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

Contemporary liberal societies are currently facing a loss of confidence in the ability of their core institutions to provide solutions to the most pressing issues of the 21st century. SCRIPTS investigates alternative concepts of social order and deals with their consequences for global challenges such as climate change, migration, nuclear proliferation, and transnational terrorism. As part of SCRIPTS, GIGA and Hertie School conduct a project on the motivations and implications of China's Belt and Road Initiative.
DFG, Excellence Strategy, 2019-2025

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 Prof Narlikar acts as Principal Investigator in the Research Unit on (re-)allocation.

Together with Prof Hallerberg from the Hertie School of Governance, she conducts the project „The Challenge to the Challenge: The Belt and Road Initiative’s Implications for Liberal Trade and (Digital) Finance and the Response in Other Countries”.

This project considers the implications of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for the liberal script. It focuses on two policy areas, namely trade and finance. Both are critical for the potential re-allocation of wealth across borders. The project will investigate how governments respond to the challenge of the BRI, and what explains the variation in responses. After defining the nature of the challenge, the second part of the project will document, and explain, the challenge to the challenge. We focus on three sets of actors—the European Union, major emerging market economies, such as Brazil and India; and small emerging markets, which on their own cannot respond to the Chinese initiatives.

In terms of the “challenge to the challenge”, we expect that at least four lines of enquiry will be important: a) do countries use new industrial policies to update their own trade and tax digitalization b) what types of coalitions do they form (e.g., with other actors such as the EU, or bandwagons/ balances with the hubs) c) what narratives do they use for different audiences to explain and legitimize their actions d) how they try to reform existing international organisations or build new regimes in these two sectors. To explore these four lines of enquiry, we will need to delve into questions of domestic political economy, as well as international institutions and negotiations.