International Conference: The Epistemic Circumstances of Democracy

The Epistemic Circumstances of Democracy

29th January 2021, 9:00 am – 7:30 pm (CET)

In both academia and layperson political culture, democracy has been enshrined as the system that best respects every citizen’s freedom and political equality. However, it is worth inquiring whether average voters – some of whom are neither informed nor unbiased and impartial – can be trusted to choose the correct option. For decades, studies in political epistemology, political science, and sociology have shown that citizens do not possess the most basic political knowledge and cannot even articulate their moral values. How can their electoral choices reflect the real common good? Those skeptical of democracy point to additional problems at play. Empirical evidence seems to suggest that partisanship is likely to devolve into polarization. Due to their function of representing a particular ideology, political parties often resemble echo chambers, closed epistemic structures that sequester their supporters from opposing viewpoints. Likewise, diverse media platforms, often hailed as good for democracy, make it easy for citizens to select those networks that best agree with their biases, further polarizing their beliefs. These apprehensions raise the question of whether the empirical epistemic circumstances of democracy in modern societies are so flawed that democracy has become another concept that functions only in theory, only to disappoint in real life.

On the other side of the spectrum, proponents of democracy argue the Condorcet Jury Theorem implies that minimally competent, sincere, and independent voters are, when amassed, almost entirely likely to make the correct decision. According to the original Condorcet Jury Theory, as long as voters are merely more probable than random to be right, are independent of each other, and do not vote strategically, the likelihood they are correct converges to certainty the more numerous they are. As a consequence, millions of citizens just slightly above average outperform even the most brilliant individuals. Besides, those eager to defend democratic decision-making stress that diversity reaps copious epistemic benefits: a handful of experts cannot match the political relevance of ordinary citizens’ judgments of their priorities and living conditions. Epistocracy and aristocracy are bound to remain overly elitist for a decent alternative to democracy.

This conference, keeping the debate’s complexity in mind, aims to examine whether democracy can outlast its harshest critics. Can Condorcet Jury Theorem’s requirements survive the real epistemic circumstances of democracy? Are empirical citizens ever genuinely independent of each other, and do our biases make us collectively worse than chance at making the correct choice?  Are political polarization, extremism, and voter ignorance too high a price for diversity? How can democracy be modified to both preserve its advantages and cancel its failures? The represented viewpoints include theorists ranging from those comprehensively distrustful of democracy, over epistemic democrats, to procedural democrats.

Conference program


Center for Advanced Studies Southeast Europe, University of Rijeka
Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, University of Belgrade
Hana Samaržija / University of Zagreb

Watch The Epistemic Circumstances of Democracy:


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.

International colloquium with Axel Honneth “Democracy, Socialism and Engagement: Axel Honneth and Critical Theory Today”

Belgrade, June 21-22, 2019

Critical Theory today faces a daunting triple challenge: to explain the far-reaching societal transformations that have undermined democracy across the globe over the past decade, justify the normative foundations for the critique of these processes in universalist terms, and present a vision of the good society that can provide, not just normative orientation, but political inspiration to different kinds of progressive social engagement – all this without succumbing to the dangers of epistemological authoritarianism and the consequent particularism of its own diagnosis. Perhaps more than any other author, Axel Honneth has devoted himself to synthesizing these fundamental tasks of Critical Theory within one comprehensive theoretical perspective. From his early criticism of Habermas to his mature theory of recognition, Honneth has sought to formulate a critique of injustice and domination in contemporary capitalism that would at the same time provide social-theoretical insight into the deep-seated causes of persistent forms of injustice, be post-metaphysical enough to adequately respond to the charges of essentialism, particularism and perfectionism, and overcome epistemological authoritarianism through developing a particular sensitivity for the experiences of ordinary social actors. The culmination of this project is Honneth’s mature Neo-Hegelian perspective centred around the concept of “social freedom” and developed most thoroughly in his two recent complementary studies, Freedom’s Right and The Idea of Socialism. Starting from Honneth’s perspective as exemplary of Critical Theory in its most self-reflexive and nuanced incarnation, this international colloquium will examine the potentials of Critical Theory today to provide conceptual tools for diagnosing and overcoming injustice in the age of complex forms of social domination and the dismantling of liberal democracy from two supposedly juxtaposed directions: those of technocratic “radical centrism” and right-wing populism.

