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International Scholars Ask if Democracy is at Risk

9 August 2019 – What can 40 international arts and humanities researchers across disciplines and careers stages uncover about democracy and the threat of authoritarianism and right-wing populism? In July, a consortium of scholars came together in Dubrovnik to examine these global issues. Using past events, experiences, responses and influences—contributing factors in the contemporary crises of democracy—alongside case studies of positive forms of resistance, this group of researchers developed a collaborative and interdisciplinary research framework to understand and respond to the challenges we face today.

GHI Summer School

What is it in the world today that is making populist and authoritarian approaches to government more attractive than democracy?

This is one of the core questions at the heart of an 18 month global humanities institute (GHI) project funded by the Consortium of Humanities and Centres Institutes (CHCI) and the A.W. Mellon Foundation. The GHI brings together early career researchers and a consortium of humanities scholars spanning four continents to explore crises of democracy through the lens of cultural trauma. It is led by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute in partnership with the University of Zagreb (Croatia), University of São Paolo (Brazil), the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University (US) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (India).

The Crises of Democracy GHI is structured in three phases: a planning meeting which took place in Dublin in May 2018, an intensive interdisciplinary summer institute in Dubrovnik, Croatia which ran from July 15-24, 2019, and a follow up meeting in Rio de Janeiro which is scheduled for December 2019.

The second and most significant phase of the GHI, the 9-day summer institute in Dubrovnik wherein faculty and early career researchers from around the world came together to examine crises of democracy through the prism of cultural trauma from a comparative global perspective, has just concluded. The GHI in Dubrovnik comprised of 40 researchers travelling from 10 countries, 5 continents, and representing over 30 disciplines in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The programme consisted of lectures, panels, practical skills workshops, film screenings, and early career researcher presentations.

Cultural Trauma and Democracy

The GHI’s introductory lecture employed a long-term historical frame to understand the evolution of democracy in the modern world. The GHI researchers then worked on defining the key terms relating to crises of democracy and cultural trauma. During the course of this discussion, important questions raised included: What does it mean to speak of “democracy in crisis”? Is there a difference between electoral outcomes that upset and those that subvert democratic life? What is the tipping point into “crisis” and what are the different approaches we take when thinking about the health of democracy?

The GHI examined the role of various carriers of influence—political, military and religious leaders—as potential sources of cultural trauma as well as the use of violence to challenge the exercise of democratic rights. Many of the lectures raised topics such as identity politics, technology and globalisation, media, and positive forms of resistance.

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The GHI researchers also participated in a variety of skills and methods workshops. They looked at practical ways to incorporate self-care and ethical practice for trauma-facing researchers, establishing a basic framework for understanding how direct and vicarious trauma exposure affect both the subjects of research and researchers. The workshop provided basic self-care and peer support strategies. The group also learned how memories can be materialised in creative forms such as film and dance. Methods of oral history practice, with the emphasis on recovery of subaltern and marginalized voices, formed a significant part of the GHI programme as well as a strong focus on the transformative potential of art in the face of the traumatic effects of nationalism and ethnocentrism, negation and dispossession.

The pinnacle of the Global Humanities Institute was a 2-day field trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here, the GHI group visited relevant sites of cultural trauma including Mostar, Sarajevo, and Srebrenica. Acting as an important common case study for the international group of researchers, the field trip proved to be one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of the GHI, generating discussion and influencing future projects among the research group.

Snapshot of some GHI highlights*:

For further information on the Crises of Democracy Global Humanities Institute (GHI), please see the Consortium for Humanities Centers and Institutes website. The GHI is currently building a website which will house the lectures and readings generated and covered by the Institute researchers. The website will be launched in September and will be announced on the Trinity Long Room Hub page. A selection of podcasts from the GHI summer school are available here.

*Full video to follow in coming months with launch of website.


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