Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Political Theory

Completed research projects

The Transnational Modern State

  • Dr. Friederike Kuntz & Christian Volk
  • DFG research proposal

In the course of growing interest in the phenomenon of globalisation, scientists’ attention is drawn towards the multifaceted relationships between the state, on the one hand, and processes of social limitation on the other. These processes of social de-bordering and the concentration on cross-border social relationships are frequently referred to as transnationalisation, and distinguished from purely interstate activities. Accordingly, prominent examples of transnationalisation are migration (today: Africa -> Europe//19th century: Europe -> America), cross-border cooperation between corporations, the global financial market or social protest movements like Occupy. Although examinations of this interplay between the state and processes of social de-bordering might reach different conclusions in detail, they share the evaluation that the state is currently transforming. The preconceived notion is usually that the state up to the early/mid-20th century should be seen as a self-contained form of social organisation and government. The starting point of this research project is to question this tacit and generally shared assumption. In the course of the research project, a perspective of the modern state will be developed that views it from the outset as a historical form of government that has been shaped by trans-regional social entanglements and which tends towards the forming of networks in executing its governing function. Such a perspective provides the opportunity to rethink and examine the currently assumed transformation of statehood. With this change in perspective the research project also links up with and combines the latest contributions from the disciplines of history, sociology and legal science.

- Conference programme
- conference report


Perspectives of Politicisation in modern democracies

  • Prof. Winfried Thaa & Prof. Christian Volk

The project will present and compare current theories on the (re)politicisation of democracy, classify them within the history of ideas, and systematise them according to both empirical and normative criteria. Two key interests form the focus: first, to clarify how these theories conceptualise the tense relationships that are constitutive for the democratic form of government, namely those between conflict and consensus, identity and otherness, participation and representation, and between institutional stability and spontaneity of action. Second, the perspectives that the examined theories reveal about a recovery of political contingency and democratic equality against the background of the current transformation of democracy will be discussed critically and assessed with regard to their feasibility for social practices and existing political institutions.

The discussion about the depoliticisation tendencies of contemporary democratic orders and the perspective of their (re)politicisation is as broad as it is heterogeneous. The project concentrates on those theories that cling to the doubly normative claim of democracy: democratic politics should both enable the reflexive design of social living conditions and provide the individual citizen with equal opportunities to exert influence on the process of political decision-making. We identify overall parallels between these theories in the centrality of the concept of conflict and assume that their different present-analytical findings, as well as their contrary political perspectives, can be determined from the definition of the political conflict in each case and its meaning for democracy.

- conference program
- conference report


The concept of sovereignty in the transnational constellation. A reconfiguration of the foundations of political normativity

  • DFG Single Project application
  • Sole applicant
  • Funds amount ca. 250,000 €
  • Approved in March 2011; the project was transferred from the HU Berlin to Trier
  • Commencement in Trier: November 2012
  • Conclusion: December 2014

The objective of the research project is to move from an analysis of a concept of sovereignty in the transnational constellation to a reorientation of the foundations of political normativity. Such a reconfiguration is necessary, as most political-theoretical approaches to assessing transnationalisation processes are based on a questionable normative foundation and suffer from a methodical fixation on the nation-state. What makes the concept of sovereignty so central when examining the foundations of political normativity is that it encompasses the conditions under which political action takes place. As a result of processes of supra- and transnationalisation, however, it is becoming increasingly questionable as whether to what extent this concept is still significant. The discussion about the meaning, function and internal constitution of the sovereignty concept is being conducted primarily in the fields of legal science and the empirical social sciences. The discipline of political theory has not yet engaged in this debate to a satisfactory degree, which means that it has failed so far to identify the chances, potential and dangers of the transnational constellation. By systematising the legal and sociological debates about the sovereignty concept, by revealing the different levels in the concept of sovereignty in the transnational constellation, and by highlighting the necessity of interdisciplinary study, the research project should achieve a “realistic” reorientation of the foundations of political normativity.