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PhD Projects

Anton Haffner - Transformations of Social Movements: Another World Remains Possible?

The Ph.D. project under the framework of the ERC-project Protest and Order: Contentious Politics, Democratic Theory and the Changing Shape of Western Democracies investigates continuities and breaks between subsequent social movements. Drawing on the transitions from the global justice movement towards both anti-austerity protests and the climate movement, the project is interested in the relative stability of protest movements and their internal and external sources of change. Based on collective identity approaches, the study uses narrative and life-history methods to analyze these processes. In terms of political theory, those movements finally appear as a lasting form of political articulation in contemporary democracies which follows its own internal logic but stands in close exchange with the formal political system.

Daniel Staemmler - Digital Resistance and the Politics of Prefigurative Technologies (Working Title)

The PhD project inquires the development and maintenance of alternative infrastructures of digital communication as a contemporary form of digital activism. Due to the digital transformation of the public sphere, datafication at once becomes a prevalent condition for political participation and an endangerment of democratic institutions. Transnational software projects such as Tor, Signal, or Mastodon turn against datafication by providing networks and applications that enable anonymized and decentralized communication practices. Drawing from Social Movement Research as well as Science and Technology Studies, the project unveils the alternative digital realities these actors aim to prefigure. The qualitative analysis of the constitutive sociotechnical imaginaries and practices provides the basis for the engagement with the political potential of digital infrastructure activism. Considering digitalization as a political process in which the material conditions of democratic processes are at stake, the project reflects upon the implications of these projects for a critical understanding of alternative infrastructures of digital communication.

Danniel Gobbi - Political Imaginaries from the Identitarian Right

The ascension of several identitarian right-wing parties and movements around the globe has triggered a vivid debate about how these movements, their protests, and mobilizations are impacting politics and the democratic order. Understanding how these movements and groups imagine and reshape democracy is the primary purpose of my research. Based on an inductive perspective, with a Grounded Theory approach, my research project will be conducted based on empirical work that combines ethnographic observation, in-depth interviews and focus groups with leaders and supporters of these movements. Their comprehension of political rule, the way they perceive and authenticate ‘truth’ and an understanding of what appeals to their constituency are the main dimensions of my analysis on how these movements conceive and affect the democratic order

Johanna Hase - Continuity and Change of Citizenship Narratives in Times of Global Migration

Political communities construct themselves through citizenship narratives that make sense of their past, present and future and that draw the line between “self” and “other”. Departing from this premise, the dissertation explores how story, plot, discours and narration of citizenship narratives change in the context of mobility, how migrants (do not) become part of supranational, national and local narratives of the political “we”, and suggests that the crucial question in times of global migration is not “who are we?” but rather “how do we want to tell ourselves?”

Johannes Haaf - The Politics of Human Rights beyond the State

The PhD project discusses how current processes of transnational legalization affect the political capacity of claims about human rights. Although human rights are commonly conceptualized as representing urgent moral concerns that ought to be respected anywhere on the globe, their function is better conceived of as genuinely political. Human rights provide a space to challenge existing institutional arrangements beyond the state, insofar as they enable a practice of rights-claiming to articulate experiences of injustice that are neglected, permitted or caused by the respective institutions. At the same time, processes of transnational legalization increasingly put pressure on this contestatory or even democratic dimension by reconfiguring the political and legal space through which human rights claims operate. Drawing on both democratic and legal theory, the project investigates the changing contours of human rights’ political capacity in transnational times.

Judith Möllhoff - On the expansion of legal subjectivity – How does law include nonhumans? (working title)

The dissertation problematizes diverse forms of the extension who can become a holder of rights or a legal subject. Starting with the observation of current tendencies to acknowledge non-human entities in law, it asks about the meaning, limits and possibilities of this recognition. Here, questions about laws forms of knowing and their structural conditions are central as well as questions about the local and historical particularities of these forms of knowing, power and politics.

Krisztian Simon - Foreign funding for independent news outlets in the hybrid regimes of East and Central Europe

Krisztian Simon’s research looks at the role of foreign support for the independent media outlets of the hybrid regimes of Hungary and Russia; two countries, where the government is hostile towards civil society and independent media, as well as the (overwhelmingly) foreign foundations providing grants to them. Through interviews with journalists and editors in the two countries in question, he aims to determine how news organizations profit from foreign funding, in what forms they receive support from abroad; and aims to identify the conditions that determine whether a news outlet is willing to take the risk of relying on a form of funding that might make it subject to repercussions from the state. While doing this, his dissertation brings together the political science literature on hybrid regimes, as well as research on media capture and the political economy of the media and contrasts it with empirical findings on the ground.

Laura Gorriahn - Precarious Membership and the Limits of Democracy: Protest beyond Citizenship

The PhD project scrutinizes precarious democratic membership as manifestation of the controversial relationship between democratic sovereignty and exclusion on the one hand and universal equality and fundamental freedoms on the other. Arguably, the denial of civil and political rights for large numbers of residents is in deep tension with the self-understanding of democratic constitutional states as spaces of equal freedom and brings a conceptual contradiction to bear. The study combines perspectives from democratic theory and critical migration studies and looks at protest of non-citizens and their supporters against deportations. Precisely because these political struggles foreground the conceptual contradictions internal to the project of democracy, they provide for a crucial epistemic avenue into the study of membership and exclusion. The project reflects upon the implications of these struggles for a critical understanding of democratic membership with the objective to further discussions about the limits and possibilities of citizenship as the material and conceptual horizon of democracy today.

Ole Meinefeld - The Personalization of the Republic. Inquiries into Hannah Arendt’s Political Theory

The dissertation conducts research on a systematic link of Hannah Arendt’s theory of action with her description of historical and contemporary personalities, drawing upon the biographical miniatures of John F. Kennedy, Rosa Luxemburg and Benjamin Disraeli that feature in her work. Such exemplary life stories of politicians enable us to determine first the relevance of individual persons in Arendt’s political theory and second the relevance of personalization for pluralistic institutions in modern societies.

Sebastian Berg - Past and present of political datafication in the context of democratic representation

The project inquires the implications of data-based mediation and analysis techniques for the understanding of political representation. In the field of politics, the transforming effect attributed to digitalization is perceived in particular in the datafication of election campaigns, data-driven analyses of constituencies, or political communication via digital platforms. On the basis of a reconstruction of the US-American debate and its genealogy, the study argues that this effect neither results from a genuine logic of digital technology, nor is it simply to be understood as a form of digital domination. Rather, it has to be perceived as a matter of a changeable and contradictory appropriation in the field of politics. The political-theoretical study aims to show how political and technical elites justify the appropriation and application of this technique, to which conditions – such as the crisis of democratic representation – they react, and which ideas and understandings of democracy or representation compete for interpretive sovereignty.