CfP: Practising Democracy. Arenas, Processes and Ruptures of Political Participation in Western Europe during the 19th and 20th Centuries

Call for papers, deadline 31 May 2017

Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 58 (2018)

Practising Democracy. Arenas, Processes and Ruptures of Political Participation in Western Europe during the 19th and 20th Centuries

In many Western European countries we can currently observe a decreasing acceptance of systems of parliamentary democracy. At the same time, these systems are challenged by right-wing populist parties and by a general mistrust vis-à-vis the political elites. This situation invited historical reflection on the contexts and conditions of political participation. There has also been an increasing interest of historians in analysing the possibilities and the forms of democratic practise since the 19th century, but also in the interwar period. This interest is accompanied by new methodological perspectives on the history of democracy: from the 1970s to the 1990s, questions about the macro-historical »cleavages« which impeded or delayed the emergence of democratic catch-all parties and the implementation of democratic rules in the political process dominated. Yet this research agenda has receded into background. Nowadays historians are interested in the specific forms, processes and contexts in which collective actors struggle for the implementation and recognition of democratic rules, and practise these themselves.

On the one hand, this shift in methodological approach is based on the application of tolls such as discourse theory or the sociology of symbolic interaction in the perspective of a cultural history of politics. These approaches focus on a close reading of the political game and on the ways in which participation expands the discursive boundaries of legitimate speech and action. The shift in approach is, on the other hand, driven by the insight that a mere analysis of the written, formalised rules of democratic politics is not sufficient for the long transitional period from the hierarchical representation of the estates in the pre-modern era to modern, inclusive constitutional arrangements. In a period in which the institutional rules of democratic politics are just about to emerge and crystallise, groups and individuals could rely on a multitude of both formal and informal participatory practices (writing petitions and supplications, speaking in gatherings, getting together and demonstrating on the streets). Not by chance there was a long period of transition from being a subject (to a ruler) to a self-assertive state of citizenship, which is observable in the shift from submitting supplications to sending demands to politicians and parliaments. Ultimately, this perspective allows to analyse important elements of democratic practise in constitutional arrangements which are on paper undemocratic, as Margaret L. Anderson has demonstrated with regard to Imperial Germany 1871–1918.

The theme issue of the Archiv für Sozialgeschichte takes up the interest in the practising of democracy and offers a platform for relevant research. Potential contributors are invited to submit suggestions for topics in three broadly defined and not mutually exclusive thematic fields. This call for papers is open for contributions which can cover the whole period from 1800 to the most recent contemporary history, and all Western European countries.


Participatory political actions occur in a variety of different arenas, not all of which are tightly framed and regulated in institutional terms. Classical sites of democratic action are parties and parliaments. Recent research on the practices of parliamentary speech and on decision-making in parliamentary bodies has demonstrated the potential of an empirical analysis of speech acts and of the formation of group identities in parliaments. Beyond institutional framework, open arenas such as election campaigns, public debates and forms of written interaction such as petitions and complaints can be considered. But there are also wider platforms for engaging aspects of the political order, such as associations, collective movements and pressure groups. The shop-floor level of industrial enterprises should also be considered as a site of participatory claims and actions.


In this perspective, the focus is not on the site or arena of participation, but on its sequential and procedural nature. In different arenas of democratic control, both formal and informal procedures are open to an analysis of their continuity and of change over time. Historical change of procedural aspects of democracy can be analysed from the vantage point of linguistics, political science and from sociological perspectives. Of specific interest here are processes of a hardening of the rules of engagement, or the opposite, situation in which institutional boundaries and procedures are liquefied and rendered more open. Possible examples for this type of analysis can include legislative processes, but also the emergence and development of classical democratic organisations such as parties, social movements and trade unions.


Whether in 1789, 1830, 1848/49, 1918/19 or 1989: revolutions can be understood as periods of condensed democratic practise. New types of collective actors become involved in the democratic process, and the repertoire of democratic practices is expanded and differentiated. At the same time, revolutions trigger intensive reflections about the possibilities and impediments of democratic action, as they are open to contingent forms of decision-making. However, revolutions also lead to increasing tensions and conflicts between radical and more moderate proponents of wider forms of participation. The papers in this section ask how sites, arenas and processes of democratic participation are growing more acute and are more contested in times of revolutionary transition.

This theme issue of the AfS 58 (2018) is designated to explore different agendas and topics in a widely defined, pluralistic and open history of democracy. We thus encourage historians to consider their own research in the light of the questions and themes of this call for papers and to engage in »practising democracy«. Contributions to the theme should focus on the empirical observation of the chances and contexts of democratic political action, but should not be oblivious to the normative premises and implications of every democratic political order.

Abstracts and articles can be submitted in English and German. Abstracts should not be longer than 3,000 characters. The deadline for the submission of abstracts is 31 May 2017. A workshop with short papers by invited authors will take place at the FES in Berlin on 9/10 November 2017.

The editors of the Archiv für Sozialgeschichte are Beatrix Bouvier, Anja Kruke, Philipp Kufferath (managing editor), Friedrich Lenger, Ute Planert, Dietmar Süß, Meik Woyke and Benjamin Ziemann.

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