Research Team 2

Authoritarian Politics

Authoritarian politics shape the lives of citizens across the globe. The consistently high number of authoritarian regimes around the world should not be interpreted as the perpetuation of the status quo. Rather, current global developments bring to the forefront different dominant features of authoritarian politics. Two major dynamics characterise established autocracies. On the global level, we observe a growing international influence and increased cooperation and interconnection between autocracies. On the national level, the rising number of formal institutions, especially in electoral autocracies, is noteworthy. Furthermore, some democracies have regressed and have experienced declines in quality, leading to enclaves of authoritarian practices or subnational authoritarianism. While the study of political regimes on the national level continues to be of empirical and theoretical relevance, examining authoritarian politics from the perspective of the local, regional, and global levels is gaining importance in scholarship.

The Authoritarian Politics Research Team explores the logic of authoritarian politics in states all over the world. We seek to analyse these states' similarities and differences in terms of regime characteristics, strategies, and practices, as well as in the context of their interaction with citizens, societal groups, and the political opposition. Furthermore, we consider dynamics by studying authoritarian regimes' transformation processes and policy shifts. Our research builds both on theoretical explanations stemming from Comparative Politics, especially new institutionalist approaches, and on sociological approaches from research on civil society, social movements, and the public sphere. As authoritarian politics at the national, regional, and international levels are highly interrelated and impact each other, we furthermore integrate approaches from Foreign Policy Analysis and International Relations.

Central questions that are currently being explored by members of this research team are:

  • What legitimation strategies do authoritarian regimes pursue, and are these strategies successful? What role do economic performance and the strategic distribution of resources to certain parts of society play in the justification of political rule? How does repression contribute to the preservation of power?
  • How do authoritarian regimes cooperate with and learn from one another? What processes of adaptation to international and regional norms can be observed within the institutions and discourses of authoritarian regimes? How do international relations impact regional and domestic politics, and what effect do transnational movements have? What elements of authoritarian practices diffuse around the globe?
  • What is the role of society in authoritarian politics? In what ways are political and societal actors connected to institutions, and do they form lasting alliances? How do civil society organisations and actors operate, and what role does opposition politics play when it comes to the maintenance of authoritarian politics?

From a methodological perspective, we conduct single-case studies to inductively generate or test hypotheses. As the research team’s focus is primarily comparative, we work with small, medium, as well as large numbers of cases. Our aim is to generate explanatory, middle-range theoretical approaches, unveiling not only characteristics that are specific to the world regions under study, but also cross-regional and possibly global patterns of authoritarian politics.

Current Research Projects

EC, ErasmusPlus Projects, Jean Monnet Activities (coordinator: Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB)) | 2018 - 2021
EC, Horizon 2020 (coordinator: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient) | 2017 - 2020

Completed Research Projects

Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences, East Asia Institute, Fritz Thyssen Stiftung | 2009 - 2013
Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) | 2010 - 2016