CfP: Theorizing Liberal Democracy- What ‚Western‘ Political Thought Could Learn from its ‚Other‘ (Göttingen)

Die DVPW-Themengruppe Transkulturell-Vergleichende Politische Theorie veranstaltet vom 9. bis zum 11. Oktober eine Tagung zum Thema „Theorizing Liberal Democracy What ‚Western‘ Political Thought Could Learn from its ‚Other‘“. Abstracts von 300 Wörtern sollten bis zum 10. März an Dr. Holger Zapf ( gesendet werden. Die Details erfahrt Ihr wie immer nach dem Klick.Theorizing Liberal Democracy What ‚Western‘ Political Thought Could Learn from its ‚Other‘
Conference at the University of Göttingen, Germany Date: October 9 to 11, 2013. Contact: Dr. Holger Zapf,
Standing group on „Transcultural comparative political theory“ ( Postal address: University of Göttingen, Platz der Göttinger Sieben 3, 37073 Göttingen, Germany; Email:; Phone: ++49 5 51 3 92 04 74.
Liberal democracy is the unchallenged center of gravity for Western1 political thought. A vast part of the academic discourse on political theory is concerned with its justification, critique and improvement. For example, universalist approaches like the early work of John Rawls have been built up to defend it. Culturalists like Richard Rorty or liberals like Friedrich August von Hayek have claimed to act as its defenders as well. Then again, much work has been dedicated to the improvement of democracy – like in Jürgen Habermas’ theory of deliberati- ve democracy – or to the better understanding of the communitarian resources for democra- tic societies. Others like Chantal Mouffe or Colin Crouch criticize current forms of liberal de- mocracy – but even though they scrutinize its weaknesses, the normative standards of liberal democracy are a major point of reference for their critique: More often than not, criti- cal stances remain in the paradigm of liberal democracy by negatively affirming its concepts.
Not only the issue of liberal democracy, but most issues of current Western political theory are largely being discussed within the horizon of Western societies and OECD countries only and with relation to a specific Western canon of ideas. This eurocentrism of Western political theory has increasingly been criticized during the last years. It has been argued that
• •
the restriction to the Western canon means ignoring a huge tradition of non-Western political ideas and should be abadoned for epistemic reasons, the globalization of political problems calls for a globalization of political thought as well,
In the following text, the terms ‚West‘ or ‚Western‘ are meant to denote a constructed unity, built up mostly by former colonial powers and the major part of the current member countries of the OECD – by and large, North America and Western Europe. The term eurocentrism denotes a kind of ethnocentrism that relates to this area.
• if cosmopolitan thought means to become really cosmopolitan, it needs input from non-Western cultures and traditions, and that
• the Western view on non-Western political thought is distorted because it is often shaped by ignorance, fear, power, and imperalistic interests.
The discontents with academic political theory’s eurocentrism have been articulated mostly within the Western discourse of political thought. But although cross-cultural political theory has strongly increased its activities and academic visibility during the last years, it has not yet reached a satisfying degree of dialogical encounter. Instead of letting its ‚other‘ speak di- rectly, it is still mostly focussing on reconstructing or, sometimes even, representing it. We- stern concepts and ideas still are dominant and almost unchallenged in the disourse of aca- demic political theory.
Consequently, the aim of the conference is to make a shift towards a cross-cultural dialogue by inviting thinkers from outside the ‚West‘ to communicate and discuss their perceptions of Western understandings of liberal democracy. A threefold outcome is expected: 1) Western political thought on politics and democracy will be (re-)presented in an innovative way be- cause it is represented from ‚outside‘. 2) The meeting will contribute to our knowledge about different perspectives on liberal democracy. 3) Together with the proposals to criticize and improve liberal democracy from a cross-cultural perspective, the project will lead to a richer understanding of alternative ways to think about politics; thus reaching out for a cosmopoli- tan understanding across cultures.
Scholars are asked to comment on the weaknesses – or on the hidden strengths – of We- stern ideas and theories of liberal democracy in a cross-cultural perspective. In doing so, they may utilize their own cultural knowledge and resources – traditions of thought and prac- tice, canonical texts, specific understandings etc. Furthermore, they are asked to contribute to one of the following fields of research:
• Possibilities to justify liberal democracy in normative theories (for example in terms of universalism vs. cultural relativism),
• Western self-perceptions of liberal democracy and its history as a Western ‚invention‘,
• the interdependence of societal and economic developments on the one hand and liberal democracy on the other,
• the life of the individual and the meaning of community in liberal democracy or • ambiguities of Western usages of the idea of liberal democracy.
Dr. Holger Zapf 2
Last but not least, since the term ‚liberal democracy‘ is by itself a contested concept, it will be necessary to explain to what kind of liberal democracy reference is being made.
Professor Li Qiang (Peking University) has been asked to act as keynote speaker with a talk on „The Western Notion of Democracy“.
If you are interested in presenting your research in the meeting, please send an abstract of no more than 300 words to or to until March 10, 2013. If you have any queries or need further information, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Holger Zapf (

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