The Transformation Research Unit - TRU: Democracy Globally was officially launched on 16 April 2015. The international conference was held at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS). The conference offered a forum at which to present the results of the latest research project focused on the impact of the financial and economic global crisis on democracy.
Mail & Guardian: The new guardians of democracy
Paper presenters: Inaugural conference April, 2015. From left: Yilmaz Esmer, Cindy Steenekamp, Stan du Plessis, Ursula van Beek, Christer Jönsson, Ursula Hofmann-Lange, Dirk Berg-Schlosser, Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Hennie Kotzé
Prof. Dr. Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Social Science Research Center Berlin and BAU Berlin, University of Applied Sciences
Today's conference marks an important milestone in the life of a network of scholars interested in studying the development of young and old democracies. This inaugural conference celebrates the institutionalization of the network's research program. Finally, this program has found its home at Stellenbosch University.
The institutionalization of a research program is not an easy task for any academic institution. It needs at least four pre-conditions to be successful: first, a broad research question that promises to make a contribution; second, a dedicated group of scholars; third, an enlightened academic institution and; fourth, and most important, lots of luck.
There are not many examples of the successful institutionalization of a new research program. This is why the story of the Transformation Research Initiative (TRI) – subsequently called TRU – is worth telling.
I divide this story into three parts. The first part covers the Pre-TRI period ranging from the early 1990s up to the year 2000. The second part covers the 14 years of the TRI period proper that stretches from then on to the year 2014. The third and final part is devoted to the Transformation Research Unit (TRU) research program that started this very year.
To tell in 20 minutes what happened in almost 25 years is no small task. There are selection problems, but I will give it a try.
The Pre-TRI period and why it is important
The first part of my story goes back to the roots and it is about the development of a new research agenda. To understand the specific nature of the TRI projects we have to consider the past. We are all agreed that the TRI network dates back from April 2000 when it assembled to have its first formal meeting. However, it is important to understand that TRI grew out of an earlier effort comparing the political transitions in South Africa and Poland. Results of this pre-TRI research project were presented in two volumes. The first volume, "South Africa and Poland in Transition: A Comparative Perspective", saw the light of day in 1995; the second volume, "Values and Radical Social Change. Comparing the Polish and South-African Experience", followed just three years later.
This pre-TRI project is important for three reasons. First, in the early 1990s the study of the breakdown of autocratic regimes and their transition to democracy has focused almost exclusively on either Latin America or Central and Eastern Europe. In contrast, the comparison of South Africa and Poland showed what could be gained by looking at countries that are vastly different in terms of culture and the type of autocratic regime they had left behind. Breaking up the regional confines enabled a genuinely new research perspective. Second, as a consequence a country such as South Africa became easily available for research programs following this new 'most different cases most similar outcome' design.
Hendrik Marais, Vice-President for Science Development of the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa recognized the potential of this new approach and gave this initial project his support. We owe him thanks.
Third, and arguably most important, the two people behind this initial research effort were Ursula van Beek and Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski who subsequently started to build TRI. Thus, without Ursula van Beek and Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski, no TRI.
The TRI period and its glorious achievements
The first project conducted by the newly established TRI network began with a group meeting fifteen years ago in April 2000. The results of this project nicely illustrate the potential of comparing the transformation from autocracy to democracy in countries that differ widely in culture and type of autocracy. The countries included in this first project were South Africa, Poland, East Germany, South Korea, and Chile. That is, we looked closely at two countries leaving a former communist multi-party regime, two countries formerly ruled by the military, and South Africa that emerged as a democracy from a racial regime based on white supremacy. Later in the game, when preparing the second project, Turkey was added as an Islamic country that had experienced military rule. Sweden and unified Germany were selected to compare results from young and old democracies. Needless to say that TRI itself underwent an education period trying to come to grips with what was considered self-evident by the various country teams.
Basically TRI wanted to understand how new democratic regimes develop and persist after having overthrown an autocratic regime. To tackle this question there was some variation of theory and method. However, many members of the TRI network shared the assumption that a political culture that is in congruence with the regime structure is crucial for its persistence. This view proposes that a democratic culture determines the persistence of a democratic regime. This view also proposes that political culture refers to a set of political orientations. In this respect the focus of study was mainly on the commitment to democratic values, support of the democratic regime and its institutions, support for political authorities, as well as political and social participation. Questions of political and social identity, legitimacy, efficiency, cooperation and tolerance were high on the research agenda.
Needless to say that this theoretical orientation had implications for the type of data needed for empirical analysis. To measure political orientations we mainly relied on individual-level surveys of citizens and law-makers. Results presented in the first volume, "Democracy under Construction", focused mainly on the political and social orientations of ordinary citizens. Results of the second volume "Democracy under Scrutiny" emphasized issues of political and social representation comparing attitudes and beliefs of citizens and political and social elites.
Let me hasten to add that the many historians, theologians, sociologists, and economists of the TRI network contributed to these two volumes using their own theories and methods. This was a challenge to us political scientists and forced all those involved to argue their case with great care.
"Democracy under Construction" and "Democracy under Scrutiny" have enjoyed the support, of the Daimler Chrysler Foundation and the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation. We owe special thanks to two people who made all the difference: Heinz Rudi Spiegel, manager of the Daimler-Chrysler Foundation at the Stifterverband fuer die deutsche Wissenschaft, and Dan Brandstrom, Managing Director of The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation.
