Research Group Democracy and Statehood

The research group is engaged in developing new perspectives on the relationship between democracy and statehood in Europe. We are utilizing approaches grounded in historical, sociological, and political theory to conduct comparative studies of regions in Europe, particularly its southern periphery, and to reconsider old questions. Which forms of democracy have been historically successful in Europe? Which model of statehood has established itself with these democracies? What is the relationship between democracy and statehood, and what is the role of notions of nation and the market economy in this relationship? How do different models of democracy and statehood interact in the supranational European context?

Theoretically and methodologically, work at the Institute is open to a broad range of standpoints. In current projects, we are investigating the effects of tax collection and tax regimes on state legitimation from the perspective of the sociology of domination; with a view to corporatist traditions, we are scrutinizing the idea of a positive connection between market economy and democracy; we are examining path dependencies based on the history of ideas about the rule of law in Europe; and we are probing the influence of changing body regimes on the emergence of democratic imaginations and practices. The main focus of work is on the twentieth century but developments in the nineteenth century, as a key period in the formation of national statehood, are also addressed.

In these discussions about Europe, the state plays a decisive role as a collective term for modes of the political self-conditioning of society. In the context of current crises in the eurozone and the European Union, the national state has again emerged as an important site of political intervention, despite forecasts to the contrary. But this context has also highlighted the desiderata of political analysis and historical research focusing on the state. Precisely these debates on Europe’s political crises show that the question of democratic legitimacy and the possibly threatened scope of options for actual self-government cannot be addressed in an abstract way. The old categories of domination, legitimation, and statehood remain central here, because they lead to the core of fundamental questions: whether and how political representation is possible in modern societies, whether there have been crucial changes in representation in recent times, and which twists and turns may be expected in the future.

Our research group’s analyses aim to renegotiate the relationship between statehood and democracy in specific contexts. The comparative study of different regions over the course of two centuries heightens awareness of diverse national traditions with respect to the state and the legal system and the ability to recognize historically evolved and variable interrelationships between economics and politics. What emerges in the course of this work is a complex picture of democratic practices and legitimatory strategies. Such an approach establishes a more stable base for increasingly heated public debate on purported “Sonderwege” and “failures” in some regions of Europe. With our work, we thus contribute to opening up a space for debate informed by history and sociology on the context in which European politics emerged and the conditions that will permit its continued existence.


Call for Papers:

Democracy and Gender - The Legitimation of Power in Modern Societies

Conference, September 11-13, 2019

Hamburg Institute for Social Research - Dr Clara Maier, PD Dr Hedwig Richter

The emergence of democracy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was bound up, in myriad and complex ways, with radical changes in gender relations. Yet the study of the concrete connections between these two phenomena remains marginalised in the historiography on democracy. There is a wide-ranging theoretical debate on gender, the role of concepts of masculinity for the definition and legitimation of politics, as well as a large literature on the exclusion of women from politics. This literature exists in isolation from a mostly social and cultural history of female political participation. The conference aims to combine these political-theoretical and historical perspectives in a new way, and to expand scope of research on gender and democracy in the fields of the history of political thought and political history. It seeks to explore and problematise the gendered orders which connect themselves to the legitimation of modern democracies from a historically informed point of view. Stretching from the Early Modern period to the crisis of democratic legitimacy in our own times, the conference will explore the concrete practice of gender in democratic societies, the significance of such practices for the legitimacy of democratic politics, and the interactions of democratic equality and gender inequality.

The conference Democracy and Gender at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research invites papers which address the relationship between gender order and democratic legitimacy within a wide range of questions and topics.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Marriage and family as symbolic orders and their connection to democracy
  • Concepts and practices of the body and their interaction with democratic practices and conceptions
  • Conceptions of (hegemonic) masculinity in the history of democracy
  • The interactions between different orders of inequality (class, race, sexuality, gender identity) and conceptions of democracy

Interested participants are invited to submit an abstract of no more than 350 words along with a short biographical note to clara.maier(at) by February 6th, 2018. Accepted participants will be notified in March.

Confirmed speakers:

Anna Becker (Universität Zürich)

Frank Bösch (Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam),

Birte Förster (Universität Bremen)

Gundula Ludwig (Universität Bremen)

Birgit Sauer (Universität Wien)

Rudolf Stichweh (Universität Luzern)

Barbara  Stollberg-Rilinger (Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin)

Georgina Waylen (University of Manchester)

Dawn Teele (University of Pennsylvania)

Members of the Research Group Democracy and Statehood

Lars Döpking

Taxes, Democracy and Statehood

A Case Study on the Transformation of Italy’s Tax Regime

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Clara Maier

The Rule of Law in Europe:

A Comparison of Political Traditions in Germany, Spain, and Italy

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Philipp Müller

Margins of Democracy

Coordinated Capitalism in Western and Southern Europe

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Hedwig Richter

Body History of Democracy

Protection of the Body, Materiality, and Biopolitics in the Nation-State

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