Research Group Democracy and Statehood

The research group is engaged in developing new perspectives on the relationship between democracy and statehood in Europe. We are utilizing approaches grounded in historical, sociological, and political theory to conduct comparative studies of regions in Europe, particularly its southern periphery, and to reconsider old questions. Which forms of democracy have been historically successful in Europe? Which model of statehood has established itself with these democracies? What is the relationship between democracy and statehood, and what is the role of notions of nation and the market economy in this relationship? How do different models of democracy and statehood interact in the supranational European context?

Theoretically and methodologically, work at the Institute is open to a broad range of standpoints. In current projects, we are investigating the effects of tax collection and tax regimes on state legitimation from the perspective of the sociology of domination; with a view to corporatist traditions, we are scrutinizing the idea of a positive connection between market economy and democracy; we are examining path dependencies based on the history of ideas about the rule of law in Europe; and we are probing the claims of right-wing nationalism to substitute statehood. The main focus of work is on the twentieth century but developments in the nineteenth century, as a key period in the formation of national statehood, are also addressed.

In these discussions about Europe, the state plays a decisive role as a collective term for modes of the political self-conditioning of society. In the context of current crises in the eurozone and the European Union, the national state has again emerged as an important site of political intervention, despite forecasts to the contrary. But this context has also highlighted the desiderata of political analysis and historical research focusing on the state. Precisely these debates on Europe’s political crises show that the question of democratic legitimacy and the possibly threatened scope of options for actual self-government cannot be addressed in an abstract way. The old categories of domination, legitimation, and statehood remain central here, because they lead to the core of fundamental questions: whether and how political representation is possible in modern societies, whether there have been crucial changes in representation in recent times, and which twists and turns may be expected in the future.

Our research group’s analyses aim to renegotiate the relationship between statehood and democracy in specific contexts. The comparative study of different regions over the course of two centuries heightens awareness of diverse national traditions with respect to the state and the legal system and the ability to recognize historically evolved and variable interrelationships between economics and politics. What emerges in the course of this work is a complex picture of democratic practices and legitimatory strategies. Such an approach establishes a more stable base for increasingly heated public debate on purported “Sonderwege” and “failures” in some regions of Europe. With our work, we thus contribute to opening up a space for debate informed by history and sociology on the context in which European politics emerged and the conditions that will permit its continued existence.


Research Project on the History of Euroskepticism

The research project wants to embed the ideal of the cohesion of the European Union in the history of skepticism towards Europe. On the one hand, this skepticism has conditioned and limited European integration from the beginning; on the other hand, it has created its own forms of cohesion in Europe. Whereas the field of research is currently dominated by political science analyses focusing on the recent past, the project combines historical, sociological and political science approaches to form an interdisciplinary and transnational perspective. It is being carried out as a joint project together with the German Historical Institutes in Rome, London and Warsaw as well as with cooperation partners at the LMU Munich, the Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence, Sciences Po in Strasbourg and Queen Mary College in London. This international character takes into account the fact that the breadth and historical depth of contemporary Euroscepticism only come to light when one focuses on the interconnectedness of regional, national and European contexts. The aim is to explain Euroskepticism in its various manifestations as the result of the confrontation of transnational, mutually promoting and hindering conceptions of Europe.

The project offers the unique opportunity of an international scientific network to explore the topic. The subprojects at the four participating institutes will be carried out in continuous exchange with each other, which will be ensured, among other things, by international workshops and conferences. In addition to the monographs they will write, the project members will contribute to joint publications that will set new standards for the discussion of skepticism about European integration. The two doctoral positions, based at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, will focus on two prominent aspects of Euroskepticism: first, on skepticism toward European integration in transnational business circles since the 1940s and its influence on the political shaping of Europe; and second, on right-wing nationalist connections among Euroskeptic groups and organizations in various member states. Subject to funding approval, the research project will begin on April 1, 2021, and run for three years.

Coordination: Prof. Dr. Philipp Müller
BLOG (De)Constructing Europe

Prof. Dr. Philipp Müller

Margins of Democracy. Coordinated Capitalism in Western and Southern Europe


Pablo Schmelzer

In the Name of the People. Right-wing violence and discourses of a threatened order in Germany between 1970 and 1993


Felix Beyersdorff

Alexander Hobe

Concepts of Europe in the nationalist and conservative right in postwar Germany and France