Making the transition: the story of an intellectual project

Making the transition: the story of an intellectual project

This research project is about the intellectual project that brought 'transitions' into Political Science in the early 1980s. It was the result of the then groundbreaking and now classic four volume work on Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, which was initiated at the Wilson Center at John Hopkins University under the leadership of Abraham Lowenthal, and carried out under the intellectual leadership/editorship/authorship of Guillermo O'Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead. It traces the intellectual history of the people, their ideas, the academic and political -national as well as cross-national- impact of those ideas, how they were subsequently developed by new generations of Political Scientists, and what the history of this project tells us about wider shifts in theory and perspectives in Political Science.

Estatuto: 
Proponent entity
Financed: 
No
Keywords: 

Democratization, transitions, intellectual history

This research project is about the intellectual project that brought 'transitions' into Political Science in the early 1980s. It was the result of the then groundbreaking and now classic four volume work on Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, which was initiated at the Wilson Center at John Hopkins University under the leadership of Abraham Lowenthal, and carried out under the intellectual leadership/editorship/authorship of Guillermo O'Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter, and Laurence Whitehead. It traces the intellectual history of the people, their ideas, the academic and political -national as well as cross-national- impact of those ideas, how they were subsequently developed by new generations of Political Scientists, and what the history of this project tells us about wider shifts in theory and perspectives in Political Science.

Objectivos: 
The central aim of the project is to publish a book that will become a reference in the literature on transitions to democracy and democratization. More specifically, the book aims to achieve four goals: <br />1- To shed light on the theoretical contribution that the "Transitions" project made to our understanding of processes of political change, and how it changed prior dominant paradigms about the subject; <br />2- To present a "case history" of how intellectual projects with often modest beginnings can evolve into having a major impact on the way we think about a particular subject; <br />3- To make explicit the "ideological underpinnings" of current political thought by bringing out the main theoretical assumptions that underlay the "Transitions" project and its offspring; <br />4- To present a "case history" of the relationship between the academic world (theory) and the sphere of politics (praxis). If there is any theory born in the academic sphere that can claim to have developed a symbiotic relationship with major political events and political players, it is the "Transitions" project.
State of the art: 
The &quot;Transitions Project&quot; was notable for four reasons: first, it constituted a major theoretical contribution to the study of regime change; second, it was informed by a normative commitment, namely to democratization; third, it had a crucial impact on academic research in the field; and finally, it had a clear influence on political leaders, notably those leading processes of regime change and democratization. <br />The project was initiated in 1979 by the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. The Center sponsored various meetings, which culminated in the publication of four books, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule (1986), based on case studies, and offering novel comparative and theoretical perspectives written by scholars from Latin America, the United States, and Europe. The series was translated into numerous languages and, for more than a decade, was the most cited work of social science published in English. Guillermo O?Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter and Fernando H. Cardoso were the three project co-founders. Cardoso was later replaced by Laurence Whitehead as co-Director. <br />The project was initially proposed by Latin American scholars, at a time when all the countries studied were under authoritarian rule. It incorporated the views of practitioners, policymakers, and international academics from multiple disciplines into what was to be a groundbreaking and rigorous inquiry. <br />The idea of transitions to democracy seemed unrealistic at the time the project was launched, given the political backdrop of brutal authoritarian regimes throughout Latin America. While scholars insisted on the inevitability of transition from authoritarian rule, and while they were committed to democracy, they did not assume that transitions would necessarily culminate in democracy. They came from different disciplines and countries, but were united in advocating certain principles deemed to be inherent to any process of transition: formal government institutions, informal cultural norms, free and fair elections, stable political parties, viable civil societies, and conceptions of citizenship, as well as the &quot;old standards,&quot; development and economic growth. Schmitter noted that the project strove to break away from the mold of social science literature on democratization, which characterized the very idea of democratization as highly unlikely. <br />Over the years, the experiences of different countries helped refine the theoretical discussion, leading to new syntheses and approaches. While the first wave of studies focused on whether and how the new democracies might be consolidated, a topic that inspired the launching of The Journal of Democracy, the project founders later developed new perspectives, each specializing in different areas of democratization studies: O?Donnell began to focus on the issue of the quality of democracy; Schmitter focused on regime consolidation and on supranational democratization; Whitehead developed research on the international dimensions of democratization. All three, however, have continued to insist on the merits of regional or country comparisons as a means to understanding democracies and democratization processes. Continuing debates about democratization, and the more than two decades of empirical research that emerged as a result of the &quot;Transitions Project,&quot; remains the driving force behind the new initiatives to study new democracies in Latin America and beyond.
Diogo Moreira
Carmen Fonseca
Bárbara Direito
Coordenador 
Start Date: 
01/09/2007
End Date: 
30/08/2009
Duração: 
23 meses
Closed