Call for Papers: The State We’re In - Democracy’s Fractures, Fixes and Futures

Christi van der Westhuizen's picture
Call for Papers
June 15, 2021
South Africa
Subject Fields: 
African History / Studies, Political History / Studies, Race / Ethnic Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies

In South Africa and also globally, democracy as practice and as principle is under pressure amid worsening socio-economic inequality. Democratic politics has been displaced by technocratic proceduralism, placing responsive governance and the accountability of elected representatives in question. In reaction, authoritarian figures arise promising economic solutions while mobilising retrogressive racial, gender and sexual identities. These attempts to reverse the gains of feminist and anti-racist activisms have been resisted by mass movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. The COVID-19 pandemic has since sent economies into a downward spiral, while related lockdowns have granted governments authoritarian powers that may strengthen resurgent authoritarian impulses. In South Africa, while some progress has been made in transforming life opportunities, calls for decolonisation have sounded in the face of continuing racial and gender patterns of wealth distribution. Corruption across the public and private sectors poses a clear risk. 


Is the democratic project in danger in the face of authoritarian populisms flaring up across the world? How can enduring colonial and apartheid inequalities be overturned to enable humanisation and justice for racial, ethnic, classed, national, gendered and sexual others? How should democracy be actualised in conditions of extreme inequality and poverty? Is democracy losing traction in South Africa as a vehicle for the actualisation of the constitutional values of dignity, equality and liberty, and for inclusion and solidarities across social categories of difference? See below for specific topics for papers to address.


Abstracts (150-200 words, with title and keywords) are hereby invited for paper presentations at an interdisciplinary conference that will take place online on 7-9 September 2021 to critically interrogate the state of democracy – its tendencies, dynamics and structural conditions, globally and in South Africa. The conference marks the ten-year anniversary of the founding of Nelson Mandela University’s Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy. Individual submissions and panel proposals are welcome. The conference is open to academics, postgraduate students and civil society activists. 


The abstracts should be submitted to The deadline for the submissions is 15 June 2021.


Keynote speakers: 

Prof Mahmood Mamdani - Herbert Lehman Professor of Government, Columbia University, USA, and Executive Director, Makerere Institute of Social Research, Uganda

Prof William Gumede - Associate Professor, School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and Executive Chairperson, Democracy Works Foundation


Details of invited symposia will be made available in due course.


Papers are invited on the following topics:

  • What are the futures for democracy? Possibilities for continued democratisation (in the image of the Constitution?) in the cross-currents of ‘traditionalism’, neoliberalism, populism and nationalism.
  • Settlers or natives? Citizens, subjects or members of ‘the people’? South Africa 2021’s insiders and outsiders, at the intersections of nationality, race, class, gender, sexuality and the urban/rural divide.
  • What are the possibilities for a politics that advances both inclusion and justice? Effective activism with reference to the economy, gender, sexuality and the land question;  solidarities across fault lines; the uses and abuses of state feminism.
  • What are the prospects for economic justice in the age of neoliberalism and after COVID-19? Drawing the local-national-global political economic links. What is the relevance of, and possibility for, leftist solutions at this juncture?
  • What is the state of the South African state in 2021? Government and related institutions, in relation to public service delivery, politics and corruption (including state-owned enterprises, the criminal justice and judicial sectors; all three tiers of government).
  • Reconciliation as an essential element of democratisation? The past in the present, race, gender, (intergenerational) trauma, and what can be done. 
  • Paradox in action? Exploring the apparent contradictions between South Africa’s role and position on the regional, continental and global stages, and domestic policies and government actions at home. What are the implications for democracy, here and elsewhere?
  • What role for the arts and (social) media? Democratisation in relation to artists, journalists and content creators across creative fields, mainstream media and social media.
  • Histories of democracy? Knowledges, narratives and practices of African democracy.

Conference papers may be eligible for inclusion in an accredited edited volume or special journal edition.

Contact Info: 

Prof Christi van der Westhuizen 

Nelson Mandela University, South Africa

Contact Email: