For Jeremy Waldron, political institutions are the main subject of political theory—or they ought to be (Waldron, Political Political Theory: Inaugural Lecture, 2013).
This Section, discusses this proposition and reflects on the goals, structure, role, functioning and limits of political institutions at local, national and transnational level.
The attention to institutional structure is central to the work in many subfields of political theory including normative, conceptual, applied, methodological and historical approaches. To give but some examples, postcolonial theory can be understood primarily as an effort to understand the condition of nations, institutions and people after the achievement of political independence from their colonial rulers. Among republican theorists, the task of designing institutions capable of protecting citizens from arbitrary or uncontrolled power has been a major concern. At the same time, contemporary civic republicans also recognize that no matter how carefully designed, the functioning of institutions necessarily entails considerable discretion on the part of public officers. Post-structuralist scholars problematize entire systems of thought and organization, including also political institutions and organizations, whilst liberal-democrats highlight the importance of institutions in delivering justice and distributing rights and duties among citizens. Whilst some liberals defend a Rawlsian standard view of justice as the first virtue of social institutions, others take side with political realists and identify legitimacy as the key concept to evaluate institutions. Classical critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, such as Adorno, point to means and methods by which critical theory can usefully function within institutions. This is despite the fact that among many contemporary critical theorists there is little optimism about the possibilities of a process of emancipation within existing institutions.
Discussion will be presented from all these and other traditions and subfields of political theory. We aim to facilitate engagement across sub-disciplinary boundaries and to support innovative research within particular traditions or on particular problems. To promote engagement across different traditions, Panels will address problems, themes and concepts from multiple perspectives. To promote specialized work on particular topics, some Panels will either address the complexities and diversity of particular traditions in political theory, or focus on particular problems or issues from within the confines of one particular tradition, such as the analytical tradition.