COVID-19 Isolation

CAS SEE Weekly Seminars with Guests – Kateřina Vráblíková

On Thursday, June 11th from 10.00 to 12.00 am we have hosted the third CAS SEE Weekly Seminar with Kateřina Vráblíkovápresented by our Fellow Professor Ondřej Císař. The seminar revolved around Vráblíková’s new book – What Kind of Democracy?: Participation, Inclusiveness, and Contestation.

Kateřina Vráblíková is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Bath, UK. Her work focuses on political participation, social movements, political attitudes, and culture in contemporary democracies, Eastern European politics, and research methods. She was a Fulbright fellow at the University of California, Irvine (2010-11), an Assistant Professor at the University of Mannheim (2012-2016), a Post-doctoral Fellow at The Ohio State University (2016-2018), and an Istvan Deak Visiting Professor in East-Central European Studies at Harriman Institute, Columbia University (Spring 2019). Her other work has been published in “Comparative Political Studies and European Journal of Political Research.

What kind of democracy enhances more politically engaged citizenry? In her book, Katerina Vrablikova, develops a new approach to democracy and argues for democratic structures that are based on inclusiveness and contestation. Inclusiveness provides access and protection of diverse voices while contestation promotes system’s accountability and responsiveness that increases the chances that the various voices will be listened to. Vrablikova’s inclusive contestation perspective on democracy draws on pluralist and radical democratic visions formulated by Dahl or Mouffe and challenges other classical perspectives that are built on the ideas of inclusive consensus, such as deliberative and consensual democracy. The strong theoretical approach is combined with empirical analyses of public opinion surveys across multiple democratic countries that examine the role of various individual, institutional, and cultural factors for citizens’ political participation beyond elections. The results have important implications for policymaking aimed at enhancing democratic citizenship that usually relies on enhancing citizens’ political skills and knowledge, strengthening social capital, or building consultative and deliberative institutions.


Watch the Seminar on Youtube:


CAS SEE Weekly Seminars with Guests – John Keane

On Thursday, May 28th from 9.00 to 11.00 am we hosted the second CAS SEE Weekly Seminar with John Keane, presented by Vedran Džihić and Sanja Bojanić, and dedicated to the presentation (and discussion) of Keane’s new book The New Despotism.

In his path-breaking new book, John Keane, Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), and the co-founder and director of the Sydney Democracy Network (SDN), analyses and connects the antidemocratic and illiberal developments seemingly scattered through our geopolitical reality, and invites us to recognize them as a steady formation of the despotism upgraded for the 21st Century.

Despotism is an insidious form of totalitarianism, shape-shifting, complex and clever. Governments around the world have been mastering the forces of “patronage, dark money, steady economic growth, sophisticated media controls, strangled judiciaries, dragnet surveillance, and selective violence against their opponents”, and gaining influence in the population drained by deep inequality and disillusioned by what they perceive as inefficient and polarizing democratic politics. The consolidation of these top-down systems of power, plutocracies marked by top-to-bottom corruption, and media manipulation, mimicking democracies while dissolving them, is the key socio-political threat in the age of advanced technology, climate crisis, rising inequality, and post-pandemic biopolitics.

The detailed, sophisticated and deeply relevant examination of The New Despotism is one of the fundamental texts for understanding our current global political reality, and developing the theory and practice for upgrading democracy for the 21st Century, redesigning and strengthening the bulwarks of power-sharing against the creeping totalitarianisms, and making a different future possible. Ranked by Maclean’s magazine among top ten “books to watch in 2020”, John Keane’s book is described as “injecting one hell of a scary book into an already frenzied world”. In this edition of CAS SEE public seminar John Keane will present the book and establish links between his arguments and the great pestilence of our time, Covid-19 pandemic.

The following extracts from the seminar were noted by our communications interns, Magdalini Spyridon, and Eleni Maria Sifaki, University of Crete.

  • John Keane criticizes the modern regimes of power using the term “despotism” to proclaim that the new, emerging democracies are turning into authoritarian regimes.
  • The democracies of the 21st century transform into despotic ways of governance. These regimes have democratic features like voting procedures or even communist characteristics, like China’s example. The example of China serves to explain a new form of a political system that entangles authoritarian practices and control of the population. The power is concentrated in one “charismatic” leader who monopolizes power and popular opinion.
  • The “New Despotism’s” main goal is the centralization of the power into one person. The leaders of these regimes are tending to patronize the subjects by making them loyal to this system. At the same time, top-to-bottom patterns of dependency are being transformed whilst leaders are entangled with people of power (plutocracy).
  • The new-arising “despotisms” preserve certain feudal characteristics such as “vassalage”. Keane uses it in order to explain the power relations in the top-to-bottom pyramid. At the same time of being feudal, these practices are also modern because they are based on an election system in a society where “the leader” controls the media and the public opinion.


Watch the CAS SEE Seminar with John Keane

Important note: the seminars will be filmed by the CAS SEE. The personal data collected during this project will be managed according to the GDPR standard.

CAS SEE Weekly Seminars with Guests – Adriana Cavarero

On May 21st, 2020 at 10 AM we held our first “CAS SEE Weekly Seminar with Guests”, where we welcomed Adriana Cavarero who spoke about her latest work “Resurging Democracy”.

The Italian philosopher Adriana Cavarero is among the most influential feminist theorists in the international debate. Her latest book “Democrazia sorgiva. Note sul pensiero politico di Hannah Arendt” (Raffaello Cortina, 2019) draws the attention on the crucial notion of democracy, entering in a debate with several scholars, such as Zola, Canetti, Pasternak, and, particularly, Arendt. Using Arendt’s philosophical vocabulary, Cavarero identifies democracy as the primal experience of politics itself: “common space of mutual appearance where a plurality of unique human beings acts in concert”. Cavarero’s idea of democracy as a “source”, an “origin”, differs from Arendt’s account of vita activa, as it is grounded on the bodily presence of political subjects who depend on material facilities and on the reciprocal support of other subjects.

