Call for Applications: UC Berkeley Global Democracy Commons: Reimagining Democracy for the 21st Century

Application Deadline: May 3, 2024

The future of democracy across the globe is uncertain. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union led many to believe that democracy had triumphed over socialism, but three decades later that conclusion appears incorrect. In the years after 2008, authoritarian populist regimes have marshaled their electoral successes to systematically dismantle the fabric of democracy. A growing number of scholars, journalists, and public figures despair that democracy, with its relatively shallow historical roots, is confronting an existential risk.

At the same time protest movements around the world have multiplied as they have addressed the deepening crises posed by climate change, migration, inequality, labor exploitation and their intersection with racial, ethnic, sexed, and gendered subjugation. These movements have provided new models of organizing and imagining democratic practice.

The UC Berkeley Global Democracy Commons aims to help generate, energize, and understand democratic practices around the world, whatever idiom they use or from which position on the political spectrum they come. Our goal is to deepen and broaden our democratic imagination so that it is not confined to a set of electoral procedures or political institutions designed to express the collective will of individual political subjects. Instead we hope to encourage an understanding of democracy as a shared space oriented towards forging new bonds of solidarity and improving our collective lives in ways that often exceed the domain of politics. A key part of our mission is to engage a range of publics beyond the academy in the making and dissemination of these new conceptions of democracy.

Each year the program will support the research of two labs seeking to address how democracy can be reimagined around some of the key challenges it currently faces around the world. These labs will ideally support as many of the following elements as makes sense for their program of work:

  • interdisciplinary faculty collaboration;
  • graduate student research in the field;
  • undergraduate internships within NGOs or activist organizations;
  • collaboration with practitioners and activists around the world.

Each lab will receive $50,000 for a program of work that lasts for one academic year. Each lab will be responsible for proposing their own budget and distribution of these resources. The work of the lab will be made publicly available on the digital commons. A key ambition of the Global Democracy Commons is to bring the university into active conversation with the wider public sphere. The public life of knowledge and information today takes a myriad of forms that traverse online and offline spaces. Creative production circulates through many kinds of online media — blog posts, podcasts, substack newsletters, instagram reels, Tiktok videos, and a myriad other textual, visual, and audio forms; alongside “analog” interventions like broadsheets, radio shows, public art interventions, and so on. We believe that a central mandate of the public university is to create resources for the public. We encourage applications to creatively imagine how the lab will make its work publicly available, and curate broader conversations, through the digital commons and/or by other means.

Some examples of possible research themes and questions include, but are not limited to:

  • Democracy without Borders. What are the consequences of the current migration crisis for democracy within nation-states?
  • Democracy and the Planet. How can we reconcile the urgent need to tackle climate change with electoral cycles and the popular will?
  • Secular Democracy. How does the rise of religious identification and sectarianism challenge the promise of democracy to represent all, whether they believe or not? Conversely, can we begin to look to religious vocabularies as sources of radical possibility and how?
  • Decolonizing Democracy. Was democracy an invention of the global north and if so how can its imperial legacies, and racist history be unraveled?
  • Digital Democracy. What role does social media and data management play in improving or degrading public debate?
  • Democracy and Capitalism. What is the connection between capitalism and democracy? How does the theory of each differ from the practice of both?

We recognize that these themes will need to be rooted in particular times and places, as well as in specific forms of struggle and organizing. While we hope to encourage applications from scholars who are studying sites around the world we also hope to encourage work focused on the Bay Area as well. In no more than four pages applications must detail the personnel involved (faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, activists/practitioners), the program of study (research, workshops, talks), what resources or forms of public engagement it will make available on the digital commons, and the budgeting of that program.

The deadline for applications is noon on Friday 3 May 2024. Please send questions and applications to Professor James Vernon, Director of the Berkeley Commons for Global Democracy,