-first century character is typified not by autarkic North Korea, but rather by relatively open, globalized states such as China, Qatar, or Turkey. New research is emerging, especially in the form of case studies, on how authoritarian rule is sustaining itself, but also being transformed, by these circumstances. In recent years we have seen studies on how authoritarian states have responded to population mobility (Brand, 2006; Dalmasso, 2017; Glasius, 2017; Lewis, 2015; Michaelsen, 2016; Moss, 2016), economic andfinancial globalization (Wong, 2012; Cooley & Heathershaw, 2017; Logvinenko, forthcoming), the rise of internet and social media (Anceschi, 2015; Deibert, 2015; Gunitsky, 2015; King, Pan & Roberts, 2013; Lynch, 2011; MacKinnon, 2011) and the spread of international education (Koch, 2014; 2016; Del Sordi, 2017) . But these studies mostly concern individual states, or they remain embedded in regional studies debates. Findings are yet to be more systematically compared or theorized. Second, the pairing between ‘liberal’ and ‘democracy’ can be less than ever taken for granted. No reader of political commentary in recent years could fail to notice a concern, perhaps even a panic, about a global tide of illiberalism that may now be affecting even established democracies. The commitments of democratically elected leaders such as Filippino President Duterte, Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, Indian Prime Minister Modi and of course US president Trump to liberal rights is clearly problematic. But regime type classifications only tell us that leaders such as Duterte, Modi, Orban or Trump were all (relatively) freely and fairly elected, and unless they dissolve parliament or steal elections, the respective regimes are not formally classed as authoritarian. New regime categories such as ‘illiberal democracy’ (Zakaria, 1997), ‘electoral authoritarianism’ (Schedler, 2006), ‘competitive authoritarianism’ (Levitsky & Way, 2010) or ‘delegative democracy’ (O’Donnell, 1994) only partially clarify these apparent contradictions. Recent publications on ‘backsliding’ (Lust & Waldner, 2015; Bermeo, 2016) and ‘authoritarian values’ among the electorate (Inglehart and Norris, 2017) attempt to understand these developments, but remain separated from insights from authoritarianism studies, for instance on legitimation (Burnell 2006; Gerschewski 2013; Dukalskis & Gerschewski, eds. 2017) or nationalist discourses (Kolstø & Blakkisrud, eds. 2016; Weiss, 2013). Finally, the worldwide trend towards more decentralized governance has created opportunities for the emergence of subnational regimes, which often differ markedly from the national regime. Empirically, we observe subnational authoritarian regimes within formally democratic states, where authoritarian practices characterize politics and the national government is either unable or unwilling to guarantee the democratic rights of citizens. The emerging literature on subnational authoritarianism (Gervasoni, 2010; Gibson, 2013; Giraudy, 2010; Harbers and Ingram, 2014; McMann, 2006; Sidel, 2016; with antecedents in Key, 1949; O’Donnell, 1993) helps to overcome the methodological nationalist bias in authoritarianism studies, but has been focused largely on the Latin American region, and overwhelmingly on electoral mechanisms. These variegated spaces are particularly notable where states face internal insurgencies: formal democracies such as Israel, Pakistan or Sri Lanka create non-democratic spaces as an essential element in modern counterinsurgency (Lewis, Heathershaw and Megoran, 2018). The national and especially transnational embedding of subnational authoritarianism remains undertheorized. why it matters Transcending the regime type approach, and judging the ‘authoritarianness’ of governments not solely by how they came to power, but also by what they do once there, and developing new understandings of the specific features of authoritarianism in a global age are important from an analytical as well from a normative perspective. Better understandings of what sustains authoritarian practices can help to advocate against them, and draw attention to populations who suffer from such practices. Secondly, when it comes to illiberalism in democratic contexts, we currently lack the tools to distinguish between tangible threats to democracy and interpretations imbued by left-liberal prejudice, because we have failed to define or operationalize ‘authoritarianism’ in ways that go beyond the national level and the fairness of elections. Turning our gaze on our own societies, we can come understand how authoritarian and illiberal practices unfold and evolve within democracies, and in transnational settings, and begin to see in what circumstances they thrive, and how they are best countered. research directions for the workshop The overall purpose of this workshop is to engage with the current research on comparative authoritarianism, while moving beyond exclusively statist approaches to authoritarianism. Over-arching questions we aim to address are how and to what extent the character of authoritarianism has changed over time, how and to what extent it is also manifested at sites other than the national state; and whether it is possible and fruitful to think in terms of authoritarian or illiberal practices in democratic contexts . The workshops envisages exploring such phenomena as extraterritorial authoritarianism, transnational authoritarianism, subnational authoritarianism, or public-private authoritarian partnerships. Empirical research and conceptual innovation along such lines will allow us to better understand the interactions between different forms of authoritarianism, and instances where different actors may engage in authoritarian practices together, ‘co-constituting authoritarianism’ (Brownlee, 2012, 4). Expected outcomes of the Workshop The intention of the workshop convenors is to sow seeds for new areas of empirical research and new theoretical and methodological approaches to authoritarianism and illiberalism. Rather than collecting the papers presented in a specific edited volume or special issue of a journal, they hope more broadly to inspire new avenues of research within and across different subfields of political science and adjacent disciplines. 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