A two-day conference, organized by
Freie Universität Berlin
Center for European and Mediterranean Studies, NYU
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.