Past Program


Democracy in the US, and across the world, faces complex challenges. Economic, social and racial divisions are driving rapid polarization. Gaps are widening between people and power. Short-term domestic demands crowd out long-term vision and collaboration on shared risks like climate. How fit for purpose are our established democracies and founding principles? 

With the United States presidential election rapidly approaching, 2020 is a critical juncture to launch a comparative analysis of democratic principles, practice, and innovation. Starting in October, Salzburg Global’s American Studies Program will challenge Fellows to simulate an undertaking accomplished only 33 times: amending the US Constitution. This will leverage experiential learning to examine the future implications of this founding document (for both the United States and global democracy writ large), shape the future agenda, and research outputs for this multi-year series.

By one measure, global democracy is at or near a modern-day high. Yet concern has been growing for years about the future of democracy . Even though a strong majority supports democratic ideals, many now question democracy’s resilience and how it can reconnect with citizens who are disillusioned or feel excluded. Across the world, political and social sciences point to the end of traditional binaries like liberal/conservative and left/right. Economics and culture are emerging as the new axes for analysis and prediction, with questions of race, class, and ethnicities transforming attitudes to – and participation in – political parties and leadership. 

Conventional wisdom and value-based assumptions indicate what democracy is or should be: rule of law, accountability, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, representation, minority rights. Yet survey data increasingly highlights a deep disconnect between expert opinion and what “ordinary people” actually think and want. A coordinated, interdisciplinary response is required – with culture (arts, humanities, academia, social media) at the epicenter – to determine the path forward. 

Fortunately, political and cultural theater is at the fore. Leaders, institutions, and key stakeholders are responding to seismic societal change, and new networks of power, with their best efforts at modern democratic performance. Heads of State litigate policy via Twitter. Parliamentary proceedings are livestreamed. International protests have been broadcasted and serve as proxies for approval polling. 

Specific controversies  mark out the United States, whose president recently signed an executive order banning the use of TikTok – a social network for sharing user videos – for fear of national security concerns. This issue has sharply divided cultural influencers, businesspeople, and legal experts and sits at the intersection of legal rights and due process, capital, and international relations.

The new three-year series What Future for Democracy? Polarization, Culture, and Resilience in America and the World will launch in October 2020 with a five-day role-play workshop that combines in-person and online participation. It will bring together different disciplinary and national viewpoints on democratic purpose, culture, and practice – for today’s world and into the future. Participants will focus on selected articles of the US Constitution as a structured framework to stimulate analysis and collaboration on current problems and recommendations for American and other democracies around the globe.  

    Series Info
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    Hasan Ayoub
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    Marty Gecek
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    Christian Gilde
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    Susan Glisson
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    Jan Hornat
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    Petr Kopecký
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    Louis Mendy
    Professor of American Studies, Cheikh Anta Diop University, Senegal
    Anne Mørk
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    Taj Muhammad
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    Kamir Delivrance Nzale
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    Matthew Pigatt
    Mayor of the city of Opa-locka, Author and Black Historian, USA
    Pascal Rathle
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    Dolores Resano
    Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, The Clinton Institute for American Studies, University College Dublin, Ireland
    Rebecca Riddell
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    Stam Saeed
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    Alex Seago
    Professor of Cultural Studies at Richmond, The American International University, London, UK
    Mariam Sherwani
    Lecturer Law, Federal Urdu University for Arts Science and Technology Islamabad, Pakistan
    Sara Shokravi
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    Sophia Tscherne
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    Isavella Vouza
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    Ewelina Wasko-Owsiejczuk
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    Series Goals

    Salzburg Global is launching a major three-year collaboration - What Future for Democracy? Polarization, Culture, and Resilience in America and the World - to help shape a future vision for American Studies in a radically changing world, with five specific goals:

    • Catalyze leadership by universities and American Studies practitioners through rigorous interdisciplinary analysis (arts, culture, history, geography) to assess the integration and practice of current democratic principles. 
    • Activate cross-cutting networks of citizens, scholars and innovators working at the frontiers of democracy and inclusion in the United States and around the world.
    • Incubate new ideas, research collaborations and cultural projects for dissemination through international American Studies associations and networks.
    • Engage new and diverse publics in open dialogue across a variety of platforms, supported by innovative media products and virtual convening tools.
    • Develop a major non-partisan initiative to position Salzburg Global Seminar at the forefront of the future evolution of American Studies, marking the organization’s 75th anniversary in 2022.
    2020 Topic: Revisiting the US Constitution

    With the United States still representing the promise of democracy for many people around the globe, key questions for Program 1 in new three-year series on What Future for Democracy? Polarization, Culture, and Resilience in America and the World will include: 

    • How can citizens, media and institutions re-engage across divides to build resilience and restore public trust? What lessons from the past can be applied to the present – and the future?
    • How do contemporary literature, theater and other cultural works help shape understanding of the forces at work? 
    • In what ways might we see US leadership restored or re-fashioned? What can the US learn from trends and innovations in other countries? 
    • How are current dynamics and historical roots affecting the US’ image and influence in the world? 
    • Are we seeing the end of global leadership by the US as established in 1945 and if so, how much is that due to changing power balances in the world and how much to domestic changes?  
    2021 Topic: Democracy, Media and Trust

    Program 2 will focus on democratic infrastructure and accountability. Domestically and internationally, The US’ constitutional democracy is coming under the spotlight as issues and interpretations are revisited, power is centralized, and ever-greater sums are spent during elections. Key questions may include:

    • Where is political and executive power now located in the US? What light is shed by contemporary culture and social commentary?
    • How far does the US campaign finance system impact perceptions and practice of democracy? What new trends and influences has the 2020 electoral process revealed?
    • How is critical inquiry into money, power and accountability evolving in the US and elsewhere? What do the data indicate on public attitudes to finance and concerns about corruption?
    • How far does media still operate as the “fourth pillar of democracy”? What are the implications of media and technology monopolies for democracy around the world?
    • How is the US influencing, and being influenced by, state and non-state actors in these domains?
    2022 Topic: Democracy, Inclusion and Citizenship

    Program 3 will build on preceding programs and focus on individuals as the cornerstone of vibrant democracy at local to national level. Key questions may include:

    • How inclusive is democracy in the US today?
    • How has the history of protest in the US shaped civic engagement? What can be learnt from popular movements in other settings (e.g. civil rights, climate change, LGBT) to understand ways to revitalize democracy in a peaceful way?
    • At local and state level, what innovations are transforming citizen engagement and collaborative leadership in the US and elsewhere? How can this be aggregated upwards?
    • How could more women and people from working class and other marginalized backgrounds amplify their political voice and leadership?
    • What do youth need and want from democracy? Can new technologies and approaches incentivize new generations to engage over the long term?