World Congress - Durban 2003

The 19th IPSA World Congress of Political Science was held in Durban, South Africa from 29 June to 4 July 2003. It was the first Congress in Africa in the history of IPSA.IPS World Congress Logo The event attracted 1,011 participants from 69 countries, not including staff and exhibitors. The event’s main theme was “Democracy, Tolerance, Justice”.

The program included 342 sessions in four categories: Main Theme (95), Research Committees (134), General Panels (108), and Plenary Sessions (5).



Congress Theme

Democracy, Tolerance, Justice: Challenges for Political Change

As the dust was settling over the ruins of the Berlin Wall, people everywhere, in all walks of life and of all ideologies, shared a moment of wild optimism toward the prospects of a more just and democratic world. In little more than a decade, it has become apparent that democracy may not be all it is reputed to be and, to some, justice seems to recede even as it is pursued. Democratic transitions are not easily consolidated, and past legacies of injustice continue to stand in the way of the best efforts to achieve a future as conducive to justice as to democracy. The theme of the 2003 World Congress, therefore, asks how people can acknowledge and confront the past, or, in some instances, put aside the past in order to enjoy a future in which justice, tolerance, and democracy can flourish. In many parts of the world, the consolidation of democratic changes has required addressing the past, in one form or another. This has meant holding former leaders accountable for their actions; prosecuting war crimes committed by both governments and individual citizens; managing the group conflict that many believe has been unleashed by democratization; redistributing land; and paying reparations for past injustices. The process of nation building is also frequently arrested by the political mobilization of ancient hatreds and collective memory of past calamities. Even stable democracies are facing stronger political and social demands that are predicated on a more robust sense of justice, especially from indigenous peoples and cultural minorities previously subjected to repression. Indeed, the very process of democratization may have contributed to unleashing such demands, as democracy has tended to give voice to previously disempowered groups, while at the same time legitimizing popular demands for justice. A specter is haunting the post-Cold War world—the specter of history.

In many countries, this process of redressing the past is described as one of reconciliation. Though it has many meanings, the “minimalist” definition of reconciliation involves tolerance; a “maximalist” definition requires some sort of forgiveness as well. Yet, achieving some form of justice is surely necessary before one can move to the stage of forgiveness. Moreover, in many instances, the ultimate goal is justice—even retributive justice—that sometimes makes any prospect for reconciliation precarious. How political systems accommodate demands for justice and reconciliation without sacrificing tolerance and democracy itself is an important challenge for both established and developing democracies.

A wide variety of scholarship fits under this broad umbrella, ranging from micro-level inquiries into whether truth actually contributes to reconciliation to macro-level and historical analyses of intergroup and interstate relations. Studies of individuals, of groups, of institutions, of polities, and of cultures are welcome, and methodological eclecticism is encouraged, not just tolerated. The twenty-first century offers many challenges to established and emerging democracies, and the work of political scientists is central to identifying problems and providing guidance for resolution.

The subthemes under this general rubric are:

Reconstructing the Past: The Politics of Remembrance
The past is always reconstructed in light of the present. How is it reconstructed, for what purposes and under what circumstances? What roles does politics play in creating a collective memory? Why do some citizens/systems accept collective memories, while others reject them? In what way is the collective memory formed at a popular level, and how does it influence the political actions of the present? How is history used presently?

Political Tolerance
Is tolerance necessary, useful, or conducive to democratic politics? What factors enhance or impede political tolerance, at the level of the individual, of the community, and the nation-state? How do people who have been killing one another with considerable enthusiasm and success come together to form a common system of governance? The major cause of intolerance is perceptions that opposing groups are threatening; how can threat perceptions be managed, especially in a world filled with terrorism and perhaps even a perceived clash of civilizations? Do strong group identities inevitably give rise to aggravated perceptions of group threat and hence to intolerance?

Globalization: Then and Now
Globalization is not entirely a novel phenomenon. The late nineteenth century also witnessed a rapid globalization spearheaded by international financial capitalism; and it culminated eventually in two world wars. What can the present celebration of globalization learn from the earlier attempts and their disastrous consequences? What future is there for the nation-state? What does globalization have to do with peace and democracy? Have global institutions undermined the autonomy and discretion of national governments? How successful are contemporary challenges to globalization likely to be? How does the alleged demise of the nation-state affect the reorganization of political institutions both at the supranational and subnational levels? Is the fate of global capitalism in fact linked more closely within international regulatory institutions and subnational regional economies, such as “world cities,” as often alleged?

Justice: Contextual, Universal, and Individual
Can political practices be justified situationally, in different times and places? Can universal standards of justice be employed in redressing the past in different countries, in different contexts? How do such standards get established and how “universal” are they in fact? Emphasis on economic instrumentalism sometimes seems to obviate the need to consider the justice that citizens expect from their political system; what role do justice expectations play in politics, especially in transitional regimes? Is all political behavior instrumental? Is altruism instrumental? Are the authority and institutions of the nation-state adequate for addressing the issues of justice and human rights in a global era? What role can/do transnational institutions play? Do past injustices entitle their victims to present retribution? To what extent? How can historical and contemporary theories of justice be reconciled? As the neoliberal economy and politics become more global, do the oppositional movements reach across traditional national boundaries?

