The IAPSS Annual Theme is what one can see as a ‘red thread’ running throughout the year, around which our events and publications are centered. This manifests itself in a number of ways, such as the main focus of study trips, the theme of the IAPSS World Congress, and several publications.

Rethinking Political Science, Remaking Global Politics

The 21st century commenced with the dominance of discourses on ‘crisis’, ‘erosion’, and ‘peril’. As political and theoretical life continues, the emergence of a new world, new forms of governance, and alternative theories appear. Political transformations penetrate and alter concepts such as liberalism, sovereignty, and democracy.

A new world knows new winners and losers and therefore reframes norm preferences while questioning hegemony and legitimacy. Trends like the digitalization of politics and societies, environmental deadlocks as well as new forms of labor are constantly altering the nature of politics and Political Science. Similarly, processes of growing global economic integration, political fragmentation, and the contestation of the existing world order through rising powers as China emphasize some of the ostensibly irreconcilable trajectories. In fact, our world already provides different futures: the future of empowerment versus domination, of freedoms versus policing, and diversity versus homogeneity. This is why analyzing this new world requires us to rethink our discipline in multiple ways.

We ask: what are the new world’s key components on an individual and global scale? In which aspects is this new world a continuation of the old world and in which sense is it breaking fundamentally with old preconditions of politics? To what extent do new forms of technology, mobility, and warfare require us to alter existing theories? And which theories, ideologies, methods, and research designs provide our new generation of political scientists with the necessary tools to comprehend our new world?

Democracy, Identity, and Power

Democracy, identity, and power are cornerstones for understanding contemporary politics and international relations. After the end of the Cold War, democracy, or more pointedly, liberal democracy has produced a domino effect, emerging and expanding across the globe at a fast rate, becoming the system of government states strive to achieve. However, not only democratic developments have been of interest in political science. Social movements, revolutions, and strikes have returned to the focus of academic debates with current developments in Venezuela, Columbia, Hong Kong, and other places in the world. The latest uprisings in Sudan and Algeria, and ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen furthermore call attention to shifting geopolitics, authoritarian survival, and socio-ethnic divisions in societies.

Globalization and shifting geopolitics have heralded transformations in a myriad of subjects, including civil-military relations, international law, and even domestic elections through for example discourses about the European Union. Likewise, in the wake of technological advancements, questions about the role of cyberspace in security, defense, and day-to-day governance emerge, as well as human-made impacts on the climate, and the future use of natural resources. The wave of refugees that reached Europe in 2015 challenged many previous concepts and ideas of, amongst others, national, ethnic, and religious identity. Economic and social gaps caused by globalization and the actions of the “established elites” have also fuelled populist discourses and right-wing movements. They challenge the traditional understanding of democracy, its practice, and its theory.

Against the backdrop of all these developments, a number of questions emerge: How can democracies survive in a complex and volatile environment? What role do changing geopolitics and civil-military relations play in conflict dynamics? How can new challenges brought by new technologies, climate change, and cyberspace be dealt with and solved? To what extent has power shifted away from traditional sources of authority?

Note: the 2020 World Congress has been canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The annual theme was extended to 2021 to include participants who had been accepted to the 2020 World Congress.

Overcoming Injustice

Justice is a fundamental value for individuals and societies around the globe. However, the understandings of just and unjust conduct may vary significantly depending on a range of factors, including historical traditions and embeddedness, ideological preferences, or regime types of the respective political community. While justice is very frequently associated with courts as one of the branches of the classical conception of separation of powers, developed by the French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu and his successors, other political institutions and actors play an at least equally important role in shaping individual and societal perceptions of justice. Moreover, in some political communities, justice that is aimed to be achieved through judicial systems in modern democracies is not generally accepted and other forms of everyday justice are much more common.

