Research page
Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy

Democracy and disorder: political unpredictability, illiberal governance and prospects for democratic voice

  • Project Lead: Rebecca Tapscott
  • Timeline: 2019
  • Keywords: democratic institutions, disorder, unpredictability, democratic voice, illiberalism
  • Funding Organisation:Swiss National Science Foundation



Globally, scholars and practitioners alike question the future viability of liberal democratic governance in a context of increasingly fragmented sub-national authority and consolidating transnational movements. Many of these concerns rest on an unarticulated and as-yet under-studied dimension of illiberalism: strategically produced political disorder. Political disorder undermines citizens’ abilities to develop reliable expectations of political authorities and institutions. This makes it difficult for citizens to predict whether and how their representatives will respond to their political claims, thereby fragmenting civic organization and undermining collective action.

Despite the recent surge of strategically produced political disorder, and its widespread implications for the future viability of liberal democracy, scholarship has thus far largely neglected the connection between democracy and disorder. This project consists of a two-and-a-half-day Swiss National Science Foundation-funded workshop, to be held at the Graduate Institute by the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy. The workshop gathers scholars from disciplines including political science, anthropology, history, and law, who share an interest in the practices and processes of state governance and democratic politics. By engaging disciplinarily, methodologically, and geographically diverse perspectives, the workshop hopes to develop a foundation from which to examine and theorize the use of strategic disorder and its implications for liberal democratic practice. The workshop will serve as the basis of a scholarly network on disorder and democracy, and produce a special issue on this pressing topic.