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September 5-8, 2024 | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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2024 Annual Meeting & Exhibition

September 5-8, 2024
Philadelphia, PA

“Democracy: Retrenchment, Renovation, & Reimagination”

APSA President-Elect:
Mark Warren, The University of British Columbia
Conference Program Co-Chairs: Danielle Allen, Harvard University, and Michael Neblo, The Ohio State University

Democratic citizens tend to enjoy more of the benefits offered by healthy societies: equality, rights, security, health, education, scope for life choices, as well as cultures of reciprocity and creativity. These desiderata constitute the aspirational promises of democracy. However, the institutions and cultures that make good on these promises tend to surge back and forth. This year’s conference theme focuses on the perils and promises of the democratic project over time: how to understand backsliding, defining and meeting threats, renovating institutions and practices, and imagining new ones.

Retrenchment: After decades of progress, the democratic project has largely stalled and even regressed in many cases. Some threats to consolidation are long-standing: social inequalities written into political inequalities, potentially democratic institutions captured or corrupted by inordinately powerful actors, authoritarian populists who leverage electoral victories to undermine legislatures and judiciaries, and governance failures that reduce the capacity of democracies to deliver on substantive needs. Other threats are more recent, such as retrenchment on democratic inclusion in voting rights and access. Evolving media environments appear to aggravate polarization and undermine deliberation, negotiation, and compromise. Moreover, some authoritarian systems have evolved to compete more robustly with democracy for the aspirations and loyalties of their people. In light of these retrenchments, can democratic promises be renewed?

Renovation: Much of the existing institutional architecture of democracy appears increasingly fragile and often unable to match emerging challenges. Within existing democracies, electoral and party systems often magnify social cleavages or fail to reflect the pluralism of diverse, modern societies. Democratic states, moreover, need better coordination to match forms of state sovereignty to issues that flow across borders. How can we manage social and economic complexity to meet democratic demands for legible accountability? And for governance that substantively addresses the felt needs of the population? Where are the windows of opportunity for redesigns that make existing institutions better, more resilient, and more democratic? How can we make democratic gains in constitutional frameworks, electoral systems, public administration, and judiciaries? Can informal social structures evolve to meet the demands of democratic systems halfway? How can higher education institutions contribute to building a 21st century infrastructure of civic education?

Reimagination: Jurisdictions around the globe are experimenting with democratic innovations to meet these new challenges. Local and regional movements and officials seeking public legitimacy have driven much of the experimentation. Examples include citizen assemblies, participatory budgeting, deliberative consultation, mobilizing digital technologies to better deliberate and enable new voting systems, inclusive social movements, rediscovering indigenous political practices, and cross-national democratic forums. What possibilities await further innovation and experimentation? Which of these innovations can travel across borders and cultures?

 

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