Call for Papers
Date: March 2nd to March 4th 2023
Place: Dresden (Germany) and Zoom
Organized by: Dr. Lucas von Ramin and Dr. Karsten Schubert

The crises of recent years, including the climate crisis, the global pandemic, the rise of right-wing populism, the cultural struggles over identity politics, and the war in Ukraine, call for democratic justifications. However, such justification is increasingly contested: Different protest movements (up to the far-right fringe) claim to stand up for democracy, equality, and freedom. The political disputes thus liquefy the social and academic consensus about the value of those concepts. At the same time, the democracies of the West are criticized for promoting regional and global injustices, for example, in the context of the migration debate or a decisionist government style legitimized by crises. And in the context of the Ukraine war, the world seems divided into a new dualism between democracies and autocracies, in which the ‘good’ is pitted against the ‘bad’. ‘Democracy’ is used as a seal of approval with different meanings.

The pluralization or deconstruction of democracy is not new but has long been part of poststructuralist democratic theory. Theories of radical democracy (RD) or of the political have been arguing for about 30 years that the liberalism entrenched in Western democracies will lead to crises of legitimacy. ‘Postdemocracy’ (Crouch 2017) refers to a decrease in the possibilities of participation driven by lobbyism, oligarchic elites, and the political establishment, which must be counteracted by ‘democratizing democracy’ (Offe 2003, all translations from German by LR/KS). Theories of radical democracy, therefore, remind us ‘that existing orders can be disrupted through political action’ (Comtesse et al. 2019: 11). Because decisions that have been reached could always have been made differently, democracy can never come to a stop, but requires ‘constant questioning’ (Marchart 2016) and is always only ‘à venir’ (Derrida). Contingency and groundlessness thus advanced to signify the actual radix, the root of democracy. Conflict/dissent/struggle (Vasilache 2019) are therefore constitutive conditions of the political.

While these theories are helpful when it comes to combating an encrustation of democratic institutions and related hegemonies and injustices, they seem speechless in the face of the current dynamization of crises and conflicts that endanger democratic communities. Politicization includes not only emancipative and ecologically motivated movements but also right-wing populism and a post-factual conspiracy-theoretical spectrum. However, a clear normative positioning is difficult if democracy is understood primarily as a constant struggle for power. Representatives of radical democratic theory even explicitly negate the usefulness of normative justifications and see radical democracy primarily as a form of critical intervention (Flügel-Martinsen 2020b). It remains open, however, how values commonly associated with democracy, such as freedom and equality, can be defended and how the reference to these values can be distinguished from their potentially illegitimate (mis-)use (Buchstein 2020). Is it possible to derive normative positionings from basic post-foundationalist concepts, such as contingency, power, conflict, hegemony, critique, the political/politics? Or are there even good reasons to avoid such a normative justification and to see the resistance against such normativity as the strength of radical democracy theory?

This question is particularly important as theories of radical democracy are sometimes accused of reinforcing contemporary problems, such as relativism (Boghossian 2019), postfacticity (Vogelmann 2017), or a division of society, due to their focus on radicality and contingency (Flügel-Martinsen 2020a). At the same time, radical democratic theory also provides the appropriate tools for analyzing transformation processes and predicted, for example, the rise of populism (Mouffe 2017). A new debate about the normativity of radical democratic theory (Ramin 2021) is not only necessary to defend it against the accusation of relativism but also because it offers opportunities for differentiated social criticism regarding the crises described above. It can only strengthen the value of radical democratic theory to self-referentially apply the mode of ‘constant questioning’ to itself.

In addition to invited talks, discussion slots for the workshop will be offered through this call for papers. We welcome proposals on the following issues:

  1. To talk about normative claims, it is necessary to discuss the theoretical foundations of radical democratic theory. How can RD be located in the difference between normative and descriptive theories? Can normative conclusions be drawn from the diagnosis of contingency? What does RD understand by normative concepts such as solidarity, emancipation, or justice? These questions further touch on problems of philosophy of science and methodology: How plausible are post-marxist and post-structuralist approaches, and where does their focus on cultural categories and constructivist ontology come from? How can RD be situated among other paradigms, such as liberalism, republicanism, and communitarianism?
  2. This connects to debates that either implicitly or even explicitly formulate normative claims. For example, is the emphasis on difference and the claim to be able to endure it a form of ethics? What does it mean that RD ‘accounts more comprehensively’ (Flügel-Martinsen 2020b) for the difficulties of normative justification? Can the focus on reflexivity and criticality be interpreted in moral philosophical terms, for example in the context of ‘negative moral philosophy’? What is the intrinsic value of critique within RD, and are there normative standards of critique, such as immanent critique? Is a focus on revision and critique not already integral to pluralistic-liberal (Rawls) or discourse-theoretical (Habermas) frameworks? In addition, how can the work on justification, normativity, critique, and progress in current critical theory be productively used to solve the normative deficit of radical democracy? For example, can such normativity be used to differentiate and politically institutionalize liberating forms of subjectification (Schubert 2018, 2021a)? And can RD and its critique of autonomous subjects help to develop new modes of subjectivation and forms of political institutions?
  3. The theoretical problems mentioned above are reflected in current political debates. How does RD position itself in discussions about right-wing populism, identity politics, ‘cancel culture’, and academic freedom? This also includes the question of the possibilities and limits of its institutional implementation. What are the motivational and socio-psychological limits of the project of ‘constant questioning’, especially in times of multiple crises? What are the forms that radical democratic politics can take, for example, as ‘strategic essentialism’ or ‘last universalism’ (Schubert 2021b)? Which normative requirements must radical democratic institutions meet (Herrmann and Flatscher 2020)? And is the radical democratic endorsement of protest movements really better equipped to prevent paternalistic outcomes – as ‘woke’ theory is sometimes accused of – than liberal justifications of good institutions?
  4. Finally, contributions can discuss the contemporary historical circumstances of radical democratic theory. Many of its foundations are not new but emerged through contingency experiences in the 20th and 21st centuries. Does the focus on critique and conflict of RD fit into the contemporary age of singularization (Reckwitz 2019) and thus perhaps also into a ‘new spirit of capitalism’ (Boltanski and Chiapello 2003)? Does RD reflect normative ideas and thus a Zeitgeist of modernity/postmodernity?

