Call for Papers – Workshop: Apathy and Activation: Rethinking Political Passivity in Authoritarian and Hybrid Regimes

Center for Modern East Asian Studies, Göttingen University, Germany
15-16th Nov 2024
Deadline: 30th Apr 2024

Organizers: Dr. Henrike Rudolph, Dr. Bertram Lang (Göttingen University)
In Western political science literature, political passivity is generally regarded either as a symptom of weakening democratic institutions or, if it is observed in an illiberal regime, as an expression of citizens’ acquiescence with authoritarian rule. This binary view in which civic engagement is situated on the democratic end of the spectrum of political systems, while “passive obedience” is associated with non-democratic rule, assumes that individual agency in the public sphere is preconditioned by a clear division of state and civil society as is characteristic of liberal democracies. On the contrary, autocratic systems are believed to offer little to no space for political activism beyond the ruling party or government. There is, however, also the possibility of constituting an alternative dichotomy in which the opposite of political passivity is not civic engagement but mobilization. Indeed, the history of the twentieth century has provided us with ample evidence that totalitarian governments share a tendency to seek to arouse, enlist, awaken, or revive the people under their rule. Following this logic, passivity can be a form of resistance to creating a new man, nation, or culture. Even though Linz (1975) argues that passivity is a core feature of authoritarian rule in contrast to the mobilizational character of totalitarianism, the end of the Cold War and the waning influence of Communist ideology did not ring in the end of mass mobilization. Populist movements and dominant parties worldwide revived or reinvented the political tools of mobilization via mass campaigns, assisted by the possibilities of social media and artificial intelligence. Simultaneously, we see trends of a conscious retreat from society in youth phenomena popularized in China and beyond under the slogans of “lying flat,” “involution,” or “quiet quitting.” As we argue, political passivity has to be studied as a form of Eigensinn that transcends notions of compliance or resistance in authoritarian and hybrid regimes.

This workshop sets out to investigate 1) how contemporary governments in authoritarian and hybrid regimes discuss and problematize political passivity and social disengagement, 2) how passivity is sanctioned under dominant ideological, cultural, social, or religious norms, 3) which practical measures are taken to counter signs of disengagement, and 4) how citizens react to pressures to engage in political and social life.

Possible topics of workshop contributions include, but are not limited to:
• Strategies, aims, and (unintended) consequences of political campaigns addressing citizens’ passivity
• Discourses on civic virtues and the initiation and impact of moralizing campaigns
• State-led attempts to create opportunities for the nationalistic, ideological, or cultural re-engagement of citizens
• Questions of methodology and source access in the study of political passivity
• Comparative approaches to passivity as a political problem in different countries and cultures
• Differentiated analysis of reasons for political passivity among citizens in non-democratic states
• Political passivity as an expression of youth subculture, especially among urban youths
• The reception of Western (academic) discourses on passivity and civic engagement in non-democratic states

The workshop will take a hybrid format to accommodate participants from outside Europe.

Limited funding is available to cover travel costs and accommodation for participants who cannot get reimbursement from their home institutions. Preference will be given to junior researchers.

Please submit an abstract of about 250 words to and by April 30, 2024. Please also include information on whether you would like to attend in person or online and if you require financial support to cover travel and accommodation.

• Call for papers: April 30, 2024
• Decision on submissions by early May
• Submission of position papers (about 3-5 pages): November 1, 2024
• Workshop: November 15-16, 2024

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