Politics and society

Societies are the conveyor belts between individuals and states. Recent dramatic evolutions faced by societies are driven by transformations taking place at the level of individual citizens, civil society and the political system. The “political & society research cluster” focuses on how these transformations or transitions affect individual citizens and groups which make up societies, whether they are politically organized and/or recognized or not. It brings together researchers working on territorial transitions of the state in a multi-level approach, democratic transitions of representative regimes and philosophical transitions in societies.

Territorial transitions of the state and multi-level governance

Since the 17th century, the modern nation-state has long been envisioned as the most suitable territorial unit for political sovereignty and collective popular identification. Since the mid 20th century, two processes have been redefining the territorial spaces of political action 'from below' and 'from above'. These territorial transitions are among the most important changes in modern political life. First, from below, many formerly unitary states have been increasingly devolving powers to sub-state entities (be they Region, Community, Länder, Canton, …), that enjoy large scope and depth of powers. including the authority to sign international treaties. These processes of regionalization and federalization of former unitary are one of the most important changes in modern politics. Second, from above, the process of European integration has simultaneously fostered the development of a supranational scope of actions for Member states of the European Union. As a result, the European Parliament, Council and Commission now possess large policy-making competences impacting citizens’ daily life. However, this process of European integration is now threatened by several challenges, such as Brexit or the financial, environmental and health crises. The "Politics and Society" research center studies how institutions and their political staff (national, regional and European) are adapting to these new societal challenges.

Democratic transitions of representative regimes

Over the last decades, representative liberal democracies have been increasingly contested by voters, observers and scholars for its difficulties – or even inability – to cope with today’s societal challenges. Amongst its various causes, the “political & society research cluster” studies the trends towards personalization of politics by which voters have become preoccupied with individual politicians and their personal characteristics while political campaigns are increasingly candidate-centered and focus on personalized tools such as social media networks. Personalized politics threatens the functioning of politics and society as it can result in the political regimes’ ability to articulate (legitimate) collective actions over individual interests, increased fractionalization of the political parties, government instability, or even conduct to a “vicious circle” of the development authoritarian figures (especially in new democracies). In reaction to the growing dissatisfaction towards the representative regimes, scholars, activists and even political institutions have started to invest in alternative modes of governance leading to "democratic innovations" (e.g., binding citizen consultations, advisory randomly selected assemblies, mix parliamentary commission). Overall, the “political & society research cluster” studies how these democratic innovations reconnecting citizens and politics, and try to address the shortcomings of the current representative system.

Philosophical transitions in 21st century societies

The concept of transition refers to the need to change the development model. In accordance with republicanism, it breaks with the liberal reduction of politics to the sole management of growth and resource sharing. The idea of transition proposes to question what constitutes collective prosperity and the identification of the resources deemed necessary for personal fulfilment. Moreover, the originality of the concept of transition is its emphasis on the moment of change itself. Following a critical perspective, social change is not conceived based on an ideal model of society, but as a process of transformation from the current model to another one that is still quite loosely defined because it is built during the transition itself.

This research is to be developed in three axes:

  1. an articulation of the social, cultural and ecological criticisms of our model of development in order to justify the need for a transition;
  2. a reflection on the political conditions of a transition, in particular the respective roles of citizens and states in such a process, when the interweaving of public spaces, economies and political authorities no longer allows us to think of political autonomy in the sole framework of the relationship between citizens and the state;
  3. an examination of public policies likely to constitute levers of transition.

Ongoing research projects