The overall approach of the doctoral program consists in the systematic analysis of the ‚survival chances’ of democracy under ‚conditions of stress’. Can one speak of one democracy or is there a „Life and Death of Democracy“ (Keane 2010)? Is there a potential for ‚life and death’ of representative democracy? The aforesaid global and national challenges will be defined as ‚stress factors’ for modern democracies that can theoretically have three different effects. In case of insufficient democratic problem- handling, extreme challenges can for one result in the end of democracy (‚exitus due to stress’). Secondly, exogeneous and endogenous provocation can strongly imperil existing democracies (‚negative stress’).  Thirdly, exogeneous and endogenous challenges can positively change and stabilize democracy (‚positive stress’). Which of the three effects occurs depends on how political actors perceive, handle, and solve these different provocations in relation to the legitimacy and performance of democracy.

The central goal of the doctoral program is to systematically investigate the core functions of democracy (participation, representation, inclusion) under ‚conditions of stress’ across these three research areas.

Aims and Objectives

The central goal of the doctoral program is to work systematically with doctoral students in the three research fields to address the inner core functions of democracy (participation, representation, inclusion) against the background of the manifold 'stress factors´.


The doctoral program’s point of departure is the increasing polarization between optimistic and pessimistic outlooks on the future of the western model of democracy. If looked at from an optimistic point of view, the number of democratic countries worldwide has dramatically increased in the past decades and has – despite a few startling autocratic relapses not declined eversince. This development is reflected in all relevant democracy measurements (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2014; Levitsky/Way 2015; Marshall/Jaggers 2008; Møller/Skanning 2013; Vanhanen 2003; Welzel 2013). Also –  as stated in the ‚theory of democratic peace’ – democracies’ prospects are perspectively more favorable in comparison to previous decades. As empirical findings show, democracies have not waged wars among one another and have resolved emerging conflicts in a peaceful manner. Further, different variants of ‚modernization theory’ indicate that economic advancement and social differentiation which increasingly also proceed outside the western world, yield effects conducive to democracy (Boix/Stokes 2000; Inglehart/Welzel 2005; Teorell 2010). Representatives of ‚diffusion theory’ have further showed that the growing number of democracies has exerted a positive influence on the ‚waves of democratization’ in the 20th century and has therefore facilitated democracy’s ascent as the dominant form of government (Glenditsch/Ward 2006; Wejnert 2005). Moreover, autocratic relapses are impeded by international linkages with the western world (Levitsky/Way 2010) which have increased in the course of globalization (Anheier et al. 2006; Dreher et al. 2009). Finally, the prospects for modern democracies are considered to be favorable since the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe has left democracy unrivaled (Beck 1995).


Yet, these optimistic takes on the future of modern democracies are complemented by scores of pessimistic viewpoints. Increasingly, democracies are considered to be ‚under stress’ (van Beek/Wnuk/Lipinski 2012) or ‚vulnerable’ (Rüb 2012). Globalization of democratic governance beyond the nation state (Merkel 2015; Zürn 1998), the increasing influence of digital media on political processes (Kriesi et al. 2013; Nowak et al. 2015; Meyer 2002), the transfer of political decision-making competences to international organizations (Majone 2001; Genschel/Jachtenfuchs 2014), the growing power of international financial markets (Börzel/van Hüllen 2015; Dorn 2014; Nullmeier et al. 2014), the threat of terrorist activities (Wilkinson 2011) as well as transnational migration (Rother et al. 2015; Solimano 2010) are extracted from national scopes of action.  Futher, the diverse processes of individualization lead to an erosion of social capital in democratic societies (Putnam 2000). The leeway for democratic governance is increasingly diminished by the macro-level forces of  globalization and the micro-level effects of individualization. This retrenchment triggers migration-induced cultural conflicts as well as the increase of social-economic inequalities (Ansell/Samuels 2014; Merkel 2015; Schäfer/Streeck 2013). It accounts for representation deficits of traditional political institutions (Müller-Rommel/Casal Bertoa 2015; Crouch 2004; Mair 2013), contested problem-solving competences by national governments (Newig/Koontz 2014; Saretzki/Bornemann 2014; Schmidt 2008; Strøm et al. 2006), new forms of participation (Reiser 2015; Heußner/Pautsch 2014; Steffek et al. 2008; Zittel/Fuchs 2007) as well as altered media usage and behavior (Guther/Mughan 2000; Marcinkowski/Pfetsch 2009).


The growing contrast between these optimistic and pessimistic views on the future of modern democracies lie at the heart of the doctoral program. The program focuses on investigating legitimacy of democracies in the context of their restricted performance and argues that these issues need to be investigated by looking at both the optimistic and the pessimistic viewpoints in relation to each other. Against this background the program advocates both a theoretical as well as an empirical perspective on the analytical link-up of the interdependency of new political challenges (‚stress factors’) and institutional stability of modern democracies (‚chance of survival’). In practice this overall research interest translates into the following questions:

How are the different societal, political, economic, and ecological challenges (‚stress factors’) perceived, dealt with and resolved by central political actors such as citizens, political intermediary organizations as well as national and international institutions?

Which implications do different forms of problem-handling have for the stability of democracy?

These questions are crucial for the development of civil society in the 21st century and are not yet systematically investigated in any of the existent doctoral programs in Germany.

The analytical framework for the investigation of these and further research questions is based on the tension between democratic legitimacy and performance of modern democracies (Offe 2003). This object of investigation not only lies at the heart of the scientific study of democracy but also becomes more important in view of the new challenges for democratic structures and the current transformation of democratically organized societies.


The tension between the dual demands on democratic order will be analyzed in three fields of study that represent the core functions of democracies: participation, representaiton, and inclusion (Merkel 2015). The first field of study is concerned with how citizens in democratic societies perceive current societal challenges in light of increasing „emancipative“ value orientations and how these perceptions are translated into political behavior. Moreover, it will be investigated whether the rise of emancipative orientations itself turns out to be a challenge to democratic governance (participatory democracy). In the framework of the second field of study, the representative capacity of political intermediary organizations as well as political institutions within and outside the nation state will be analyzed. In that regard, the correlation between the decrease in citizen’s trust in political and state institutions as well as political elites on the one hand and the long-range stability of democracies on the other will be elicited (representative democracy). By means of selected policy fields (e. g. environmental, climate, science and media policy) the third field of study  looks into the issue of how new forms of political participation interact with traditional institutions, actors, and processes of representative democracy (inclusive democracy). 



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