Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS)

With Prof. Dr. Gwendolyn Sasse as principal investigator, ZOiS is part of the Cluster of Excellence „Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS)“. In addition to the applying Freie Universität Berlin, six other research institutions are participating in SCRIPTS: the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), the Hertie School of Governance, the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center.

Project description

The liberal script is under pressure. Some of the most severe challenges liberal democracies are facing today emanate from authoritarian and non-liberal states as well as from violent non-state actors. These actors reject the liberal script defined as ideas and institutional prescriptions about the organisation of society based on the core principle of individual self-determination. Within liberal societies, populist movements question the meanings of the liberal model of political and social order. This is not the first time the liberal script has been contested. It has evolved through contestation and resistance both from within and outside liberal societies. However, current contestations are puzzling when measured against the broad developments in world society over the past decades. There have been few interstate wars, poverty reduction in many countries of the global South, modest unemployment rates in most of the consolidated economies of the global North, and a significant improvement of the Human Development Index.

The Cluster of Excellence SCRIPTS puts the current contestations of the liberal script in a broader historical, global, and comparative perspective by addressing three sets of questions:

  • To what extent do current challenges target core principles of the liberal script? Which alternative scripts exist to the liberal model and how does their appeal develop? How do current contestations compare to previous ones?
  • What are the causes of these contestations? Under which conditions does the liberal script lose or gain attractiveness, and what drives the rise of alternative scripts? Are the causes for current contestations different from earlier ones?
  • What are the consequences of the intensified contestations of the liberal script? Are these contestations of a temporary nature or do they indicate the decline of the liberal script in the long run? Which implications do contestations and the responses to them have for politics, societies, individuals, and the global challenges the world is facing in the 21st century?

In tackling these questions, the Cluster brings together the social sciences and area studies with their Western and non-Western perspectives, with their comprehensive expertise in quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as their generalising conceptions and local understandings. The notion of double reflexivity conjoins these different perspectives, allowing us to discuss how core principles of the liberal script and the social sciences themselves were and are affected by entangled processes of contestations. We aim at generalisable knowledge while being aware of the relativity of knowledge production. This approach does not juxtapose but rather integrates different theoretical and methodological perspectives. It promises to produce new answers and insights to the most relevant questions in the social sciences concerning the organisation and development of politics and society in modern times.

Project website