Cosmos > Projects > Mobilizing for Democracy

Mobilizing for Democracy

Scholars Involved:

Principal Investigator: Donatella della Porta

Research Collaborators: Massimiliano Andretta, Kivanc Atak, Matteo Cernison, Luisa Chiodi, Daniela Chironi, Priska Daphi, Teije Donker, Tiago Fernandes, Joseba Fernandez, Milan Hrubes, Jochen Kleres, Hugo Leal, Juan Masullo, Mariana Mendes, Chiara Milan, Francis O'Connor, Grzegorz Piotrowski, Emin Poljarevic, Martin Portos, Herbert Reiter, Daniel Ritter, Eduardo Romanos, Federico Rossi, Julia Rone, Anna Subirats, Simon Teune, Lili Torek, Markos Vogiatzoglou, Jana Warkotsch

Funded by: European Research Council (ERC) Grant [269136].

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Research Plan:


The ERC Advanced Grant Project Mobilizing for Democracy addresses social movements participation in democratization processes, from transition to the deepening of democracy.

The research is directed by Donatella della Porta.


Theoretical Model


As planned the first months of the research project have been devoted to a better refinement of the theoretical model presented in the proposal, to the conceptualization as well as to the selection of the sources and the specification of the instruments for the empirical research. The results of this theoretical work helped me in conceptualizing the phenomena to investigate as eventful democratization as well as democratic deepening and locating them within the social science literature on democratic transitions and democratic quality. The results of this part of the work are reported in a Donatella della Porta, Can Democracy be Saved?, Polity Press, 2013 as well as in some entries I have written for the Blackwell Encyclopedia on Social and Political Movements, David Snow, Bert Klandermans, Donatella della Porta, and Doug McAdam (Blackwell, 2013). Issues of deepening democracy are also addressed in the volume Meeting Democracy, edited by Donatella della Porta and Dieter Rucht (Cambridge University Press 2013) as well as in several articles.


Social Movements in Democratic Transitions: Comparing 1989 and 2011


The second part of the project consisted of the analysis of a (relatively) large number of cases of democratization in Eastern Europe, and was oriented to testing under which conditions civil society organizations a) support democracy; b) play an important role in the transition to democracy. As foreseen in the original project, in this “large N” part of my research I have proceeded through the analysis of secondary literature, as well as interviews with experts. Given the relevance of the Arab Spring (which was not included in the project, as it had not yet unfolded at the time of submission) some of the recent cases were added in order to introduce a cross-area comparative view to the research. While different in many respects (geopolitical area, previous regime, social structures etc.), the two waves of protest for democracy in 1989 and 2011 show some similarities in the processes of participation of civil society, going from the mobilization of existing resources to the framing of the emerging actors and the appropriation of political opportunities. The results of this analysis are reported in 14 expert reports as well as in the volume Donatella della Porta, Mobilizing for Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2014).


Researchers who contributed to this part

  • Kivanc Atak, who analysed transitions to democracy in Turkey.
  • Luisa Chiodi, who analysed transition to democracy in Albania.
  • Teije Donker, who analysed transition to democracy in Tunisia.
  • Grzegorz Piotrowski, who analyses transition to democracy in Poland.
  • Federico Rossi, who analysed paths of transition in the Baltic area, in Bulgaria and in Rumania.
  • Daniel Ritter, who analysed cases of transition in the Balcans, in the Czech Republic and in the GDR.
  • Jana Warkotsch, who analysed transition to democracy in Egypt.


Failed Democratization: Why Movements for Democracy Failed


This part will look at failed mobilization for democracy, bridging literature on social movements, democratization and revolution.


Researchers who are contributing to this part include:

  • Teije Donker, who is conducting research on Syria
  • Emin Poljarevic, who is conducting research on Libya
  • Daniel Ritter, who is conducting research on Ukraine and Russia


Where Did the Revolution Go? Social Movements in Democratic Consolidation


Another aim of the project is to understand the consequences of previous participation of civil society organizations in transition on the successive stages of consolidation. Paired comparisons of cases of ‘democratization from above’ and ‘democratization from below’ are developed, addressing the time evolution as well as the causal mechanisms of civil society participation in democratization processes. Empirical evidences come from quantitative analyses of protest events, collected from the press and other sources, as well as oral history and archival research. Comparison addresses Poland, Hungary and Spain as cases of participated pacts with Czechoslovakia, GDR and Portugal as cases of eventful democratization, Portugal a. In a longer term perspective, the research address processes of democratization in Italy and Germany. Comparison on effects is also addressed in the MENA regions (in particular, Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey).


