Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS), Cluster of Excellence / FU Berlin

Prof. Dr. Amrita Narlikar, D.Phil. (Oxon), Ph.D. (Cantab)
2019 - 2025
Excellence Strategy

Prof. Dr. Tanja Börzel, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany (Spokesperson)

Prof. Dr. Michael Zürn, WZB Berlin Social Science Center (WZB), Germany (Spokesperson)

Hertie School of Governance (Hertie School), Germany



Research Questions

After the end of the Cold War, liberal democracy seemed to have prevailed for good. Today, 25 years later, however, the liberal model of political and economic order faces a profound crisis. Authoritarian leaders including Russian president Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the Secretary General of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, as well as non-state fundamentalist groups such as the Islamic State openly operate as antagonists of the liberal model. At the same time, right-wing populist movements like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) gain strength by attacking the very foundations of liberalism within liberal societies. Transnational networks connect authoritarian leaders and right-wing populists.

By putting the contestations of the liberal script in a broader historical, global, and comparative perspective, the Cluster aspires to answer the following three sets of research questions:

  • Contestations
    To what extent do current challengers target the liberal script? Are alternative concepts of political and social order that claim universal validity on the rise, or are they varieties of existing liberal ideas?

  • Causes
    What are the causes of these contestations? Under which conditions does the liberal script lose or gain attractiveness, and what are the drivers of the rise of alternative scripts? To what extent are the causes of current contestations different from earlier ones?

  • Consequences
    What are the consequences of the intensified contestations of the liberal script and the potential rise of alternatives for politics, societies, and individuals as well as the challenges the world is facing in the 21st century?

Contribution to International Research

SCRIPTS addresses fundamental questions about the development of politics and society and offers several advantages over existing approaches. First, it wants to find out why the liberal script has come under pressure despite its remarkable achievements since World War II and again after 1990. Second, in doing so, it analyses external and internal contestations of the liberal script and their interrelationships. The concept of scripts enables the Cluster to see the liberal script not as a constitutive component of modernisation, but as one that has always been competing with other scripts. Moreover, it can identify these alternatives in their own right rather than as mere deviations or dissents from the liberal script. Third, the approach facilitates the analysis of developments across time and space by incorporating the specific perspectives and insights from history and area studies into the social sciences.

Research Design and Methods

The Cluster aims at studying contestations, their causes, and their consequences by putting together four Research Units focussing on specific issues each script has to address: borders, orders, (re-)allocation, and temporality. The GIGA President acts as Principal Investigator in the Research Unit on (re-)allocation.

Prof Narlikar and Prof Hallerberg (Hertie School) are currently preparing a research proposal that deals with issues of reallocation across international organisations. Based on the observation that China has a multi-tiered strategy on such organisations (one the one hand it participates actively in IOs that support the liberal script, such as the WTO and the World Bank, on the other hand it has created its own multi-lateral organisations, such as the “Belt and Road” initiative, the BRICS New Development Bank, and the AIIB) the project will investigate how emerging market economies react to these new institutions and to China’s rise more generally, and how this conditions their support for, and use of, existing international organisations to achieve goals related to reallocation in the international arena.