The themes above represent the sections of the workshop. Because radical theories of democracy appear only in the plural, the themes are not meant to exclude any perspectives. Many of the issues raised are necessarily interrelated. Proposals may therefore refer to a single issue, to one of the core themes, or to a connection between them.

The workshop will be held in a colloquium format. All speakers will send their texts of max. 5000 words to all others one week before the workshop. A session begins with a short opening statement by the author(s) on the background of the text (approx. 5 min), followed by a commentary of 10 min, which opens the general discussion of the text. There will be no presentations except for the keynotes (probably by Oliver Marchart and Sabrina Zucca-Soest), which will not be assigned through the CfP. The application requires a willingness to comment on another text. The workshop is bilingual; texts can be written in English or German, and contributions to the discussion can be made in English or German. We will provide translations for those who understand only one of the languages.

We encourage participation in Dresden. We have limited funding to cover for your travel expenses and accommodation. We offer a hybrid option through Zoom for those who cannot attend in person.


Abstracts (max. 500 words) are requested with the subject ‘CfP Normativity’ by 15.11.2022 to Dr. Lucas von Ramin (lucas.ramin –ääähtt— and Dr. Karsten Schubert (karsten.schubert –ääähtt—

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Boghossian, Paul Artin. 2019. Angst vor der Wahrheit: Ein Plädoyer gegen Relativismus und Konstruktivismus. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Boltanski, Luc und Eve Chiapello. 2003. Der neue Geist des Kapitalismus. Konstanz: UVK Verlagsges.

Buchstein, Hubertus. 2020. Warum im Bestaunen der Wurzeln unter der Erde bleiben?: Eine freundliche Polemik zu den radikalen Demokratietheorien anlässlich des Einführungsbuches von Oliver Flügel-Martinsen. Zugegriffen: 19. November 2020.

Comtesse, Dagmar, Oliver Flügel-Martinsen und Franziska Martinsen (Hrsg.). 2019. Radikale Demokratietheorie: Ein Handbuch.

Crouch, Colin. 2017. Postdemokratie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Flügel-Martinsen, Oliver. 2020a. Radikale Demokratietheorien zur Einführung.

Flügel-Martinsen, Oliver. 2020b. Wer kann einer so freundlich-polemischen Gesprächseinladung schon widerstehen? Eine Replik auf Hubertus Buchsteins Kritik radikaler Demokratietheorien. Zugegriffen: 19. November 2020.

Herrmann, Steffen und Matthias Flatscher. 2020. Institutionen des Politischen: Perspektiven der radikalen Demokratietheorie. Baden-Baden: Nomos; Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG.

Marchart, Oliver. 2016. Die politische Differenz: Zum Denken des Politischen bei Nancy, Lefort, Badiou, Laclau und Agamben. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Mouffe, Chantal. 2017. Über das Politische: Wider die kosmopolitische Illusion. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Offe, Claus. 2003. Demokratisierung der Demokratie: Diagnosen und Reformvorschläge. Frankfurt am Main: Campus-Verl.

Ramin, Lucas von. 2021. Die Substanz der Substanzlosigkeit: Das Normativitätsproblem radikaler Demokratietheorie. Leviathan 49 (3), 337–360.

Reckwitz, Andreas. 2019. Die Gesellschaft der Singularitäten: Zum Strukturwandel der Moderne.

Schubert, Karsten. 2018. Freiheit als Kritik: Sozialphilosophie nach Foucault. Bielefeld: Transcipt Verlag.

Schubert, Karsten. 2021a. Freedom as critique: Foucault beyond anarchism. In Philosophy & Social Criticism 47 (5), 634–60.

Schubert, Karsten. 2021b. Der letzte Universalismus. Foucaults Freiheitsdenken und die Begründung von radikaler Demokratie im Postfundamentalismus. In Das Politische (in) der Politischen Theorie, Hrsg. Oliver Flügel-Martinsen, Franziska Martinsen und Martin Saar, 43–58. Baden-Baden: Nomos.

Vasilache, Andreas. 2019. Dissens/Konflikt/Kampf. In Radikale Demokratietheorie. Ein Handbuch, Hrsg. Dagmar Comtesse, Oliver Flügel-Martinsen und Franziska Martinsen, 492–504.

Vogelmann, Frieder. 2017. Demokratische Wahrheit statt postfaktischer Politik. Journal für politische Bildung 7 (4), 16–20.

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