Coping with Polarizing-cum-Transforming Politics and Democratic Decay

  • Murat Somer


This event is co-sponsored with The Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies.


Severe polarization is a global threat that has detrimental effects on democracy and well-being. What can citizens and collective actors such as political parties do to reverse polarization and to sustain democracy in affected polities? The triggers of current polarizations across the world often are political and thus intentional: they exemplify various forms of “the politics of transforming through polarizing,” which are aimed at achieving wide-scale transformations in political-economic institutions and policies. Yet, as these polarizations take a life of their own, the causal mechanisms that render them pernicious gain a structural nature. They lock in both the incumbents and the oppositions in a downward spiral of polarization-cum-democratic erosion, generating many unintended consequences. With comparative examples from various polities, this talk will discuss a political and relational notion of polarization, the dilemmas faced by opposition actors who want to reverse polarization and democratic backsliding, and implications for theory and policy.


Speaker Bio:

murat somer

Murat Somer is a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Koç University and a Visiting Scholar at the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford University. His research on democratization and autocratization, polarization, ethnic conflicts, religious and secular politics, political Islam, and the Kurdish question have been published in books, book volumes and journals such as Comparative Political Studies and Democratization. His book on the Turkish and Kurdish Question won a Sedat Simavi Social Sciences Prize in 2015 and he recently co-edited two special journal volumes on polarization, democracy and democratic erosion across the world. Among other visiting appointments, Somer was a Democracy and Development Fellow at Princeton University, a Senior Visiting Scholar at Stockholm University, and a Visiting Scholar at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. He has been a frequent contributor to Turkish and international media and he is working on a research and book project that explores the multiple paths through which polarizing politics lead to authoritarianism, and what pro-democracy citizens and political actors can and cannot do to sustain democracy.