Contemporary debates about justice that span in the academic world, policy spheres, and society cannot be confined to the boundaries of single political communities, states, and societies, but need to examine the interaction between them and the ways how they achieve reconciliation and redress of grievances at not only national but also local and international levels. Moreover, several scholars, activists and policymakers alike point to the importance of increasing social (in)justice in contemporary times, where significant inequalities persist, hindering opportunities for full-blown participation of many individuals and whole groups in societal affairs.

Human rights are strongly intertwined with justice not only through the international and domestic judicial systems and regulatory institutions but also with the existence (or lack of) resources to establish a functioning and tailored mechanisms for their effective protection. International organizations of various kinds and scope engage in initiatives that attempt to equalize the opportunities, trying to look at all constituencies through the Rawlsian veil of ignorance and reduce the disadvantages many of them face. However, power and authority relations may interfere with such efforts and while some of these interventions may reduce global and/or local injustices, others even exacerbate them. Phenomena such as abuse of power, corruption, and clientelism arguably have a detrimental effect on justice perceptions, and increase negative emotions among the members of societies, such as a general distrust in politics and in various ‘Others’. The general ‘playing field’ is perceived to be full of injustice. Hoaxes and demagogueries often thrive as a result because individuals are looking for alternatives to the existing political arrangements, even if that means turning away from liberal democracy. At the same time, in cases where the institutional settings and political practices establish a hybrid or outright authoritarian regime, the perception of grave injustice may stimulate upheavals capable to trigger transitions towards democracy.

In 2019, IAPSS examined the multiplicity of forms, features, and elements of justice in contemporary societies, in domestic politics as well as international relations, creating networks for interaction between students, junior academics, and more senior scholars.

Diversity and Globalization

We live in a diverse and increasingly globalized world. Its complexities have become evident not least during several major political changes in the last few years. For example, after the breakdown of the bipolar world and the short period of the predominance of the United States in international relations, the world order has become much more fluid and dynamic. Several unstable regions and relationships between states and other international actors initiate questions on the transformation of the so-called Westphalian model. New conflicts appear to be on the rise, including in wholly new environment, such as cyberspace, while in Europe but also in other regions throughout the world debates are ongoing on deeper integration versus differentiation or even breakdown of existing integration mechanisms.

Similarly, interactions between many peoples of differing values and interests are ever more pertinent at a time when international migration and new means of communication are often abused to create new dividing lines among individuals and the overlapping societies they belong to. Both progress is understood as more inclusion, freedom, and equality, and conflict is viewed through the lens of xenophobia, hatred, and disintegration can emerge as a result of these interactions.

The discussions on both how to accommodate and institutionalize diversity as a major advantage of progress as well as on how to address political changes that can often create instability at various levels have been ongoing and no single answer seems to have been provided. Attempts to answer such questions might adopt different levels of analysis, ranging from the ‘global order’ and the world of principles through international and domestic institutions, specific regions and countries, up to the individual. For social science disciplines, the rapid changes also pose a challenge of understanding and explaining them with the help of available theories and methodologies. Both theory testing and theory development with refined established or novel methodologies is needed to better understand how institutions and societies can advance towards being more inclusive and better off in a diverse and globalized world.

The Meaning of Politics

In the contemporary world, the word ‘politics’ and its variations are virtually everywhere. Less frequently, however, the meaning of the term in different contexts and settings is analyzed and tried to be understood. Far more than an academic endeavor, which is itself of core importance for developing new and creative models of human interactions, the meaning of politics shapes our view of core elements of contemporary society, such as regimes, institutions, actors, conflicts, human rights or governance. A range of theoretical and methodological approaches can be used to design innovative research that helps us understand what politics really means.

