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Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS)

Global Challenges for the Model of Liberal Democracy and Market Economy

The SCRIPTS cluster will study the global challenges for liberal democracy as a model of organization.

The SCRIPTS cluster will study the global challenges for liberal democracy as a model of organization.
Image Credit: Collage Vanessa Alessi / Image Credits

After the end of the Cold War, liberal democracy seemed to have prevailed for good. Today, 25 years later, however, the liberal model of political and economic order faces a profound crisis. Authoritarian leaders including Russian president Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the Secretary General of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, as well as non-state fundamentalist groups such as the Islamic State openly operate as antagonists of the liberal model. At the same time, right-wing populist movements like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) gain strength by attacking the very foundations of liberalism within liberal societies. Transnational networks connect authoritarian leaders and right-wing populists. The Cluster of Excellence Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS) analyzes the contemporary controversies about the liberal order from a historical, global, and comparative perspective. What are the causes of the current contestations? How do they differ from earlier crises? What are the consequences for democracy and the global challenges of the 21st century?

In addition to Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, five other Berlin-based research institutions are participating in SCRIPTS: the Centre for East European and International Studies, the German Institute for Economic Research, the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, the Hertie School of Governance, and the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient. "The research program bridges the prevalent gap between social sciences and area studies with their different perspectives and methodological approaches," says Tanja Börzel, Professor of Political Science at Freie Universität Berlin and spokesperson for the Cluster of Excellence. "The core of the research team shares a social science perspective, but researchers from history, economics, and education studies as well as philosophy and Islamic studies complement the profile." About half of the participating researchers have a specific regional expertise focusing for example on the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin-America, or Eastern Europe.

"From our perspective, the current contestations of the liberal script are a global problem that takes on different forms in different parts of the world. We want to understand this diversity as well as commonalities, and inter-connections," says Michael Zürn, Director of the research unit "Global Governance" at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) and Professor of International Relations at Freie Universität Berlin, who also serves as spokesperson for the Cluster. The diversity of the challenges can only be captured by integrating different perspectives. For this purpose, SCRIPTS has developed institutional partnerships with universities in all world regions.

Prof. Dr. Tanja Börzel (Freie Universität Berlin) and Professor Dr. Michael Zürn (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin) are the spokespersons for the SCRIPTS Cluster.

Prof. Dr. Tanja Börzel (Freie Universität Berlin) and Professor Dr. Michael Zürn (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin) are the spokespersons for the SCRIPTS Cluster.

At the same time, the Cluster maintains close cooperative ties with major political and cultural institutions in the German capital. One of these partners is the German Federal Foreign Office with which Freie Universität Berlin has been successfully cooperating for years. Among these partners is also the Humboldt Forum in the newly rebuilt Berlin Palace. The perspectives on the contestations of the liberal model being developed by the Cluster's research projects will become part of the first exhibition of the Forum's "Humboldt Laboratory" to be opened to the public as early as 2019. From the beginning, SCRIPTS not only strives to be a central node of a global research network, but it also attends to serve as a central hub of the public debate on the current crises of liberal democracy.

Spokespersons: Prof. Dr. Tanja Börzel (Freie Universität Berlin), Prof. Dr. Michael Zürn (Berlin Social Science Center, WZB)

Applicant university: Freie Universität Berlin

Cooperation Partners:

  • Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS)

  • German Institute for Economic Research (DIW)

  • German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA)

  • Hertie School of Governance (Hertie School)

  • Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

  • Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)

  • WZB Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)

Academic cooperation partners (selection):

  • Afrika: University of Cape Town; Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar

  • Australia: University of Sydney

  • Europe: Nuffield College, Oxford; Sciences Po, Paris; Higher School of Economics, Moscow

  • Latin America: University of São Paulo; El Colégio de México

  • Middle East: Bilkent University, Ankara; Hebrew University, Jerusalem

  • North America: Princeton University; University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University

  • East Asia: University of Tokyo; Fudan University, Shanghai; Chinese University of Hong Kong

  • South Asia: Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; National University of Singapore

Cooperation partner for science transfer / Knowledge Exchange (selection):

  • Culture: Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Humboldt-Forum, Hebbel am Ufer, Maxim Gorki Theater

  • Politics: Federal Foreign Office, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung

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