This account of the TRI period would not be complete without highlighting a second line of projects stimulated by what has become known as the "Global Crisis" of 2008. As a response in 2012 Ursula van Beek and Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski published an edited volume exploring the impact of the economic recession that followed the 2008 Lehman Brothers bankruptcy on political regimes around the world. The contributions to this volume presented the initial ideas for most of the papers that will be read at our conference today. The general research question has been summarized as follows: How did crisis-driven economic factors affect different types of political regimes, and how did political factors help or impede the capacity of states to recover. A unique data set has been prepared for this project providing economic and political data describing the situation before and after the recession for 187 countries of the globe.
The global recession can be regarded as a natural experiment allowing a 'before and after' study design. This opportunity was grasped by a sub-group of TRI members to test the impact of the economic recession on support for democracy in the seven countries included in the "Democracy under Scrutiny" volume. Funds were secured to realize a survey of members of parliament in 2013 comparable to the one in 2007. Cross-section mass surveys were also be obtained by cooperating with the World Values Survey again.
TRI would not have reached this stage of its research activities without the lasting support of the Swedish Riksbanken Jubileumsfond that has now entered its 'post Brandstrom' phase. Here our thanks go to Goran Blomqvist and Fredrik Lundmark.
Hailing Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski as the co-founder of the TRI Network of Scholars
Our conference today is dedicated to Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski the co-founder of the TRI network. Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski passed away in January 2015. He was not only a highly respected academic. He was also a writer and an intellectual whose voice counted in Poland and far beyond. His penetrating analyses of the consequences of liberty- and equality-orientations have enriched our understanding of the dynamics of radical political transition.
In the Polish Academy of Sciences he served as the founding director of the Institute of Political Studies. As rector of the prestigious Collegium Civitas he contributed to the education of a new generation of Polish students. As a writer Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski was honored with the Zajdel Award for the best science fiction novel in 1988.
His loss is felt far beyond the boundaries of our network. It hit us hard. He was my friend. What more can I say? We remember you and we miss you, Edmund, both as a colleague and as a friend.
Entering the TRU period
The last part of my story starts in August 2014 when Stellenbosch University decided to establish the Transformation Research Unit at the Centre for International and Comparative Politics and Ursula van Beek agreed to serve as its first director.
This new research unit carries the legacy of TRI. It is expected to apply for, organize, and support research projects that monitor the cultural conditions for the persistence of democratic regimes. In fact, it has already started to do so. The TRI approach is clearly visible in the Unit's first large-scale project on "Global Democracy: Political Institutions and Cultural Contexts". This project has been funded by the South African National Research Foundation in March 2015.
However, the goals of TRU are more ambitious. Apart from building and sustaining a long-term research program the new research unit aims at establishing post-doctoral and doctoral programs related to its research topics and sharing with those involved their unique data collections. In that context young academics will be provided mentorship by scholars of the TRU network. Currently five TRI members have already been appointed TRU Research Associates. They will assist in the formation of a new generation of academics to take over once the old generation steps down. Institutionalization is meant to provide continuity, independent of the individual actors. And this is what TRU is good for.
Many of you present today have governed universities and their departments. And you all know what it takes to establish a new research unit. In order to succeed you need moral and material support. I am grateful to report that this support has been forthcoming here from Stellenbosch University.
When the TRI just came into existence and assumed its work Bernard Lategan and Hennie Kotze, former Deans of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, were sources of the much needed encouragement. And while TRI had no home, it was Anthony Leysen, former Chair of the Political Science Department, who has extended a helping hand. Later on, when institutionalization of the TRI was on the horizon, it was Johan Hattingh, current Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, who offered valuable assistance. Vice-Rector for Research, Eugene Cloete, took interest in our research and offered financial support for this inaugural conference. Thank you all. TRU would not exist without your help.
Last not least I must mention STIAS. It is not by accident that this inaugural conference is held on its premises. STIAS has welcomed many TRI meetings before and - we hope - will also grant future access to this great place. We stand ready to testify that STIAS has, indeed, promoted international cooperation in the social sciences. Thank you Bernard Lategan, thank you Hendrik Geyer.
And while we are at it we want to gratefully acknowledge The Taiwan Foundation of Democracy as a major supporter of our conference.
Cheers to Ursula van Beek: Founder of TRI and new Director of TRU
Finally, let me say thanks to Ursula van Beek, spiritus rector of TRI and TRU. Jointly with Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski she has proposed a new research design to study how democracies emerge and persist. She has thoroughly believed in her research agenda and pursued it with an unparalleled motivation and a good deal of stubbornness. The institutionalizing of the TRI that we are celebrating today is her doing.
No doubt, all this proves that Ursula van Beek is a successful professional academic. However, no one can overlook that she is a wonderful human being in the first place, endowed with wit, charm, a great heart, and a supportive husband.
Thank you, Ursula, for what you have done for our network. Good to know that you are at the helm of TRU in the years to come, and may you have always enough water under the keel.
- Democracy Compared: Complexities and values - Ursula van Beek
- The global crisis and democracy: Danger or opportunity? - Stan du Plessis, Andreas Freytag, and Willem Boshoff
- The impact of the Great Recession on regime change: Economic and political interactions - Dirk Berg-Schlosser
- The Impact of the Great Recession on support for democracy - Ursula Hoffmann-Lange
- Market economy or social welfare Policy? The Programmatic responses of political parties to the global recession - Hans-Dieter Klingemann
- Social Norms in the Wake of the Global Financial Crisis - Cindy Steenekamp, Pierre du Toit, and Hennie Kotzé
- Economic crisis and political polarization: A challenge to civic culture? - Yilmaz Esmer
- Global change? - Christer Jönsson
All the presented papers have been published in a special edition of the Taiwan Journal of Democracy.
Volume 11, No. 1, July 2015