In the current times of populist politics, is there any room left for a truly democratic experience of political participation (the Arendtian “public happiness”)? Cavarero revisits several philosophical interpretations, interrogating democracy in light of recent political events and discussing also contemporary issues such as the idea of digital democracy.


The following extracts from the seminar were noted by our communications interns, Magdalini Spyridon, and Eleni Maria Sifaki, University of Crete.

  • Cavarero is an advocate of Hannah Arendt’s notion of democracy. Democracy is for her a procedure which can take place in the physical social space where every human being can express her/his uniqueness.
  • Another point discussed at the seminar was the notion of “felicita” or “felicity” which happens when we participate in collective actions and events like uprisings or demonstrations. Cavarero describes active participation as a truly bodily experience instead of the representation which is the most dominant political action and choice. This feeling of happiness is connected with natality, (re)birth, of creating something new from scratch.
  • For Cavarero, “Democrazia Sorgiva” or “Spring Democracy” is a concept correlated with the feelings of growing and blossoming. In this sense, the social space is fertile enough to bring new hopes and possibilities for our future. Her term “Pluryphony” is the way of collectively undertaking the performative exercise of politics.
  • Using Hannah Arendt’s quote “Public space is a space of appearance”, Adriana Cavarero stresses out the public space as essential because there, the development of democracy will take place in a vocative, bodily and emotional way.


Watch the CAS SEE Seminar with Adriana Cavarero:

Vedran Džihić at CAS SEE

On Thursday, April 30th, 2020 the usual 10 AM “Isolation Zoom Meeting” was held within this year’s Spring Fellowship, however, the regular ten have been strengthened by an eleventh CAS teammate, Dr. Vedran Džihić, one of the Centre’s directors, who was joining us from Vienna.

With the regard to the circumstances, Dr. Džihić reminded some and amused others, of the very beginnings at the CAS SEE, and the challenges of establishing a scientific Centre in the aftermath of the last economic crisis, the one from 2008. He weaved his thoughts with the concept of democracy, having declared to have been fascinated by the works of John Keane, whom he wholeheartedly recommended (“The Life and Death of Democracy”, “The New Despotism”).
Vedran underlined that we are living in an extraordinary period, “full” of extraordinary people, and the deviations from democracy that we are experiencing require our active democratic engagement. It is ours to “infect the public with free thought” and strengthen collective efforts to build on the consciousness and/of connectedness.

The ten of us have surely been infected with Vedran’s enthusiasm, and are now aspiring to organize a Zoom meeting with John Keane, the “democracy muse” himself, and see what can we find and/or build together upon the enthusiasm, interest, respect, and inspiration already gained. Such a warm insight and clear direction in terms of vision, kept us online for a minute longer, after the official meeting, because they gave us ideas to think about within our own project(s)…

And although this meeting, like all others, has also ended with “hope to speak in ‘real-life’ soon”, it was somehow lighter, more focused on the moment at hand, and the possibilities it embeds and less concerned with the undeniable interferences and the difficulties of working remote.

The New (Form of) Work: CAS SEE Fellowship 2020/21

As the isolation period began taking its remote-work and restrictive-movement-measurements form, it had slowly begun being clear to us that our work is not “simply” being put to a pause, the famous “halt” and wait, but rather, that we have entered a new stage of organizing our endeavors. One of the immediate tasks which had had to be provided for was the Centre’s work around the CAS SEE Fellowship 2020/2021.

The Inauguration Day had been planned to follow Prof. Balibar’s lecture on engagement at the Moise Palace on the island of Cres. The date set was March 14th, 2020, which had coincided with Northern Italy and Slovenia closing their borders as the COVID-19 crisis escalated in Lombardy and Veneto, our neighboring regions. Had this not taken place, our seven fellows, six of whom from the most affected parts in Northern Italy, would have spent their April being “isolated” within the Moise palace and developing new insights and forms of rethinking the (immediate) environment and related issues.

Instead, it was “the environment” Who had responded by confining us to ourselves and what we tend to perceive as “our immediate lives”; relieving us from all social contact (that with our friends and colleagues as well as that with random humans) and assigning us to “our rooms”, the place one goes to find solitude, dormancy and where a child goes to endure punishment in form of involuntary reflection… (That is, provided one has a room of one’s own to go, to begin with.) So have all ten of us been condemned to virtual meetings and a completely transformed work reality and goals, as has the rest of the laptop-using world. Consequently and spontaneously, we have begun to transform our “talking” and to find new places to address some of the social issued arisen from the “2020 COVID-19 Isolation (Spring?)” – opening up from our kitchens or deliberately from in front of white walls, and with an occasional child running through a frame or the sound of a new-born, just loud enough to make us all smile. Things have certainly changed at the CAS SEE work meetings.

Gathered virtually from four countries, we have begun discussing and contemplating current projects when it became evident that new ones should be on the way, given the idea and impression input. With many questions still open, the evident lack and deprivation in terms of sharing both time and place altogether, and not without frustration (of every type one can experience while trying to communicate work and life) – the first Digital CAS SEE Fellowship is at the moment and fairly spatially-dispersed being although “forcibly piloted”, gaining daily on purpose, clarity, and enthusiasm.

Having been challenged so multi-levelled, this year’s Spring Fellowship has no alternative but to, appropriately enough, digitally respond to some hardly harmless and surely severe social implications and changes that have ever been experienced collectively.