Race, Ethnicity, and Gender: Concepts, Structure, Institutions, and Attitudes
Race and ethnicity are at the epicenter of many of the conflicts and acts of injustice and repression throughout the world. How have race and ethnicity been socially constructed in various parts of the world? In what ways have these social constructions fostered conflict and intolerance? How, if at all, can they be socially reconstructed? Gender is also a socially constructed category and is influenced by issues of justice, tolerance, and democracy. How has gender been socially constructed in various parts of the world? How are women’s political lives affected by these concepts? Is gender being socially reconstructed? If so, along what lines? What roles do sex and gender play in conducting war or constructing discourses about war? How can reconciliation be achieved when gross human rights violations are sexual in nature.

New Democracies: Colonial Past and Cultural Values
Do national peculiarities and cultural values conflict with the universal liberal demand for human rights? Can they be reconciled? These issues may be of particular relevance to the reconciliation of customary and modern civil law. Many African countries struggle with issues of democratization. Why has liberal democracy failed so often in Africa? Do different civilizational values contribute to political conflict? If so, to what extent? How do we attribute homogeneous sets of civilizational values to discreet geopolitical units? To what degree are former colonial powers responsible for the development of their former colonies? What role do they  play in the postcolonial development and underdevelopment? Do former colonial powers share in the responsibility for the development of injustice and intolerance in their former colonies?

Cosmopolitanism, Patriotism, and Citizenship
Can civic loyalty and allegiance be sustained without firm local boundaries? In what way is a cosmopolitan democracy conceivable with a weakened sense of civic participation and engagement? Conventional wisdom holds that “all politics is local” but political participation at the local level is often eclipsed by participation in national politics—how can this seeming paradox be explained? How should we understand the new global social movements? Is patriotism always connected to nationalism? Do strong conceptions of citizenship contribute to intolerance of aliens?

Politics of Property, Territory, and the Environment
An issue of increasing importance in both developed and developing political systems is the ownership and distribution of land. From a historical perspective, how should land ownership be understood? How can the demands of the dispossessed be reconciled with the expectations of current land owners? What theories of justice are implicit in contemporary disputes over the distribution of land? Do the industrial countries have more responsibility in addressing present ecological issues? To what extent? Does poverty preclude consideration of postmaterial values such as environmental protection?

Making and Implementing Public Policy
Public policy is the designation of the means by which government pursues highly valued goals. Some of the goals of public policy are instrumental, but, many espouse normative or moral goals. Yet how those goals are determined and the access and participation of citizens in the policy formation process differs by governmental structure and level of democratization. The concepts of tolerance, democracy, and justice are intertwined in public policy formation in some countries and are absent in others. Do different institutional arrangements inevitably produce certain types of public policy? In some countries, the development of these normative values is hampered or thwarted by both political and economic constraints. Why do countries that espouse tolerance, democracy, and justice, promulgate public policies that contradict them? In the absence of these concepts, what are the bases for the formulation of public policies? How can public policy promote the values of tolerance, democracy, and justice?

Terrorism, Conflict, and Human Rights
As the events of September 11 indicate, political violence and terrorism are not confined to places in the world with continuing political strife but are present in established democracies, emerging democracies, as well as in authoritarian regimes. In some instances, political strife results in genocide. Clearly, political violence, terrorism, and genocide represent the extreme absence of tolerance. What conditions give rise to political violence, terrorism and genocide? Is it possible for a democracy to conduct a war against terrorism while maintaining its commitment to the tenets of a liberal democracy? Is it possible for tolerance and justice to emerge from political violence, terrorism, and mass killings? What about the innocent victims of these actions? Who should be held accountable? How can a history of terrorism be “forgotten” and progress made toward a more democratic future? Is “collective punishment” just and/or acceptable within the context of democratic politics?

Parliaments, Parties, and Elections
What role do legislatures, parties, and elections play in the development of tolerance and justice? Can democracy flourish in one-party dominant states? What role can an opposition play in the context of systems dominated by a single political party? Is interest-group activity and conflict as salient in emerging democracies as it appears to be in some established democracies? What causes certain types of institutional arrangements (e.g., multipartyism); what consequences flow from these arrangements? Many parliaments seem to face a legitimacy shortfall today; what is the source of the shortfall and what can be done to increase the legitimacy of parliamentary institutions?

Courts and the Justice System
Judicial institutions are often in the thick of dealing with issues of justice, tolerance, and democracy. How widespread is the judicialization of political issues? What accounts for cross-national variability of the role of courts in addressing political disputes? How widespread is the politicization of the judiciary? Again, what accounts for the variability? How can the power and influence of the judicial system be measured? Most importantly, what contributions do courts and judges make to processes of democratization? How do courts acquire legitimacy within cultures in which the rule of law has been severely abused?


Please visit our Flickr page to view or download photos of the 19th IPSA World Congress.

Photo credit: International Political Science Association.