Governance of Big Transformations

Conference of the Research Section „Comparative Politics“ of the German Political Science Association in Munich

In cooperation with: Standing Group “Demokratieforschung”, Standing Group “Vergleichende Diktatur‐ und Extremismusforschung”, Thematic Network “Energietransformation”, Thematic Network “Internet und Politik - E-Governance”.

Local Organizers: Stefan Wurster, Miranda Schreurs

The main objective of this conference is to examine the emergence, development, implications and political consequences of big transformative processes. In many regards we live today in an age of big transformations. These include fundamental technological changes, such as big data, autonomous vehicles, robotics, internet of things, social media, artificial intelligence, and genetically modified organisms. They also involve major threats to ecological systems, including climate change, biodiversity loss, plastic in the oceans, and chemical pollution. We observe challenges to democratic structures and signs of a resurgence of authoritarianism. There are clashes between those supporting and those opposing globalization and the structures which underpin it. Ethical concerns are being raised by these developments. Some of the transformations are gradual, requiring long-term political commitments. Others are disruptive and require rapid responses. Some are region-specific while others will have a global reach. Often the changes involve great uncertainty and high levels of complexity. With the emergence of new technologies we see decline, decay or even retreat of traditional political and technological structures. They are reaching deeply down into cultures and ways of life of different social groups and individuals.

Big transformations raise important governance challenges. While they hold promise for contributing and even solving some long-standing problems, they may also have unintended social, environmental, and health consequences. They may lead to new discoveries but can also invite public protest or even threaten the survival of political systems. In order to keep pace with these fast-moving and highly complex changes, policymakers are being pushed to develop new, more reflective forms of governance that promote policy learning and adaptation. New forms of more participatory governance strategies (e.g. citizen initiatives, multi-stakeholder commissions), innovative policy instruments (e.g. sunset legislation, auctioning), and approaches to political participation (e.g. term limits, online petitions, ombudsperson for future generations) are being tried out. At the same, these trends have pushed some governments towards greater nationalism, protectionism, and a retreat from global institutions and norms. There may also be unexpected and unintended consequences of policy responses.

From the perspective of Comparative Politics this raises important questions of high theoretical as well as practical relevance. How can comparative politics best contribute to the study of big transformations in meaningful ways? Even though many of these transformations will affect all countries, it is already evident that effects and reactions differ tremendously by issue, level of government, or political system. Comparative analysis across national borders is therefore a necessary and timely task.

The conference aims to bring together scholars with an interest in examining these fundamental questions of big transformative changes and their political consequences from a comparative and international perspective. Conference participants may wish to examine how different political systems are adapting politically, economically and socially to these changes or are themselves working to promote or trigger (deep) change. They may also address the impacts observed in relation to specific sectors, policy areas, or societal or policy processes from a national, comparative or international perspective. The Comparative Politics Research Section encourages theoretical and methodological pluralism and welcomes the growing body of methods and approaches used in the field.

The conference program will be published no later than November 15, 2018. A conference website can be found at

Further information (PDF)