All democracies – old and new – are undergoing continuous, unforeseen transformations that strain the capacities of institutions to represent the demos. Forced and voluntary movements across borders, minority recognition claims, historical injustices, economic inequalities, and gendered inequities constitute solid grounds for contesting traditional conceptions of citizenship. Given the fact of pluralism in contemporary societies, a question naturally arises: how can we re–think practices of citizenship in a way that does justice to the increasingly complex circumstances of democratic politics? The conference seeks to reflect on this question by bringing together participants from both the North and the South. Through these dialogical, interdisciplinary encounters, we hope to shed light on the non–ideal conditions for effectively exercising citizenship today.
More specifically, this colloquium will focus on three interrelated issues. Firstly, we invite reflections on the struggles for recognition and justice by previously disenfranchised groups. While the resistance of indigenous peoples to dispossession and usurpation naturally invites academic inquiry, this conference extends the scope of attention to other groups excluded from full political membership. Ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities all over the world face systemic forms of discrimination that leave them politically disenfranchised. In this context, we have to ask ourselves: How should we understand citizenship if the ultimate goal is to critically engage patterns of institutional misrecognition? And how can we reform norms and processes of constitution–making so that they allow for a continuous rectification of recalcitrant injustices? The inclusion of a variety of counter-hegemonic positions is necessary for a meaningful debate around democratic citizenship. Research on actual instances of legal pluralism and on alternative modes of constitution-making can open the path for institutional innovation.
A second set of questions has to do with new dimensions of political freedom. Nowadays, we are witnessing the return of imperialism in various manifestations. When the sovereignty of the state is contested, political freedom comes under threat. At the same time, opportunities for radical transformation and emancipation emerge. Under these circumstances, how can we conceive of political freedom such that it furthers the cause of those excluded from full membership? And in what novel ways can citizens make use of it so as to challenge ingrained legal, political and social norms? Attention to participatory and deliberative practices in the real world, and particularly in the global South, can enrich the mainstream liberal account of democratic citizenship. Participatory budgeting and citizens’ deliberations over healthcare provision are just two examples that show how theory needs to remain attuned to the plurality of existing practices.
Last but not least, the position of the political theorist as citizen and expert needs problematizing. Given the complexity of citizenship today, what should be the tasks of the political theorist in the public sphere? How can he/she legitimately fulfil a critical mission without undermining the egalitarianism of democratic citizenship? Firstly, we propose that bridging the gap between abstract theorizing and empirical research is imperative for responsible interventions in deliberative processes. Yet, how this imperative can be achieved remains a matter of contention. Therefore, the conference welcomes contributions addressing the proper balance between description, explanation and prescription in political theory. Secondly, we argue that epistemic justice is a precondition for political justice. Involving alternative ecologies of knowledge is normatively required by the commitment to equality.