Anxieties of Democracy Program

"Democracy." W. F. Herrick [sculptor], M. Weizenegger [photo], courtesy of Burlington City Arts

How can representative democracies be strengthened to govern more effectively? The SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program is motivated by a concern about whether the core institutions of established democracies—elections, mass media, political parties, interest groups, social movements, and, especially, legislatures—can capably address large problems in the public interest. Though emphasis will be placed on “anxieties of democracy” in the United States, the program will also work comparatively and conceptually across the globe.

The Anxieties of Democracy program is a major new initiative for the Council. It was developed through a set of convenings of leading thinkers from a range of fields. These early contributions have been gathered in a budding digital forum: The Democracy Papers

Our ambitions are diagnostic (to identify causes of perceived “anxieties” about representative democracies) and prescriptive (to explore solutions). To these ends, we intend to mobilize existing research; promote new studies; publish and disseminate findings; forge pathways to bring this knowledge to policy, media, and public audiences; and provide opportunities for new generations of social scientists to address how to make democracies govern more effectively.

With core support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and additional funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the program is overseen by an Advisory Committee and key staff who frame its agendas, organize seminars and conferences, generate publications, and connect with relevant audiences.

The program’s first phase of activities is organized around a series of five working groups.  There are two core groups – one with a broad focus on democratic institutions and another on the challenge of citizen access to democratic institutions, understood as “participation.” Three policy-oriented working groups will, in turn, address the potential of representative democracies to contend with the tests posed by climate change, state security, and what we are calling “the politics of distribution.”  

Image: "Democracy," sculpted by W.F. Herrick, photographed by Michael Weizenegger, used with permission from Burlington City Arts.

Program Director
Anoush F. Terjanian
Program Assistant
Molly Buckley
Advisory Committee