Projects

PROJECTS

Current & Forthcoming


Democracy's Futures Fall 2022


Ashraf Ahmed (Law) and Seyla Benhabib (Law) will convene seven sessions during the Fall 2022 term on the question, "How should we re-imagine democracy given its current challenges?" The goal of the seminars is to explore the formal and substantive dimensions of contemporary democracies. Through engaging with the work of leading scholars each week, the seminar will survey topics ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to elections and war. Readings—either ongoing scholarship or canonical work—will help set the table for discussion. 


Beyond the Casebook Fall 2021


David Pozen, Olatunde Johnson, Jedediah Purdy, Michael Heller and Bert Huang. A series of faculty-led discussion groups for first year law students centered on the connections among law, lawyering and inclusive democracy. Core readings will be selected on this theme and law faculty will lead the discussion. Topics include the conception of democracy contained in the U.S. constitution and alternatives (e.g. addressing representation, race, economic inequality, polarization); the function and design of courts; legal training, ethics, and the role of lawyers in sustaining democracy; and specific legal domains of contemporary salience to the challenges facing American democracy including policing and criminal justice, concentration of power, tax policy, and technological platforms.


Democracy's Futures Spring 2022


Madhav Khosla (Law) and Jedediah Purdy (Law) will convene a series of working meetings with leading scholars on the issue of the appeal, the plausibility and even charisma of authoritarian politics in various polities. This will be both a comparative undertaking and one aiming to enrich and update theoretical understandings of democracy’s vulnerabilities. Although there will be some public-facing events associated with the series, its heart will be seeking to advance scholarly work on these questions.


Democracy's Futures Fall 2021 


Nadia Urbinati (Political Science) and Jedediah Purdy (Law) will convene six seminars during the Fall 2021 term on the question, "What comes after the crisis of democracy?" The goal of the seminars is to revisit basic themes in political, social, and legal thought in light of the events of the past five years, in particular the evidence of the fragility of even "established" democracies. Rather than rehash now-familiar "How did we get here?" questions, they plan to ask into the potential paths forward--better and worse, including those to authoritarianism, technocracy, and deepened or revived democracy. These themes will be approached through a series of fundamental issues in political thought. Seminars will be led by specially invited participants in each session, and will take a piece of writing as a common table-setting.


Public Conversation Series—Rule of Law and Democracy 


Kendall Thomas (Law) will host a series of public conversations, in person at Columbia/in Harlem, but also on broader technological platforms, concerning the ways our institutions and practices need re-invention to advance the rule of law. What are the modes of representation, the kinds of institutional and cultural literacy, the habits and virtues of self-rule in a deeply plural polity? How can we integrate technical issues of reform with the moral and imaginative dimensions that democratic thinkers such as Walt Whitman and Frederick Douglass insisted were equally parts of the new world people had to build together? Interlocutors to include scholars, political and legal practitioners, artists, activists, etc.

 


Democratic Legitimacy and the Administrative State 


Jeremy Kessler and Charles Sabel (Law) will convene and reflect with practitioners in the regulatory institutions that oversee complex problems such as pollution management, pharmaceutical approval, and financial regulation, in an effort to understand their internal, lived sense of the legitimacy of their undertakings. As longtime students of the administrative state, Kessler and Sabel believe that the standard formulations of administrative legitimacy have become just-so stories, and that to understand the place of regulatory institutions in 21st century life we have to go back to the ground and understand both what they do and how their practitioners understand what they do. In a time when mistrust of the regulatory state runs from the most demotic Trumpism to the Supreme Court, this is a question of the first importance.


Innovation, Integrity, and the Electoral Infrastructure 


Richard Briffault and Gillian Metzger (Law) are studying the sources of resilience and vulnerability in election infrastructure that the 2020 contests highlighted. They aim to understand and learn from the innovations that local election authorities devised to make voting accessible and safe during lockdowns, to grasp the norms that enabled election officials to withstand extraordinary partisan pressure, and to deepen our sense of the constitutive relation of electoral infrastructure to democratic practice. 

(Professor Metzger is now serving in the Biden Administration, but will return to Columbia within the year. Professor Briffault will also participate in the Columbia World Projects' initiative on developing good practices that enhance voter access, election security, and election transparency.)


We see our projects so far as having three dimensions, according to the kind of impact they aim to have. Some projects participate in more than one dimension. Projects: 1) address the practical register of policy and politics, seeking to generate concrete proposals, examples of what works in crucial matters like electoral infrastructure, and forums to communicate about the comparative experience of authoritarian populism across countries; 2) address scholarship, not so much in the sense of marching forward with existing agendas as in framing conversations in which we can revisit, recast, and innovate on our existing sense of "what the questions are" and "how to make sense of them," in light of the political crises now confronting us; 3) speak to teaching and to students as citizens and (in the law school, among others) future professionals, engaging questions of civic responsibility and professional ethics. Many of us believe that the current crisis highlights the urgency of thinking about the political responsibilities of teaching and learning, and welcome the chance to do so.