Current project: 2019 – 2020
Democracy Globally in the 21st Century: A Cross-cultural Study


The project consists of a contextual and empirical section and aims to answer two questions

  • Why is democracy in trouble globally?
  • Why do some democracies in the same region remain stable while others regress?


The two questions are interlinked in that answers to the first more general inquiry are also meant to help finding answers to the more focused second question. The research in both sections is conducted within a common theoretical framework to enable a unified explanation as to the “why?” The framework is constructed using concepts developed by Ronald Inglehart in his 2019 book Cultural Evolution, which the project aims to carry forward owing to new data that was not yet available when the book was published.


The research builds on all previous TRI/TRU projects with their central interest in assessing democracy comparatively in countries located in vastly different cultural regions. The original seven countries have been retained to capitalise on accumulated data and to utilise knowledge of these cases gained in nearly two decades of study. The cases, which include five younger democracies: South Africa, Chile, South Korea, Poland and Turkey, have been assessed against Sweden and Germany taken as benchmarks of democratic quality.


However, to address meaningfully the question of why some countries in the same cultural region and subject to similar global impacts remain robust democracies while others backslide the project incorporates several new cases. They comprise respectively the double and triple comparative studies of Germany-Italy; Poland-Estonia; South Africa-Kenya; South Korea -Taiwan-the Philippines; Chile-Uruguay-Argentina; and the United States-Canada. The inclusion of the latter two cases expands the coverage of global regions studied by TRU. Sweden has been retained as the upper benchmark for liberal democracy, while Turkey – currently classified as an electoral autocracy – have been placed on the opposite pole.


Findings were published in Palgrave Macmillan series: Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century

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Project: 2015 – 2017
Global democracy: Political institutions and cultural contexts
SA National Research Foundation (NRF) theme: Human and social dynamics in development


The project aims to answer a paramount question, namely, what are the key factors that are likely to prevent a successful long-term democratic consolidation. The analyses consider South Africa within the global political and economic environment as one of five transformation countries, which include Poland, Chile, South Korea and Turkey. All these countries belong to the set of younger democracies and are highly differentiated culturally. Sweden and Germany are also included and serve as a yardstick by which to compare the younger democracies with well-established older ones. The project also studies South Africa comparatively in the regional southern African context by assessing it against Zimbabwe and Namibia, two countries ruled by liberations movements- turned governments, as well as Botswana whose path to democracy differed in that respect.


In addition to culture the research varies the nature of the autocratic regimes in the countries under study in order to learn how differences in autocratic institutions impact the transformation of these countries into representative democracies and their future development. Assessments of the potential differences between the former autocratic regimes are guided by the empirical question of the degree to which those regimes have brutalized their respective societies.


The research problem of the project is developed within the framework of political culture. This paradigm states that a political regime has a long-term chance of survival only if there is congruence between political structure and political culture. In other words, citizens need to adopt democratic values and they need to support the democratic institutions in their land. The general expectation is that the longer support for democracy by citizens persists in a given polity and the more robust it is, the greater the chances for a successful consolidation of democracy in that polity.

TRI Projects: 2000 – 2015
The global financial crisis and its implications for democracy (2: Empirical)
TRI project 4: 2012-2014


The project was an empirical follow-up to the earlier analytical study, which conceptualised the problem of the global crisis and its wide-ranging social and economic consequences and has been described more fully below. The follow-up phase involved a systematic collection of data on all countries were reliable data were available. The research involved elaborate statistical data analysis and the production of integrated data-sets. The data-sets included both objective and subjective data on economic development, socio-economic structure and political structure. A large number of relevant sources of both individual and aggregate data were consulted. The project also involved the collection of its own data gathered in an internationla survey of parliamentary representatives in seven countries, which enabled comparative analyses between the pre-and post-crisis period.


The objective of the project was to find out how crisis-driven economic factors affect different types of political regimes, and how political factors may help or impede the capacity of states to recover from a serious global economic downturn. A unique data set has been prepared for the project describing the situation before and after the recession for 187 countries of the globe.


The results of the study were presented in a special issue of the Taiwan Journal of Democracy

The global financial crisis and its implications for democracy (1: Conceptual)
TRI project 3: 2010 – 2011


The project started from the assumption that the impact of the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and the following economic recession had consequences that could potentially prove to be detrimental to the future wellbeing of global democracy. The study aimed to conceptualise the problem theoretically in preparation for an empirical follow-up during which to collect and analyze data to support or refute the tentative conclusions. The project assumed that the crisis created conditions for a potential shift away from the existing trend of new democracies trying to emulate the established democracies of the North-West that in the belief that the latter were on an ever-progressing economic development path. The crisis revealed that the well-established democracies were in fact hit hardest, and were affected more than some of the authoritarian countries, especially China.


A guiding hypothesis of the project held that as the crisis spread around the globe and begun to exert a heavy economic toll on most nations the conviction that democracy and economic development that benefits citizens go hand in hand might weaken and confidence in democracy itself might start to erode. The project explored the crisis from that very perspective, that is, from the perspective of how the crisis could affect the quality of democracy around the globe, how well democratic politics serve as a defensive mechanism, and whether democracies were in fact best equipped to address a crisis than non-democracies.


The conceptual phase of the project was supported institutionally by the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS).


The research results were presented in a book entitled Democracy under stress: The global crisis and beyond.

The quality of young democracies
TRI project 2: 2005 – 2009


The project utilised and built on an earlier comparative research undertaking that included the study of South Africa, Chile, South Korea, Poland and (East) Germany. Having previously assessed transitions to democracy in those countries and having established that to a greater or lesser degree the examined countries were crafting their democracies quite successfully, the now more relevant question was that of quality of these young democracies. For that purpose Sweden and (the now unified) Germany were added to the sample to offer a comparative perspective against which to measure democratic progress, or lack thereof. At the same time Turkey was included as an Islamic country to expand the cultural comparative base.


The project examined the seven cases on two levels: A historical-philosophical level, where it pondered the underlying impact of traditional culture, and on an empirical-theoretical level, where it looked at the elite-mass public dimension in the context of political culture. In the latter case the project drew on data from its own-run elite surveys in the seven countries on value orientations and attitudes of the elites to assess the quality of leadership. Utilising the corresponding questionnaire used earlier by the World Values Survey (WVS) made it possible to compare the results of both the surveys to establish to what extent the values of the elites and those of ordinary citizens converged or diverged. The correlations were subsequently examined according to a set of hypotheses formulated for the purposes of the project and referring to quality of democracy.


The research results were presented in a book entitled Democracy under scrutiny: Elites, citizens, cultures

Societies and their institutions in the transition to democracy
TRI project 1: 2000 – 2004


The project – as all the others in the research programme – was located at the crossroads of political science, sociology, economics, philosophy and history. The analyses focused on the conditions of transformation in systems where the general direction of democratisation and the liberalisation of social systems was similar, but where cultural and historical conditions were vastly different, as were the different types of autocracy from which the individual cases departed. The latter included apartheid, communism, authoritarian-bureaucratic or military bureaucratic system, and political authoritarianism.


The analyses were conducted in the arenas of political society, civil society and economic society. Seeking to capture both the universal and the specific aspects impacting transition, historical memory was included as a separate arena. The taken approach went well beyond the scope of existing at the time studies on transformation, which were usually restricted to one geo-political region examining countries and societies in similar historical and cultural contexts and facing similar political and social problems.


​The research results were presented in a book entitled Democracy under construction: Patterns from four continents ​