What is a democratic society 2

Department of History and Cultural Studies

Research focus: (Representative) democracy in Japan in international comparison

Democracy as a form of government, lived practice or theoretical ideal is currently one of the most contested terms. Extremism, globalization and demographic changes in many societies are just a few of the challenges that democratic states are currently facing and which are intensifying disputes over interpretative sovereignty and future developments. Globalization and the associated economic integration of markets far beyond national or regional borders, for example, confront democratic institutions with the risk of losing their ability to steer and cause many citizens to question the role and power of their governments vis-à-vis large international companies. Globalized [e1] economy is difficult to control by national governments, and regional or international organizations often suffer from the different objectives of the participating states. Members of parliament in national parliaments can only influence global economic events to a limited extent, as they are often not involved in the decision on the drafting of contracts, for example in the case of large free trade agreements such as TTIP, or not all information or the facts are openly available to them are too complex.

In addition to the debate about national, democratic sovereignty fueled by globalization, the question of effective and satisfactory representation in democratic systems is also becoming more and more central. Populist movements, parties and politicians promise more direct forms of democracy and representation and electoral successes such as that of the AfD in Germany or the ultimately successful fighters for a “Brexit” in Great Britain can also be understood as symptoms of a crisis in representative democracy. There is also intense discussion on the part of the established parties about how the party organizations that have moved into the political center in recent years can be made attractive again to voters on the right or left fringes of the political spectrum. In addition, a growing group of voters, especially among young people, are showing themselves to be politically disinterested.

Also basic questions regarding the definition of the demos, that central sovereign of democracy, are becoming more and more acute due to increasing migration processes and also problems such as Japan's falling birth rate and are still hotly debated. The “growing together” of the world through technological advances and globalization processes has also posed new problems here to identities, processes and concepts of democracy that have long been considered secure. Technological changes, the change in social norms (e.g. same-sex marriage), or the, real or perceived, increasing feeling of insecurity among many people also make questions of individual freedom and rights central issues in all liberal democracies. It can thus be stated that all central issues, concepts and ideas of liberal, representative democracy, as can be found in Germany and also in Japan, are in a phase of intense conflict and dispute.

This research focus of Japanese Studies at Freie Universität Berlin examines the changes, tensions and phenomena mentioned in Japan in an international comparison. Three topics are discussed:

  • On the one hand, conditions and changes in legal and institutional framework conditions and the political participation and turnout that takes place in them, especially among younger voters.
  • On the other hand, discourses on the state and future of democracy and its possible role in a globalized world in Japan in international comparison. Here normative constructions and their changes should be taken into account, as well as the type of political communication in such a democracy.
  • Thirdly, the strategies of established and emerging parties as well as non-governmental organizations are to be examined. There are ideas on how democracy can be actively and attractively designed in times of globalization and how it can be controlled in the context of increasing globalization processes. Social, socio-economic and structural factors should also be included in research into the emergence of new movements, parties and groups, as well as possible radicalizations of communication in political discourse.