Summer School: New Forms of Political Participation in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Date/Time
13/12/2017 - 18/12/2017
All Day
Location
Point Sud, Centre for Research on Local Knowledge
Category(ies)

Call for Applications – Deadline 16 October 2017

Download the French version of the call here: Appel à candidatures: Ecole d'été sur Nouvelles formes de la participation politique en Afrique

Background and Rationale

Political participation has been on the research agenda about politics in Africa ever since the beginning of the democratization process in the 1990s. Political participation can be understood (without limiting oneself to it) as “activities by social actors, which exert an influence on the mode of collective governance”.

In contemporary democratic systems, elections are of central importance. They constitute an obligatory passage to gain and to exercise political power. In this perspective, political power is legitimized and accepted when exercised by political representatives who were elected by the people through free and transparent elections.

The majority of postcolonial African states started to adopt elections only after World War II. After having reached independence, nearly all of these states quickly abandoned competitive elections as the primary mode to select their political leaders. It was only in the course of the crisis of authoritarian regimes at the end of the 1980s and the consequent initiation of the process of political liberalization, that competitive elections became the common mode for selecting political leaders. Consequently, for more than two decades, African states have experienced democracy with the vote as the principal way of political participation.

Elections fulfill multiple functions in a democracy. Most importantly, they play a key role to internalize and institutionalize democratic rules. But despite the central importance of elections for the institutionalization of democracy, not all political actors in African countries trust the process and the outcome. Common contestations of electoral results, persisting electoral abstentions as well as unconventional modes of political participation, especially among youth, testify to this lack of trust.

At the same time as elections are institutionalized everywhere in Africa, one can observe that public protests have again gained legitimacy and importance after the Arab Spring. A crucial difference, compared to the democracy movements at the beginning of the 1990s, is the use of new media of communication, such as social media and mobile phones. Together with these new technologies appears new types of actors of a heterogeneous civil society who combine in their agency the use of these media with more “traditional” forms of political protest like street mobilization.

Social media and the internet in general provide more possibilities as a means of communication and mobilization. They constitute a new public arena for discourse, especially used by younger actors. This public arena reaches easily beyond state borders and is hard to control either by the state or by parties, the press or television. The new means of access to information, communication and public discourse contribute to a significant extension of the repertoire of political strategies as well as to a diversification of the profiles of actors (civil society, unions, universities, political parties etc.).

The new forms of political participation are facilitated through a change in the structure of political opportunities (existence of democratic rules and institutions based on human rights). They are characterized by putting social demands on the political agenda (land rights, employment, health, education, etc.) as well as through the demand for good governance in the management of public affairs.

The use of these opportunities and of new media is not linked to a certain political or ideological position. We find in the public arena the complete spectrum of political and cultural actors from democratic movements up to fundamentalist religious movements or neo-traditional actors. Due to the global access to these means of communication the actors may be part of global networks and may be living in the diaspora.

These changes are very significant for the political trajectories of African states and call for a fresh analysis to account for the dynamics they are generating. The current political contexts in Africa offer an interesting terrain for analyzing the transformation of political participation.

Themes and Objectives of the Summer School 

This summer school aims to bring together a group of young researchers (PhD-students and post-docs) and senior scholars of various disciplines who are working on new forms of political participation and their significance in Africa. The objective is to confront different disciplinary approaches in order to stimulate a fruitful dialogue about methods, theories and fields of investigation related to the subject. Following a comparative perspective, this interdisciplinary dialogue permits to discern commonalities and specificities with regard to different African terrains. In this perspective, the summer school will address questions related to four principal axes of investigation:

New Forms of Political Participation and their Specificities 

  • What are their determinants?
  • What are their manifestations?
  • Who are the mobilizing actors?
  • What are the strategies applied by the actors?
  • Which types of discourses are employed?

Intra- and Supranational Forms of Articulation 

  • What are the links between new forms of participation and communication on the one hand and political institutions, civil society, political parties on the other hand?
  • With which supranational networks do these forms of mobilization interact?
  • Which images and representations are associated to these forms of participation?

Reconfiguration of Political Order 

  • Do the political changes have an impact on the perception of the state, democracy and the ways of doing politics?
  • What are the challenges for the rule of law?
  • Which new forms of authority are emerging?
  • How do these processes differ from previous forms of authority?
  • Which challenges are related to processes of constitutional and political reforms?

Role of International Actors 

  • Who are the international actors concerned by these new forms of political participation?
  • What are their strategies?
  • To which extent do these actors influence the dynamics of internal change?

Methodology 

The summer school comprises theoretical discussions and practical exercises. In the beginning of the summer school, the participants will gain a theoretical input by specialized senior scholars. These theoretical inputs can comprise:

  • What does “politics” really mean?
  • Limited Social Orders
  • African Constitutionalism
  • Theories on Social Movements
  • Dynamics of Protest
  • Medias and Mobilization
  • Rural/Urban Problematic and Mobilization
  • Mobilization and Diversity of Actors: The Participation of Women

The theoretical input will be followed by a two day writing school in which participants are asked to present their current writing projects (dissertation and/or scientific article), based on their research, while referring to one of the theoretical inputs. This writing school will be led by the senior scholars who will guide you in your writing. The aims of this exercise are to relate theory to empirical findings, to help young researchers to advance the skills of their scientific writing and to plan the next steps in their research projects.

Conditions to Apply 

  • The summer school will bring together young scholars of the social sciences and humanities coming from universities and research institutes in Africa.
  • Post-doctoral candidates should have defended their thesis no longer than five years ago.
  • Doctoral students should be in an advanced state of their project and should be able to present first results of their research.
  • PhD-students and post-docs should come with a writing project (thesis and/or scientific article).
  • Candidates should relate their work to one of the axes mentioned above.
  • Candidates must have good language skills in English and/or French.
  • Candidates are asked to send an abstract of their research (1000 words maximum), a CV, current academic affiliation and a letter of motivation via mail to the following address:
  • Deadline for application is the 16th of October 2017 

Practical Aspects 

  • The Summer School is financed by the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (www.stias.ac.za) in the framework of the Program Point Sud, which is organized by the Goethe University Frankfurt/Main in Germany in collaboration with STIAS and research institutes and universities in six other African countries. For more information please see www.pointsud.org
  • The entire costs for each participant (travel, accommodation, meals etc.) will be taken on charge by STIAS and the Program Point Sud.
  • The working languages will be English and French.
  • The summer school will take place from the 13th to 18th December 2017 at the Research Centre Point Sud in Bamako/Mali.
  • For additional information, please contact:
    Dr. Marko Scholze
    Goethe University
    Frankfurt, Germany
    Phone: +41-435385488
    Email:

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