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Inequalities and Democracy

Challenges to democratic rule are intimately interlinked with individual access to democratic institutions, value formation, and articulation of needs. Research in this area will focus on the intersecting inequalities along the lines of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, migration status, as well as processes of group and identity formation.  It will investigate the causes of these inequalities at the local and global levels and their consequences for social inclusion, political participation and democratic governance. The group will also address questions of citizenship through the study of migration patterns, policies and outcomes, spatial and regional disparities, as well as the construction and deconstruction of the concept of national and internal “borders”. We will examine inequalities reflected in and generated by social policies and their relationship to different types of governance regimes, along with their impact on the political capacity of marginalized groups.  

A separate workstream will focus on questions of gender and democracy, exploring the use of gender in patterns of democratic governance as well as the consequences of gender regimes for inequalities, mobilization and social and political inclusion.   

The workgroup will further investigate the use of new democratic techniques, such as participatory budgeting or deliberative and digital decision-making, from the point of view of the inclusive translation of social demands into public policies. 

In this area, we will build on the body of research on equality and social justice, governance and participation, social policy and welfare regimes, and development policy at the Center for Policy Studies, which has become part of the CEU Democracy Institute.


Main activities in Academic Year 2021/2022

The workgroup will explore contemporary politics and policy formations that address inequality mechanisms in Europe and beyond. Further, the workgroup will pursue conceptual and empirical inquiries that connect the wider equality, social justice, and social policy agendas with outstanding democracy puzzles, such as backsliding in equality and human rights mechanisms, knowledge production in illiberal regimes, and the emergence of new forms of social solidarity. The workgroup is organized into two research streams which will be linked by already active research endeavors and new initiatives. We discuss the research agenda of each stream below.

Stream 1:  Social and political polarization

This stream focuses on local, global, transnational, and multi-scalar forces that shape experiences and manifestations of social polarization. Polarization experiences embraced by political attention and mobilization efforts will be closely investigated. The stream will host theoretical discussions from various disciplines, initiate inquiries connecting contemporary and historical perspectives, and link approaches centering on social norms, ideas, institutions, and material conditions of life. The stream will encourage exchanges between scholars working with quantitative, qualitative, big data, ethnographic, historical, and combined methodological tools.

1.  Inequalities, education, and democracy:  the sources, manifestations, and consequences of educational inequalities, social and geographical mobility in and via education, democracy in educational institutions amidst ideological battles over ownership, curriculum, and minimum inclusion standards, vulnerable groups in educational institutions.

2. Social justice and social movements: the legacies and transformations of established human rights and minority rights organizations, new intersectional and transversal civil society alliances, political empowerment of social movements and citizens groups emerging from pre- or non-political collective actions (Covid-19 solidarity, refugee supporting and refugee actions groups), transnational advocacy coalitions.  

3. Labor, labor rights, care work, and migrant work: new hierarchies and fragmentation in the ‘regular’ and precarious labor force and the political repercussions, entangled inequalities in production and reproduction in varieties of capitalisms and social policy regimes, gender, ethnic, nationality/citizenship, and age hierarchies and labor rights.

Stream 2. Gender and democratic governance

Studies on democracy have ignored or marginalized the importance of the concept of gender, gender difference and inequality.  This has become especially problematic in the last decade or so when discourses on, as well as policies regulating gender relations and sexuality have been growing in numbers and in significance for political decision making and political communication.  This stream will explore this tightening connection from a multi-disciplinary, comparative perspective with the conviction that close attention to the concept and practice of gender allows a better understanding of the logic of political governance, as well as processes of democratization and de-democratization.  Research activities and initiatives will be pursued along the following lines:

1. Gender, sexuality, and de-democratization:  research and projects in this cluster analyzes how the backlash on gender impacts gender policies and governance. It looks into policy backsliding and its gendered aspects. It also investigates the impact of de-democratization on civil society actors active in the field of gender equality including an analysis of shrinking or reconfiguring civic space new forms of civic organizing and resistance and links to democratic revival. Specific attention will be devoted to path dependencies of gender-based exclusion in democratization processes and the critical junctures in forming backlash against gender as well as resilient struggles for democracy.

2. Hate speech, gender, and political communication: research initiative will dwell on radical rightwing, populist, and conservative backlash against gender equality paradigms and policy mechanisms, mobilization for various ideological and political programs through authoritarian gender ideals, alliances of political parties, civil society, and media platforms.      

Recent publications by research group members (2021-22)


New Project: Knowledge Transfer in Global Gender Programs

The project aims to better understand knowledge transfer and policy production in the Global Programs to End Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, Gender-biased Sex Selection, and Child Marriage.

Trainings on Gender Equality by the GE Academy Project

The GE Academy project built a high-quality capacity-building program on gender equality in research, innovation and higher education. The program is based on state-of-the-art knowledge and composed of different training formats.

Dismantling Democracy from Within

CEU Summer University Course
27 June -2 July 2022

Zsuzsa Vidra, Michael Zeller: Illiberalism, Polarization, Social Resilience, and Resistance

“Illiberal regimes undermine human rights norms that entail equal legal protections of citizens and social groups,” our Research Fellow Zsuzsa Vidra and Michael Zeller, researcher of DI’s BRaVE project write in their article in Intersections.

Zsuzsanna Arendas, Sara Hungler: The Level Playing Field of Hungarian Social Partners Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

“For numerous reasons, social dialogue in Hungary generally does not fulfil its role on the national, sectoral, or workplace level,” our Research Fellow Zsuzsanna Arendas and Sara Hungler (Centre for Social Sciences, Budapest) write in their article in Intersections.


Book Launch: Gender Equality and Stereotyping in Secondary Schools

Did you miss this book launch with Eva Fodor (Pro-Rector for Foresight and Analysis, CEU), Geeta Ludhra (Brunel University London / Dadima's CIC), Maria Tsouroufli (co-editor / Brunel University London), Dorottya Redai (co-editor / Research Affiliate, CEU Democracy Institute), Areta Sobieraj (co-author / Oxfam Italy)? Watch it now!

Dorottya Redai on the Book Project "Fairyland is for Everyone"

Dorottya Redai talks about "Fairyland is for Everyone," a volume containing fairy tales by contemporary authors with diverse characters from various marginalized or disadvantaged groups.

Systemic Racism against Roma in Hungary

An animated film about the systemic racism against the Roma in Hungary, written by Visiting Researcher Agnes Kende puts the social exclusion of the Roma people in historical context.

Illiberalism, Democracy, Gender

What is the connection between the discourse on gender and the crisis of democracy? Moderated by Eva Fodor, the Co-Director of CEU Democracy Institute, Andrea Krizsan (CEU/DI) and Dorottya Szikra (Hungarian Academy of Sciences/CEU) discussed during the Researchers’ Night 2020 the role of gender in today’s politics and policymaking.