Friday, 21. June

Venue: Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory (IFDT)

10:00 | Smail Rapić, University of Wuppertal

Honneths Marx-Kritik in Die Idee des Sozialismus – eine Entgegnung (Honneth’s Critique of Marx in The Idea of Socialism  – a Response)

12:00 | Charles Djordjevic, University of Zürich

Recognizing Expressions of Pain: Honneth, Wittgenstein, and the Normative Underpinnings of the Social World

14:00 | Lunch

Venue: Kolarac Open University, Mala sala (Small Lecture Hall)

17:00 | Petar Bojanić, Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, University of Belgrade

Welcome address followed by the Ceremony of the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory’s Annual Award for Critical Engagement “Miladin Životić”

17:15 | Axel Honneth, Columbia University

Award Lecture: Democracy and the Division of Labor. A blind spot in political philosophy

18:15 | Smail Rapić, University of Wuppertal

Snježana Prijić-Samaržija, University of Rijeka

Marjan Ivković, the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, University of Belgrade

Comments on Axel Honneth’s Award Lecture

Saturday, 22. June

Venue: Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory (IFDT)

09:00 | Seminar with Axel Honneth on the book The Idea of Socialism: Towards a Renewal (Die Idee des Sozialismus: Versuch einer Aktualisierung).

Participants: Željko Radinković, Predrag Krstić, Aleksandar Fatić, Rastko Jovanov, Marjan Ivković, Srdjan Prodanović, Jelena Vasiljević, Adriana Zaharijević, Igor Cvejić, Mark Lošonc (Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory), Đorđe Pavićević (University of Belgrade), Simon Pistor (University of Zürich), and author

12:30 | Lunch

13:00 | Zdravko Kobe, University of Ljubljana

Transformation of Public Knowing: Some Hegelian Remarks in Honneth’s Mode

15:00 | Marco Solinas, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa

The Actuality of Marx’s Errors. Neoliberalism and Honneth’s Idea of Socialism


The second day of the Aktionstage: Refugees – Migration – Democracy Symposium held at the Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien hosted a panel with the 4th generation of CAS-SEE Fellows. CAS-SEE Director Petar Bojanic provided Input on the subject of Europe, Refugees, Hospitality, Destitution.
The 6th panel of the Symposium, entitled Towards a new research agenda: Debate and exchange on current topics and critical junctures for thinking and researching in the field of refugees, migration and democracy, hosted young speakers that provided fresh perspectives on the subject.

• Mariana Fragkou (Greek Council for Refugees, Athens),
• Andjelka Pantović (Asylum Protection Centre, Belgrade),
• Sanja Bojanić (CAS SEE, University of Rijeka),
• Kevin Hinterberger (IWM, University of Vienna), Ilker Ataç (University of Vienna),
• Ernesto C. Sferrazza Papa (CAS SEE Fellow, Rijeka/Torino)
• Deana Jovanović (CAS SEE Fellow)
• Carlos González Villa (CAS SEE Fellow)
• Andrew Hodges (CAS SEE Fellow)
• Anton Markoč (CAS SEE Fellow)
Moderation: Heide Hammer (Refugee Convoy – Schienenersatzverkehr für Flüchtlinge, Vienna)

Foto:  Sabine Schwaighofer, Initiative Minderheiten | Kristina Smoljanovic, CAS SEE

Aktionstage: Refugees – Migration – Democracy

The first panel of the Aktionstage: Refugees – Migration – Democracy Symposium held at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, entitled (Not) Learning from history, part I: Yugoslav refugee crisis – how Europe dealt with it from left to right, moderated by Vedran Džihić (CAS SEE, University of Rijeka, oiip, Vienna) included the presentations of Zoran Slavinić (REMESO, Linköping University), Branka Likić-­Brborić (REMESO, Linköping University) and Melita H. Sunjic (UNHCR, Vienna) that engaged both listeners and speakers in debates on the changing nature of European democracy in the midst of the ongoing refugee crisis.

