Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Comparative Political Sciences and Political Systems of Eastern Europe

CONSTRESS 2.0

HU Members Visiting Princeton University (USA)

In September and October 2022, a group of students and research fellows from the Institute of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Law of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) spent four weeks at Princeton University in New Jersey, USA. They joined a graduate seminar on ‘Digital Democracy’ and a workshop on ‘Political Parties and Other Associations’, led by Prof. Dr. Silvia von Steinsdorff (HU Berlin, Institute of Social Sciences), Prof. Dr. Anna-Bettina Kaiser (HU Berlin, Faculty of Law) and Prof. Dr. Jan-Werner Müller (PU, Department of Politics). The events were organised within the framework of the strategic HU-PU cooperation and the flagship project on ‘Constitutionalism under Stress’ (‘CONSTRESS’), already taking place since 2016 and currently being in its second project phase.

Crossing the borders between the German and US-American debates, as well as between social, political and legal research provided the participants with valuable new perspectives. Many participants mentioned learning about the different views on digital democracy in general, and the differences concerning the free speech debate and internet regulation between the European Union and the US particular as the most interesting experience. The participants spent a considerable amount of time discussing different ways of dealing with hate speech in the EU and the USA. The lively discussion of these complex topics challenged everyone to critically evaluate their own attitude towards state regulations in their respective countries. There were also heated debates on a variety of issues, ranging from different social and legal concepts of privacy and freedom of speech to social polarisation as a result of the use of social media. A broad consensus quickly emerged on one point: the socio-political reality on both sides of the Atlantic is far more complex than popular terms such as "echo chamber" and "filter bubbles" suggest. During both the seminar and the workshop, the participants had the opportunity to present their own research on digital democracy and political parties and to discuss it with leading scholars from Europe and the USA.

Besides many new insights into digitalisation, democracy, parties, associations, and the role of social media in deliberative democracy, the group also had the opportunity to dive into the life at an US-American Ivy League university. At Princeton, an entire infrastructure is designed to meet the needs of undergraduate students. The group stayed very close to the campus, in the Theological Seminary nearby. It allowed them to immerse themselves in the ambience of an US-American (private) university, to see and feel for themselves how it must feel to be a US student, surrounded by the overarching ‘Harry-Potter-esque’ atmosphere, the neo-Gothic stone buildings dominating the entire campus, and the spacious green areas. Visiting extra lectures and seminars at the campus, reading the “Daily Princetonian” and eating at the luxurious Princeton dining halls were all a part of the experience. The group was able to use the Princeton University libraries, with their rich literature collection and so spacious that no student has ever worried about getting a seat.

 

 

Looking back, the HU students agreed that the stay in Princeton left a great impression on all of them. After the long period of contact and travel restrictions, the opportunity to directly interact with PhD students, professors and scholars from Princeton was a great experience. The current debates in the US society and the ins and outs of the US academic culture became much more tangible for the German participants than it would have been possible had the seminar taken place in a digital format. The seminar and the workshop marked another successful edition of the CONSTRESS exchange.

We are looking forward to the continuation of the project next year, when the participants from both sides of the Atlantic will examine the rule of law and transitional justice during a seminar in Berlin in the summer, and a workshop in Princeton the autumn.