Researchers working on this part include:

  • Kivanc Atak, on effects of democratic transition on consolidation in Turkey
  • Tiago Fernandes,on the effects of democratic transition on consolidation in Portugal
  • Herbert Reiter, comparing the development of conception of democracy in the labour movement in Italy and Germany
  • Eduardo Romanos, on the effects of democratic transition on consolidation in Spain

Interviews with former activists were conducted by:

  • Teije Donker in Tunisia
  • Milan Hrubes in the Czech Republic
  • Jochen Kleres in the GDR
  • Grzegorz Piotrowski in Poland
  • Lili Torek in Hungary
  • Jana Warkotsch in Egypt

Protest event analysis is conducted by:

  • Kivanc Atak on Turkey and Tunisia
  • Matteo Cernison on Central Eastern Europe
  • Hugo Leal on Egypt

Social Movements and the Depening of Democracy


Another part of the research addresses the deepening of democracy. Research is underway on recent campaigns of protest for "real" or "direct" democracy, embedding these protests in the historical development of social, political and cultural systems. A volume titled Bringing Capitalism Back In. Protest and Democracy in Times of Crisis is forthcoming with Polity Press; another on Spreading Protest is forthcoming with ECPR Press. Another volume, on Participatory democracy in Southern Europe has been just published by Rowman and Littlefield.


Researchers working on this part of the project, based on in depth-interviews and press analysis, include:

On protests against austerity

  • Massimiliano Andretta on Italy
  • Tiago Fernandes on Portugal
  • Joseba Fernandez on Spain
  • Francis O’Connor on Ireland
  • Eduardo Romanos on Spain
  • Markos Vogiatzoglou on Greece, Iceland and Cyprus

On conceptions of democracy in specific movements

  • Matteo Cernison on environmental conflicts
  • Lorenzo Cini on student movements

On the “2013 protest”

  • Kivanc Atak, on the Gezi Park protests in Turkey
  • Chiara Milan, on protests in 2013 in Bosnia
  • Mariana Mendes, on protests in 2013 in Brasil
  • Juan Masullo, on protests in Latin America
  • Francis O’ Connor on South Africa
  • Julia Rone, on protests in 2013 in Bulgaria

On social movements in institutional politics

  • Daniela Chironi, on social movements within political parties
  • Francis O’ Connor, on mobilization from below for the consultation on Catalonia independence
  • Martin Portos, on mobilization from below for the consultation on Catalonia independence
  • Anna Subirats, on mobilization from below for the consultation on Catalonia independence

The Charlie Hebdo debate: critical junctures and deliberation in the public sphere


A final part of the project addresses eventful democratization, focusing on how transformative events influence strategic interactions among political actors and shape public debates over contentious issues. The focus is on the Charlie Hebdo shooting that took place in Paris in January 2015, which we consider as a critical juncture that affected the content and nature of public debates on the accommodation of cultural and religious diversity in Western European societies. This part of the research is built upon two main theoretical axes: on the one hand, we refer to literature on the impact of transformative events, investigating how these shape environmental opportunities, allocation of resources, and ultimately the strategic interaction among actors. Critical junctures are turning points that pave the way for changes and may have long-lasting effects on the relations that are established in new assets or regimes. On the other hand, in this research we aim to account for the degree of deliberativeness of various public spheres in the aftermaths of the Charlie Hebdo attacks: our goal is to investigate to which extent, through which mechanisms and under which circumstances, transformative events trigger deliberation or rather polarization in the public spheres.

The research design is based on a small N cross-national comparison (France, Denmark, Germany, Italy and the U.K.), which bridges most similar and most different research design. Within a most similar research design, we focus on the impact of different citizenship regimes and religion-state relations; within a most different research design, we look at how robust causal mechanisms work in -the different cases, focusing on brokerage, agenda setting, embeddedness, transnationalism, adaptation and deliberativeness. Yet, the comparative design is not limited to comparisons across country cases and over time (covering the first anniversary of the shooting in January 2016), but also addresses several public spheres, comparing the unfolding of public debates in mainstream media to subaltern and social movements’ public spheres. In so doing, we aim to analyse the interactions among institutional and civil society actors in different fields and across the multiple issues related with the Charlie Hebdo attacks: migration and integration, secularism and cultural and religious diversity, security and civil rights.

From the methodological point of view, the research is based on a triangulation of quantitative and qualitative analysis. The first part of the research focuses on coverage, and it will use quantitative claims analysis to interpret media discourse in one mainstream quality newspaper in each country case. In addition to this, we will conduct qualitative framing as well as discourse analysis of web platforms, websites, speech acts and selected online material produced by different types of nationally based social movement actors. In this way, we will look at the responses to transformative events in social movements’ spheres focusing on the discursive activity and strategic action of 1) radical left groups, 2) radical right groups, 3) migrant organizations, 4) civil right groups, 5) religious organizations.


Researchers who contributed to this part

  • Pietro Castelli Gattinara: public debates in Italy and claims analysis
  • Konstantinos Eleftheriadis: public debates in France
  • Andrea Felicetti: public debates in the U.K. and deliberative theory
  • Georgia Mavrodi: public debates in Germany
  • Linda Pedersen and Emin Poljarevic: public debates in Denmark

Page last updated on 08 August 2015