The issue of external democracy promotion has become particularly prominent with the often-criticized Freedom Agenda proclaimed by former U.S. President Bush and the related efforts to promote regime change by military force. But, in the context of the so-called Arab Spring, also the range of peaceful activities through development cooperation or diplomatic means has received renewed public attention – both with a view to what external actors can and should do, and with a view to the limitations and contradictions of such interferences in the domestic affairs of other countries. Our network is interested in a range of issues relating to democracy promotion and we have gained expertise with regard to different actors, strategies, processes and instruments as well as with regard to different world regions with their specific circumstances and factors.

Currently, our activities and publications focus on the crucial but broadly neglected issue of interaction in democracy promotion. Democracy promotion is, by definition, an interactive process and, yet, this interactive nature has received too little attention in the past and there has so far been no systematic approach to studying it. Going beyond unidirectional notions of ‘export’, ‘social engineering’ or ‘socialization’ that are sometimes explicit, often implicit in policymakers’ as well as scholars’ thinking, the network aims at theorizing and empirically analyzing the interaction processes that unfold when external democracy promoters meet with the ‘recipients’ or ‘targets’ they try to influence. Our work is guided by the assumption that practitioners and scholars alike have yet to recognize and untangle the serious challenges that are posed by the interactive nature of democracy promotion – challenges that have implications for both our ways of studying democracy promotion as well as, in policy terms, for democracy promotion’s potential to be mutually agreed-upon and beneficial, peaceful, and minimally invasive with regard to the recipient’s collective self-determination.

The network is thus interested in studying what precisely happens when democracy promoters engage with counterparts – governments, political parties, civil-society groups, etc. – that themselves have meaningful agency: How do local actors respond to democracy promoters; do they adopt or resist externally promoted democratic norms; how is external aid appropriated or diverted? How do the very democracy promoters, on their part, react when their policies are challenged and/or transformed ‘on the ground’? Which dynamics of interaction emerge, and what are the consequences for both the state of democracy in recipient countries and the shape of external democracy promotion? In theorizing and empirically studying these interaction processes, the network contributes both to the research as well as the practice of democracy promotion.

Previous Research Activities


Special Issues

  • 2019. Publication of the Special Issue “The negotiation of democracy promotion. Issues, parameters and consequences“ in the Journal Democratization (Vol. 26, No. 5).
  • 2012. Publication of the Special Issue „Do all Good Things Go Together? Conflicting Objectives in Democracy Promotion“ in the Journal Democratization (Vol. 19, No. 3); reprinted as Special Issue Book at Routledge.

Democracy Promotion as Interaction

  • 2017. Organization of the Workshop “’Whither the End of the Liberal Order.’ Do Societal Values Influence the Effectiveness of Democracy Support?” at the German Development Institute (DIE) in Bonn.
  • 2016. Organization of the Workshop “Democracy Promotion as Interaction: Rethinking the External-Internal Interplay in International Relations“ at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) in Frankfurt.
  • 2015. Organization of the Expert Workshop “Interaction between Internal and External Actors in Democracy Promotion” at the German Development Institute (GDI) in Bonn.

“Critical Junctures” and the Promotion of Democratic Processes

  • 2015. Organization of the Panel “How do They Deal with Critical Junctures? External and Domestic Actors in Times of Crisis” at the Annual Conference of the International Studies Association (ISA) in New Orleans.
  • 2013. Organization of the Panel “Critical Junctures in Democracy Promotion” at the General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) in Bordeaux.

Challenges in Democracy Promotion

  • 2019. Organization of the Workshop “Why to Fight against Dictatorship at high personal costs? Studying political activism and its leadership in autocracies” at the Peace Research Institute (PRIF) in Frankfurt.
  • 2012. Organization of the Panel “Global Challenges in Democracy Promotion: The Actors” and the Panel “Global Challenges in Democracy Promotion: The Issues” at the Joint Conference of the British International Studies Association (BISA) and the International Studies Association (ISA) in Edinburgh.
  • 2011. Organization of the Panel “Religious Actors in Democratization Consolidation: Evidence from the Five Muslim Democracies” at the Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in Seattle.

Conflicting Objectives in Democracy Promotion

  • 2011. Organization of an Authors’ Workshop in Zürich, funded by the Swiss National Fond and the NCCR Democracy. More about this event to be found in Newsletter 9 (2011) NCCR Democracy (p. 16-17; in German).
  • 2010. Organization of the Section 13 “Challenges of Democracy Promotion: Do all Good Things Go Together?” with 7 Panels at the Annual Conference of the Standing Group International Relations in Stockholm.