Re-examining Democratic Transitions in Times of Crisis

A two-day conference, organized by


Freie Universität Berlin

Center for European and Mediterranean Studies, NYU

NYU Berlin

NYU Berlin & Freie Universität, 22-23 November 2013

The so-called “transition studies” were born after the collapse of authoritarian regimes in Southern Europe in the mid 1970s, and those of Latin America around a decade later. An extremely popular research subfield for a while, these studies attempted to codify and systematize the study of transitions to democracy, to analyze their qualitative features and propose models in relation to the criteria for determining what constituted democratization successes and failures. To quote transition studies pioneer Philippe C. Schmitter, “pretence of this new, and, perhaps, pseudo-science, [wa]s that it c[ould] explain and, hopefully, guide the way from one regime to another or, more specifically […] from some form of autocracy to some form of democracy”. The collapse of the regimes of the Eastern Bloc in 1989 gave a push to this research agenda by offering “transitologists” an even wider range of case studies.

Although Greece and, above all, Spain were both considered being “model” transitions, the simultaneous current economic crisis in both countries, created a need to reassess post-authoritarian phenomena. The same applies to the countries of Eastern Europe but also Latin America. As the recent experience of Argentina demonstrated in times of great economic upheaval, post-authoritarian structures are questioned and revised in dramatic ways. In moments of deep social, political and economic crisis, the recent past often becomes a central issue of contention. Additionally, the uprisings that shook Arab countries in 2011 – and were codenamed as “Arab Spring” – revived some of the central questions of what constitutes a smooth passage to democratic rule after decades of authoritarianism, and whether the main actors that act as their engines are the masses or the elites.


Conference: Historians as Engaged Intellectuals

Historical Writing and Social Criticism

19–21 September 2013
House for the History of the Ruhr
Bochum, Germany

Institute for Social Movements

Thursday, 19 September 2013
14:00 Welcome
Stefan Berger (Ruhr-Universität Bochum), Antonis Liakos (University of Athens)
14:30 Keynote Nina Witoszek (University of Oslo): Historians as Dissidents: or Intellectual Eros in Action
15:30-18:30 First Panel: History, Theory and Ethics 
Chair: Chris Lorenz (VU Amsterdam/Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
Antonis Liakos (University of Athens): Conceptualizations of the Past in the Global Occupy Movement
Antoon de Baets (University of Groningen): Historians killed for political reasons (1945-2013)
Kalle Pihlainen (Åbo Akademi University): Committed writing: history and poststructuralism revisited
Martin Wiklund (University Gothenburg): The ideal of justice and its significance for the historian as intellectual
Effi Gazi (University of the Peloponnese): Historians and/in the ‘new’ media