Deepening democracy

I'm starting a new project on 1 October with Richard Axelby (SOAS), and Meheret Ayenew (Forum for Social Studies, Addis Ababa), Ruth Fox (Hansard Society, London), Niraja Gopal Jayal (JNU, New Delhi), Cristina Leston-Bandeira (University of Leeds), Mandy Sadan (SOAS), and Myat Thet Thitsar (Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation) funded by a £2m grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The title is: Deepening democracy in extremely politically fragile countries: networking for historical, cultural and arts research on Parliaments and people.

The goal of this project is to create opportunities for scholars in extremely politically fragile states to undertake research on democracy, public engagement and women's political participation. The challenges for democracy across the globe are chronic, intensifying and urgent. The prospects for greater stability, and meeting the SDGs on inclusive institutions and global partnership, are remote unless ways are found of working towards what Appadurai calls 'deep democracy': local activism by NGOs and movements combined with global networks working in partnership with states.

Our networking will link researchers interested in deepening democracy through the creation of the Global Research Network on Parliaments and People. The priority will be to support the development of national capacity to study democracy in extremely politically fragile states with a focus on Ethiopia and Myanmar. We will partner with Forum for Social Studies (Addis) and Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation (Yangon) to enable research capacity development by: training; allocation of small, medium and large grants to researchers; mentoring in research methods and dissemination; facilitation of learning between grantees and support in advocacy; stimulating debate; and fostering multi-disciplinary co-operation within the research network. National researchers will be given support and opportunities to undertake high quality research on the links between Parliament and the People and collaborate with arts organisations. 

This three year project will enable scholarly innovation in the following ways: (a) The study of politics in fragile countries has been dominated by development studies and political science. This research will create opportunities for scholarship in arts and humanities disciplines, including anthropology, political and social history, and cultural studies (especially gender and sexuality); (b) While development and politics scholars, and organisations working on governance in the Global South, tend to focus on either civil society/citizens or elite institutions, this research network will address the relationship between them; (c) Although researchers from the UK and India will manage the project, national researchers permanently based in 'extremely politically fragile' countries will do research and influence policy-makers.

We will develop research themes with partners beginning with these questions: 

1.     Culture of representation: How do cultural ideas about effective representation, gender equality and public engagement emerge for elected politicians and citizens within specific cultures and histories? What are citizens' (or non-citizens) and CSOs' attitudes to Parliaments (national and regional) and politicians, what difference does gender and sexuality make, and how are attitudes changing? What conversations take place between them and how are they gendered through language, performance and ritual? How and why does trust increase or decrease between politicians and people? What is the potential for combining representative and participatory democracy, what incentives can be created and what change is desired and realistic? 

2.     History of exclusion and instability: In what circumstances has representation historically contributed to gender equality, the promotion the rights of excluded groups, as well as stronger trust, peace and stability? Do women and men imagine the future differently and how is this shaped by their histories? What role does masculinity have in political performance, violence and interaction? How do inequalities, rituals, language, self-confidence and claims of authority include or exclude people?

3.     Imagining deeper democracy through media and the arts: How can Parliaments (national and regional) respond to people, improve outreach and enhance the relationships between politicians and the public? How can decentralization and the power dynamics between national and regional legislatures work more effectively? How can arts, media, social media, theatre or other creative activities influence politics and deepen democracy? How can we measure these changes? What is unique to particular locations and what generalisation can be found across them?

More details to follow soon...