There is growing psychological evidence that various processes differently contribute to our propensity to support or challenge the status quo; to embrace change or to reject it. What is more, the context (e.g. where, when) and content (e.g. what “change” or “democracy” are understood to entail) in which those processes are embodying are of fundamental importance in determining if those mechanisms are employed, what shape they are likely
to take, and to what ends they might lead. In this regard, we are encouraged by such notions as the psychological citizen (Moghaddam, 2008), which emphasizes the social psychological elements of the social contract, not just the logical ones typically studied within political science. We believe that the insights of social and political psychology should be expanded within the study of democratic development and that the current discussions surrounding the social psychological mechanisms underlying social change
(and stability) to be a step in this direction.
Stable, ideologically-grounded systems are not the default into which human life effortlessly falls. Rather, such systems must be created, and then sustained or opposed. That democracies develop there is no doubt, but that the process of development itself can be considered democratic is not so clear. Hoffer would seem to think that these periods of systemic change cannot, by definition, be democratic, as the very notion of democracy entails a certain degree of systemic stability. While we would caution against drawing a hard line between stability and change (as reality is certainly never so clearcut), we believe a mindfulness of this distinction would well serve the study of democratic development.
While working to identify those combinations of social psychological processes, contexts and contents that interact so as to galvanize support for systemic change in directions that would strengthen democratic “software”, it is important that we not conflate the expected outcome with processes from which it arises. In other words, in asking whether or not the changes taking place in a given region of the world are democratic, we would be wise to pause and note the potential disconnect in the question itself, rather than immediately projecting that disconnect onto the societies of which we
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