The second panel, (Not) Learning from history, part II: Integration and democracy from left to right, moderated by Sanja Bojanić (CAS SEE, University of Rijeka) delt with the nature of the contemporary demos. The panel provided experts from various disciplines: Ilker Ataç (University of Vienna), Gudrun Biffl (Danube University Krems), Holly Case (IWM, Brown University) and Li Bennich-­Björkman (Department of Government, Uppsala University) with the opportunity to offer sensible and culturally diverse outlooks on political participation, contribution and agency. Their explorations of the topics of political optimism, institutional control and emotional engagement provided a fascinating basis for further discussions about the proper response to the refugee crisis.

The third panel, Demos – Who belongs to the political community? moderated by Gerd Valchars (Initiative Minderheiten, Vienna) included presentations of Hedvig Morvai (European Fund for the Balkans, Belgrade), Katharine Sarikakis (University of Vienna) and Snježana Prijić-­Samaržija (CAS SEE, University of Rijeka).

Snjezana Prijic-Samarzija

At the conference, the co-director of the Center for Advanced Studies SEE, professor Snježana Prijić-Samaržija presented her answer to the problem of belonging to a political community. Prijić-Samaržija’s presentation approached the issue of migration from an institutional perspective, questioning the legitimacy of someone’s right to impose limits on the freedom of movement. Throughout the speech, she explored the legitimacy of unilateral prohibitive decisions made by particular states and the implications of their unsustainable one-dimensionality, juxtaposing them with the notion of migration as a basic human right. Should we choose to view the right to seek better political and economic conditions as a manifestation of contemporary social mobility, we would need to address the option that nobody can legitimately limit the movement of others. Striving to reach a balanced conclusion, Prijić-Samaržija proposed delegating the issue of migrations to international institutions capable of adjusting the subjective interests of particular states to the interests of migrants. Relating to the broader topic of the conference, she emphasized the necessary hierarchy of urgency between the migration of genuine refugees, low-skilled workers escaping poverty and high-skilled experts seeking better payment. Her presentation incited many responses from the audience, leading to a discussion about the nature of credible international institutions and the danger of excessive euro centrism.


While most European states are not able to create humane conditions for those who have fled war zone sin the Near East in recent years, the dedication of Europe’s civil society proves that solidarity is alive and that the vision of a democratic Europe will not be abandoned. Community action – whether in smaller communities or in larger cities – is becoming a guiding principle for many. As a result, actions and organizations from civil society strongly infulence European democracies, changing and reshaping them.

What kind of potential do these actions of civil society hold for the advancement of European democracies in connection with the most recent refugee movement? What can be learned from historical experiences with the wars in Yugoslavia, but also from current experiences in Sweden? How is the refugee movement changing European democracies and what can be learned from civil society’s activities, which have been emerging since last year?

The AKTIONSTAGE: REFUGEES – MIGRATION – DEMOCRACY, which are being supported by a number of organizations, are dedicated to exploring these questions from a theoretical and practical perspective and are attempting to understand the current situation through historical and geographic comparisons.

Find more information on the Aktionstage conference program and events here.

Organized by Initiative Minderheiten, Center for Advanced Studies South Eastern Europe (CAS SEE), ERSTE Stiftung, Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM), Asylkoordination österreich, arge region kultur, GBW Minderheiten and Interkulturelles Zentrum (iz), Karl-Renner-Institut.

In cooperation with ÖBB-Holding, Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien, Stadtkino im Künstlerhaus, REMESO (Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society, Linköping University), oiip – Österreichisches Institut für Internationale Politik, IDM (The Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe) and Donau-Universität Krems.


The CAS SEE Fellowship 2016-2017 Call for application will be published by the end of May 2016.


New Call for the CAS SEE Fellowship programme is opened.

Following the implementation of the First and Second Generation of CAS SEE Fellows in the academic year 2014-15 and the automne semester 2015, CAS SEE is announcing a new annual call for Fellowships for the spring 2016. This call is organised along selected thematic foci (see bellow) but also offer the possibility of open applications. The CAS SEE Fellowship Programme for spring 2016 will host 8 junior fellows. The Call for Applications will be closed on 10 December 2015. The third generation of fellows will assume their positions by February 15th 2016.

