World Congress - Fukuoka 2006

The 20th IPSA World Congress of Political Science was held in Fukuoka, Japan from July 9 to 13, 2006. It was the second Congress in East Asia in the history of IPSA, and the first one in Japan. The event attracted 2,094 participants from 76 countries, not including staff and exhibitors, setting the attendance record at the time. The event’s main theme was “Is Democracy Working?”.

The Congress offered a large program that often included up to 35 simultaneous sessions with 1,242 papers presented in over 600 panels. The highlight events included 6 plenary sessions, 7 Congress theme sessions, 7 special sessions and 6 award sessions.

The participation of women was up from 20% in Durban, standing at 26% of registered participants. Students accounted for 10% of congress participants.

We would also like to thank our sponsors, partners and exhibitors for making this year's event possible.

Congress Theme

Is Democracy Working?

Conventionally, representative democracy has a central place in any analysis of democratic political behaviour, and has provided a rich vein of theoretical and applied data for scholars to explore. Today, many observe that representative democracy is in crisis and note a decline of confidence in public institutions. Many factors contribute to a lack of public trust in politics including the growing costs of political competition, the rising role of the leader in decision making, the centralization of government and the increasing remoteness of political leaders from the people they serve. Familiar questions focusing on ethical political values and behaviour are given a new framing, while fundamental concepts such as participation and representation are open to being revisited and recast in the context of a modern discourse on democracy and its institutions. Part of these discussions involves assessing whether people expect too much and, at the same time, too little from government. As a contribution to this debate, we can usefully turn our attention to the relationship between democratic citizenship and education: Specifically, are our educational institutions, broadly defined, preparing democratic citizens? One response to the rise in anti-establishment attitudes and general dissatisfaction with the political order is for new technologies to be harnessed to address this crisis of legitimacy in democratic institutions. The development of e-government and e-democracy are seen as addressing the crisis in democracy, yet the question remains as to what extent democratic deficits of gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion (to name but a few) can be resolved by technological innovation. Is e-democracy taking the politics out of democratic representation?

The media, too, has an increasingly important role to play in shaping and influencing citizen’s perceptions of what is important, and the global consolidation of media networks offers particular challenges — or opportunities — for shaping public views. Traditionally conceived, democratic institutions are the products of nation states and represent a state’s political culture, traditions, ideologies and values. In today’s world, the political interdependence of states is growing apace, and taking new forms, presenting challenges to the sovereignty of national institutions. Are democratic institutions capable of adapting and responding in a globalising context while retaining legitimacy at home?

Armed conflict — ethnic, regional, national, international - presents considerable challenges to existing democratic institutions and practices. Often, it is in the process of conflict resolution that the creative capacity of democracy is revealed, as new institutional configurations emerge from negotiated settlements. Exploring and comparing the causes, patterns, and consequences of conflicts in the world is an important way to assess the role democratic solutions play in securing peaceful outcomes. However, we must also attend to the limits of democracy in regulating and resolving conflict — what kind of conflicts can democracy resolve and what kind of issues might best be moved outside the domain of democratic decision-making? Inevitably, this leads us to considering the presuppositions on which a democratic system is built and to considering why some states succeed and others fail to construct robust and enduring democratic systems. A related issue is the question of democratising the international system: is it possible to manage and respond to international non-state actors and to meet the demands of international social integration democratically? What role do international forums play in shaping democratic institutions and practices?

To what extent can democracy be seen as linking very different political and cultural traditions? And can an understanding of democratic practice help in searching for solutions in an increasingly polarised world? As gaps in economic development between north and south persist, can democracy offer any solutions for bridging these gaps, and what form should these democratic solutions take? At the same time as consolidated democracies are experiencing a crisis in representation, newly-established democracies seek to find a path away from authoritarianism. This area of scholarship explores the conditions for the emergence of democratic systems and the changing relationship between state formation and democracy on the one hand, and civil society and political representatives on the other.

In assessing whether or not democracy is working we must of course continue to examine the effectiveness of contemporary electoral systems, campaign practices, and political parties. But we must also ask how well contemporary democracy accommodates non-electoral expressions of popular interest? Democracy has many aspects, one of the most visible being the recurrence of ‘direct democracy’ initiatives by citizens wishing to influence political representatives at sub-national, national and international levels. These expressions of general sentiment, such as anti-globalisation protests, anti-authoritarian movements and anti-war demonstrations have mobilised, or re-awakened, significant expressions of political views by a public that is less inclined to vote in elections. In recent times, the rise of unorthodox politics, especially the politics of terrorism, have posed an additional challenge to democratic societies and their governance. Understanding this challenge, and investigating the phenomenon as a subject in its own right, can throw light on the strengths and weaknesses of democracy. More peaceful forms of direct participation, such as ‘citizens’ covenants and charters, or, more conventionally, popular referendums, are sometimes seen as offering a renewal of democratic legitimacy. Multi-ethnic states have the additional challenge of developing legitimate forms of interest representation and influence for significant, continuing minorities. In the meantime, interest articulation has widened its boundaries, and NGOs and other civil society organisations are increasingly brought into the decision-making in a quasi-influential role. Across East and West, North and South, non-governmental organizations and civil society agencies seek to fill the vacuum in social action left by failing states or atrophied welfare regimes.

Nor can we ignore the normative dimensions of democracy as we seek to assess its effectiveness as a political principle. The two main objectives of an ideal democracy — freedom and equality — are measures by which one may judge the quality of democracy. Each democracy expresses these fundamental objectives in different ways, and to varying degrees, in the political, social and civil rights it legislates for its populace. In this regard, normative democratic thinking provides a platform for the empirical consideration of the inter-related concerns of human rights, equality, development and sustainability. Analysing democracy from a normative perspective can throw light on the practices and priorities of democracies at different points in time, at different stages of development, contributing to quantitative and qualitative assessments of the condition of democracy, the nature and degree of accountability and responsiveness displayed by democratic participants. There is scope, too, for a reassessment of democracy and its compatibility with pluralism. A related area of study is the analysis of corruption as an aspect of political affairs in democratic societies. A fundamental question arising from corruption studies is to what extent such practices harm a democracy, and to what extent there is a willingness within political elites and popular culture to contain, if not eliminate, such practices? Where and how does the rule of law connect with freedom, equality and accountability?

Democracy is seen as a reasonably effective, if necessarily flawed, framework for making decisions and delivering public policies. Public administration is essential to the implementation of democratic decisions, and all democracies face the challenge of supporting an effective, efficient and fair bureaucracy. Taken from another angle, responsibility for making democracy work falls on bureaucrats as well as politicians. Yet, as scholars of public administration point out, the dominance of neo-liberal economic principles have in many instances changed the environment within which policy-makers carry out their tasks. Which perspectives and biases are favoured or excluded in policy-making, and how is the framing and implementing of public policy shaped by a responsiveness to sectional interests or wider societal interests? How open are policy processes to accepting, adopting and interpreting international treaties, covenants and commitments? To what extent is civil society involved in contributing to policy making processes? These are perennial questions contributing to an assessment of the extent to which democratic practices in a polity are responsive to the needs and concerns of the populace rather than serving the individual interests of elites.

Panels and special sessions related to the main theme will be grouped under 6 major sub-themes:

  • The crisis and capacity of democracy — national and international perspectives
  • Democracy and the new world order
  • Institutional legitimacy, interest representation and democratic practice
  • Citizen participation, values and identity — democratic inclusion and exclusion
  • Public policies, bureaucracies and the quality of democracy
  • Theory, knowledge, and crafting better democracies

Yvonne Galligan, Program Chair


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Photo credit: International Political Science Association.