Institutions are created to regulate social life and prepare society for upcoming challenges. Arguably most of the existing formal institutions are meant to regulate conflicts of different type and scope (such as police, justice, electoral authorities etc.). However, at times, such conflict management institutions (or the quest to reform or improve them) remain promises rather than reality. The functioning of institutions depends on various aspects, such as contextual conditions, the changing dynamics of conflicts and the behaviour of actors. One logical assumption is that institutions need to be adapted to those factors and actors in order to fulfil their intended functions. This view of flexible and adaptable institutions may also imply certain risks: “over-adaptation” could simply serve to replicate a non-desirable status quo.
Mainstream political science approaches are strongly shaped by experiences and debates in a limited number of Western/Northern societies. Thus, political science tended to overlook the global variations of institutions for a long time, as well as their functions and patterns of adaptation. However, actors from the Global South tend to resist the homogenising attempts by the North and the UN system to turn them into globally isomorph institutions – specifically, by creating new forms of institutions and practices. This has resulted in the emergence of "hybrid" institutions or situations in which different institutions meant to deal with the same or similar societal problems (e.g. transitional justice versus the formal justice system; legal pluralism) co-exist and overlap.
Hence, the “Adapting Institutions” conference aims at examining these variations through the use of cross-regional comparisons. Some papers presented will be cross-regional in nature; others will help provide a cross-regional perspective only when contrasted with other papers during the discussion. This perspective will help us to determine the degree of “area boundedness” of different institutions and whether other categories (e.g. autocracies versus democracies, or poor against well-endowed polities) are better at explaining institutional choices.
Laurence Whitehead (Oxford, Nuffield College): “Hybridity” of contemporary democratic regimes in a cross-regional perspective confirmed
Block I: Adaptive institutional change from a comparative Area Studies perspective
Chair: Dirk Berg-Schlosser
Block II: Reform from above, adaptation from below: What hides behind “hybridity”
Chair: Andreas Mehler
- Chandra Lekha Sriram (University of East London): Grassroots versus treetops: What justice and whose justice? Lessons from Africa
- Anika Oettler (University of Marburg): Transitional justice. Global norms, local encounters: A cross-regional focus on sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America
- Roger Mac Ginty (University of Manchester): Everyday peace: The extraordinary peace-making and tolerance of so-called ‘ordinary people’
- Thania Paffenholz (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva): Negotiated institutions in Kenya: Successes and limits of hybrid arrangements
Block III: When states subvert their own institutions
Chair: Patrick Köllner
- Ariel Ahram (Virginia Tech): Understanding State and Regime Breakdown: Comparative Areas Studies and the Arab Spring
- Nicolas van de Walle (Cornell University): Electoral fraud in Africa: Why governments sabotage state institutions
- Henner Fürtig (GIGA): Islamisation of laic institutions in the name of the government
- Nadine Ansorg (GIGA): Institutional change in post-conflict societies: Road to peace or risk of renewed violence?
Block IV: Panel discussion
What can Comparative Area Studies do for the study of institutional change?
Discussants: Ariel Ahram, Dirk Berg-Schlosser, Andreas Mehler, Representative of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (pending), Laurence Whitehead)