Inspired by the excellent cooperation of the First and Second Generation of CAS Fellows and their cooperative work that has created thematic synergies within smaller working groups among the fellows, CAS SEE Fellowship Programme in spring 2016 will stimulate the building of smaller groups of Fellows working on similar topics (or different aspects of one particular topic). The Fellows will present their work on a bi-weekly basis in Rijeka or other regional centers, and will engage more intensively in research in the wider region of Balkans region. All Fellows will spend first two weeks of the Fellowship at CAS SEE premises in Rijeka. One part of the Fellows will then according to their research interests be enabled to spend the rest of the Fellowship in the region, while attending the regular CAS SEE regional seminars. By implementing such a flexible regional approach while maintaining the spirit of CAS SEE Collegium the Fellows will be able to create new synergies within the Collegium as well as to pursue their research within wide networks of other scholars and partner institutions in the region perfectly designed to enrich their work.

The third Call for Fellows is inviting applicants to focus on two particular topics:

Refugees, Migration and Democracy: Faces of the protracted relationship

Next decade seems to be set to become a decade of migration and refugee flows. The year 2015 with hundreds of migrants dying while crossing the Mediterranean Sea or suffering on they way through the so called “Balkans route” towards the West is profoundly shaking the fundaments of Europe. Europe is struggling to cope with the newest refugee influx and some voices even describe the Union as facing the biggest challenge since the World War Two. On top of it the European self-understanding and the very core of European democracy seem to be in the process of renegotiation. Rise of the far-right parties and populism, new cleavages and inequalities within Europe, authoritarian challenges to democracy – the list of newly emerged phenomena is long. Migration poses new challenges to the definition and understanding of democracy. Thinking and re-thinking the very notion of democracy against this background seems to be a fundamental task of present time. Questions are manifold: How is the demos renegotiated? What is the new meaning of belonging and exclusion? Which new forms of transnationalism are emerging before our eyes? How can we re-re-conceptualize the very understanding of terms like “fleeing”, “migration”, “crossing borders” or “human dignity”, etc. in relation to the migration and refugee flows in this part of world Europe?

(Re)thinking (about) the Crisis: Exploring the danger and the opportunities of current crisis-hysteria

Economic crisis, refugee crisis, crisis of democracy, crisis of participation, crisis of Europe, crisis of capitalism, crisis of leftist thinking, crisis of liberalism, ecological etc. – crisis all around. We could go on endlessly by just naming few newspaper headlines. Crisis became an empty signifier; a notion so randomly and relentlessly used that our conceptual and empirical thinking about the crisis becomes blurred. So, how can we (re)think the very notion of crisis today? Which ways of empirically founded research of different sorts of crisis are needed? How to distinguish between crisis as the moment of changing the course of history of one particular phenomenon and a simple (often rhetorical) crisis hysteria? What are the ways of appreciating the crisis as a moment of catharsis? We invite both empirically oriented projects on current major crisis phenomena as well as projects focusing on the philosophy of crisis to apply.

We also invite applicants to submit open applications

 However, the applicants submitting proposals offering possibilities of thematic synergies with above mentioned topics (or enriching them with new aspects) are preferred.

Further information and details about the application procedure: FELLOWSHIP APPLICATION spring 2016

Authoritarianism On The Rise: A New Global Competitor For Democracy


31.08.2015, 13:30-16:00, Alpbach HAUPTSCHULE

In Eastern And South Eastern Europe, In The Caucasus, In Asia And In Latin America, We Are Witnessing The Resurgence Of Authoritarian Regimes, Be They “Old-Fashioned” Ones Adjusting To Global Circumstances Or Newly Emerging Forms Of Such Governments. Authoritarian Rule Seems To Be Attractive, Flexible And Adaptable; It Challenges Democracy And Its Values. What Makes Contemporary Authoritarianism Attractive To Citizens? How And Where Is It Challenging Democracy, Globally And In Specific Regional Settings Like The Ukraine-Russia-Nexus, Southeastern Europe, Turkey Or Asia (Singapore, China)?