In particular, the following questions will be discussed within the scope of the theme, with the help of all sub-disciplines and related disciplines of political science:

  • Why politics is or is not a normatively good phenomenon? In what ways and under what conditions politics does (or can) deliver freedom, justice, equality, and other fundamental values?
  • How do human interactions become politicized, or depoliticized? What are the consequences of this (de)politicization for human well-being?
  • In what sense are human rights political? What does politics ‘do’ to the quality of human rights standards around the globe?
  • How is politics related to culture or economics? In what cases, if at all, can a hierarchical relationship be established between politics and economics/culture?
  • What are the dominant understandings of politics among contemporary elites and publics, and how do these understandings relate to dominant approaches to politics in social philosophy, sociology, law, or international relations?
  • How is politics perceived by citizens on the local and global stage? Which factors determine these citizens’ decisions to participate in political matters?
  • How does political decision-making influence the outcome of public policies in various political regimes?
  • When does politics evaporate from an institution or an actor that is usually considered to be part of the political world? How can politics be returned to such a depoliticized sphere?
  • What distinguishes political relationships at the country-level from those at regional (e.g. the European Union) or international (e.g. the UN) levels?
  • In what ways are the ‘crises’, debated in particular in the context of the European Union, political? How can politics contribute to overcoming and/or management of these ‘crises’?
  • How is politics related to the ‘institutions of international society, such as war, diplomacy or (international) law?
  • When and from what perspectives is it better to leave decision-making to a non-political (e.g. bureaucratic) organization? How do politics and bureaucracy interact in such transfers?
  • Why politics does (or does not) comprehend an asymmetric relationship between dominant (active/aggressive) and non-dominant (passive) actors? How do gender perspectives change our understanding of politics?
  • What is the relationship between politics and humanitarianism? Under what conditions can politicization of humanitarian issues contribute to more effective humanitarian strategies and outcomes of the humanitarian work?
  • Are there any alternatives to political forms of decision-making, particularly in representative democracies? How do these alternatives work in practice?
  • How and why does the presence of political interactions at various levels influence the legitimacy of political regimes?

Challenging Democracy

Democracy is a type of government that has been with us for more than two millennia. Only in the last century, however, it spread over all continents and became the standard against which all governments in the world are measured. What is this standard, however? Is liberal democracy really the model that fits all countries and nations? Should we be satisfied with the current status and stop trying to improve on it? Many political philosophers and social thinkers believe that there are better alternatives how to govern the society – that there are models bolstering more the economic development, more protective of the environment or better in utilizing the potential of human intellect.

Democracy is today challenged by its critics and by its own flaws. There is inequality in wealth distribution, conflicts over natural resources, or the rise of extremist movements. Can the critics of democracy be silenced and the flaws remedied?

Conflict, Security & Cooperation

Any relationship, be it a personal one, or the relationship between groups of people, or countries, knows times of conflict and times of cooperation. Indeed, these times are not even so easily distinguishable – cooperation may be rich, cordial and fruitful, but also restrained, cautious, and profitless. Conflicts, on the other hand, may be harsh and violent, but also moderate and perfunctory. There is a large grey area in between. Conflicts and cooperation are the everyday bread of actors on every level of politics, in municipal councils, national assemblies or in a non-institutionalized environment, on the ground of a battlefield. Political science researches the dynamics of relationships between all political actors in cooperative as well as conflictual states.

From local protesters demanding the protection of their green space, through the passing of a new pension reform bill in the parliament, to the proclamation of a new country, political practitioners and researchers always face the same question: when is it more profitable to cooperate, and when to enter into a conflict with the other side? What should we do to secure our interests against external threats? Is violence the inevitable result of all conflicts, or are there measures how to prevent it?

Limits to Global Governance

With the technological advances that the 21st century has already seen and will see, the world has set out on a path towards full globalisation of economic and social processes. Politics does not lag behind these processes and governmental institutions of traditional nation-states make way for institutions of a transnational, globalized character. The institutions of global governance, such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or the International Criminal Court, have already been given substantial powers by which they can influence world politics.

Where are the limits of these powers? Are there any inherent limitations to global governance, we should recognize? Or should the process towards one-world government 0be directed towards a future, where all important national institutions will eventually be replaced by global institutions, universal to all people?