Current PhD projects

Deliberative Representation in Mini-Publics (Julian Frinken)

There is a controversial academic and societal debate on what roles lot-based and deliberative mini-publics, such as citizens' assemblies, can legitimately play in democratic decision making. I start from the assumption that a better understanding of how mini-publics ensure political representation can contribute to this debate. Drawing on the "representative claims framework" (Saward 2010), Gül (2019) and Ohren (2021) have already shown that the fundamental representative claim of mini-publics is a descriptive one. I argue, however, that there is always also a complementary deliberative representative claim underlying these processes. This claim relates to the participants' “acting for” the wider public. In my project, this claim is reconstructed from the practice of deliberative participation formats, before its theoretical justification and analytical utility are explored.


Legislators' and Citizens' Conceptions of Democracy (Leonard Häfner)

Citizens as well as political elites hold a variety of different conceptions of democracy affecting their political behavior and other attitudes. This cumulative dissertation project aims to map the different understandings and expectations of democracy and to analyze their effects within the reciprocal relationship of citizens and legislators. Which conceptions of democracy are prevalent among the two groups and what drives them? How do they relate to the electoral behavior of citizens and their satisfaction with the political elite? And how do they affect the self-perception of legislators and their openness towards more citizen involvement? These questions will be answered on the basis of a variety of data covering Germany and the United States. This project’s first two contributions analyze conceptions of democracy among German citizens and their correlation with electoral behavior as well as the effects of German and American legislators’ conceptions of democracy with regards to their style of representation.


Conceptions of Democracy among Citizens (Lea Stallbaum)

What do citizens understand by "democracy"? This dissertation project deals with citizens' normative conceptions of democracy in Germany and Europe. Using different data bases and empirical methods, four papers seek to answer the questions which different conceptions of democracy prevail in the population, how these are distributed, and to what extent differences in conceptions of democracy can be explained by various factors. To do so, one paper examines the distribution of democratic attitudes in the German population and its relationship to socioeconomic and political variables. Another paper examines the extent to which socialization in different political systems can explain differences in citizens' conceptions of democracy, looking particularly at East-West differences in Germany.

Anti-Pluralists, Democratic Erosion, and the Breakdown Resilience of Democratic Regimes (Kevin Walz)

Democracy is massively under pressure as a “third wave of autocratization” (Lührmann & Lindberg 2019) is still rolling worldwide. Focussing contemporary Episodes of Autocratization, Scholars lately postulated the emergence of a new dominant pattern of how Democracies decay and die.   According to their findings, democratic regimes nowadays rarely collapse within short periods but seem to die slowly in gradual processes eroding fundamental democratic institutions and principles more often. There is evidence, that in many cases, Democratic Erosion is mainly driven by anti-pluralist actors who got voted into office and therefore, feature a minimum degree of democratic legitimacy. In most cases, Anti-Pluralists successfully change the rules of the game and transform the democratic system into an autocratic one. Only in extremely rare cases do they fail, and Democracy survives.  This study examines under which circumstances the ‘Defenders of Democracy’ successfully stop Democratic Erosion, and what we can learn from this about the “breakdown resilience” (Boese et al. 2021) of democratic regimes.