Events Series 2015-2016

Democracy: Bridging Facts and Norms

Logo_Facts_convertedIs a government legitimate if citizens are fairly satisfied with their democracy despite very few possibilities to participate, to candidate in elections, or to exercise individual fundamental rights, as is the case in Russia? How democratic is a country with a constitutional law adopted through a popular vote that bans minarets, and thus limits the religious freedom of some minorities, as is the case in Switzerland? Is a vote legitimate when the turnout rate is relatively low, so that the majority that wins the vote represents merely a fraction of the population? Would more social justice, for example instituted by a form of guaranteed basic income, improve democracy?

Taking place between November 2015 and October 2016, the event series Democracy: Bridging Facts and Norms aimed at offering a space for young researchers in democracy studies and for the wider public to reflect about these issues by thinking about the relation between democratic ideals and practices more in-depth.

Thanks to the generous support of the UZH Graduate Campus, we were able to organise four public talks and two academic workshop during the academic year 2015-2016.Logo_Norms_converted

Starting from the observation that, while democracy is actually studied with a wide variety of approaches, the various discourses on democracy offered by these disciplines appear to be drifting apart, we tried to provide young researchers studying democracy with a space for interdisciplinary academic discussion. Our ambition was to make it possible to find a common language in order to exchange knowledge on democracy, a necessary step in order to further develop research and guidelines for its practical implementation. The two academic workshops thus had the common, overarching objective to investigate the relationship between empirical research on democracy and philosophical debates about its norms and ideals.

Furthermore, we wanted to make academic debates accessible to a wider audience by organising public presentations and discussions focused on current academic and political issues. Four public events opened a dialogue between experts in democracy research, political actors and practitioners, and the broader public. They also represented opportunities for scholars to question their role and responsibilities with regard to the functioning and legitimizing of certain “real-existing” democracies.

A “Democracy: Bridging Facts and Norms” podcast also resulted from this series, which will continue beyond 2016. It gathers the perspective of advanced scholars on, among other things, how to link empirical and normative political science, how to approach democracy studies, or what are the responsibilities of political science researchers in democratic societies.

You can find our reports of all the events by clicking on the links in the table below.
This project was awarded with the NCCR Democracy Knowledge Transfer Award 2016.

Project leaders: Alice el-Wakil, Lea Heyne and Lukas Peter.


Public Events Academic Workshops
Opening event (in German): Podiumsdiskussion “Grenzen der Demokratie? Spannungsverhältnisse zwischen Idealen und Realisierung
Speakers: Daniele Caramani (UZH), Francis Cheneval (UZH), Rosmarie Quadranti (BDP), Rudolf Strahm (SP)
Moderator: Daniel Binswanger (Das Magazin)
November 18, 2015, University of Zurich Main Building, Rämistrasse 71. Room KOL-G-201 (Aula).

Public lecture and discussion: “Justice, democracy and the unconditional basic income”
Speaker: Philippe Van Parijs (Université Catholique de Louvain)
Discussant: Reiner Eichenberger (Université de Fribourg)
Moderator: Philipp Löpfe (Watson)
February 18, 2016, University of Zurich Main Building, Rämistrasse 71. Room KOH-B-10.

Graduate workshop “Justice and Democracy: Assessing Political Legitimacy”
With Prof. Philippe Van Parijs

February 18-19, 2016, University of Zurich.

Public lecture and discussion: “Democracy and Capitalism – Or Economic Democracy?”
Speaker: Alex Demirovic (Goethe Universität Frankfurt)
Discussant: Andreas Scherer (University of Zurich)
Moderator: Vanessa Rampton (ETH Zurich)
June 9, 2016, University of Zurich Main Building, Rämistrasse 71. Room KOL-G-201 (Aula).
 Graduate workshop “Contextualizing Democracy: Culture, Capitalism, Inequalities”
With Prof. Alex Demirovic
June 9-10, 2016, University of Zurich
Final public event (in German): Podiumsdiskussion
Elfenbeinturm oder Arena? Die Rolle der Wissenschaft in der Demokratie
Speakers: Katja Gentinetta, Michael Hermann, Svenja Goltermann, and Thomas Widmer
Moderator: Peer Teuwsen
October 20, 2016, University of Zurich Main Building, Rämistrasse 71. Room KOH-B-10.


As organizers of this series, we (Alice el-Wakil, Lea Heyne and Lukas Peter) are extremely grateful to all the speakers who accepted to be part of this year-long project, to Karima Bousbah, Antoinette Scherz and Rebecca Welge for encouraging us to prepare this events series, to Daniele Caramani and Francis Cheneval who supported our application, to Lisa Brun for her administrative support, to Christoph Laszlo who designed our poster, to all our colleagues, families and friends who helped us planning, designing, and advertising our events, to Institut Zukunft and Denknetz who cooperated with us on two events, to all the University of Zurich staff who helped us with organizational and technical matters, and to the many people who joined us for the workshops and public events. Thank you!

Stay posted about upcoming events by registering to our mailinglist.
contact us if you would like to learn more about this and other projects.