The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) invites proposals from across the social sciences and related fields that address the challenges facing democratic societies across the Americas. This collaboration between SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy (AOD) and Drugs, Security and Democracy (DSD) programs seeks to support research that (i) deepens understanding of key challenges such as democratic erosion and authoritarian drift; political inequalities, including voter suppression; political mobilization and participation of women and minorities; and corruption and the rule of law; and (ii) employs a comparative perspective or is relevant to a comparative dialogue on the sources of and solutions to democratic anxieties in the Americas.
Request for Proposals
Public concern grows about the efficacy of democratic institutions in the face of rising inequality, the spread of populism, and the spread of disinformation, political polarization, and distrust. These challenges have both distinct histories and are shaped by broader political, economic and social forces that have long contributed to the fragility of democracy in many countries in the Americas. Thus, across this region, democracies have much to learn from each other through comparing and juxtaposing their histories, cultures, and politics. While there are many important issues to be explored in this regard, this Request for Proposals seeks to mobilize new knowledge on two key themes that offer the basis for particularly fruitful regional comparisons and dialogue: (i) political representation, political participation, and inequalities; and (ii) judicial politicization and the judicialization of politics.
Political Representation, Political Participation, and Inequalities
Throughout the Americas, there is a sense across the political spectrum that citizens’ goals, values, and interests are unrepresented through the formal workings of “representative” democracy. To whom democratic governments are (and are perceived to be) responsive, or not, underlies rising polarization among citizens in the face of growing socio-economic inequalities and the inability of democracies to address them. With frustration mounting with formal political institutions and parties, recent years have accelerated heightened forms of political participation, from the intensity of electoral competition to the role of (social) media in fueling polarization, from renewed and expanded expressions of populism and nationalism, to new waves of protest. With varied outcomes, these protests have demanded specific legislative changes and comprehensive reform processes that call into question the political and economic models in the region.
Underlying all this is the recognition that socio-economic inequalities intersect with political inequalities and the degree to which certain portions of the population can enact the rights associated with democracy. Liberal democratic principles strike a balance between representing majoritarian will and providing protections for minority groups. From the United States to Brazil and Andean countries, for example, racialized, ethnic, migrant, and indigenous populations are now at the center of this tension. These populations are constructed as both threats to a (purported) majority and central to political mobilizations around social justice which are challenging traditional parties’ ideologies and strategies. Women’s participation in politics, policy, and decision-making increasingly bring substantive reform in areas such as sexual and reproductive rights into the political arena.
This Request for Proposals invites projects that engage with the dynamics of political representation and participation, the sources and effects of populism and popular protest, and the intersection between socio-economic and political inequalities.
Judicial Politicization and the Judicialization of Politics
As democratic institutions and mainstream political parties and actors experience legitimacy challenges, in part due to this crisis in responsiveness to public needs and the scourge of inequality, judiciaries are playing increasingly important roles, whether as upholders of democratic rights and processes, de facto policymakers, or as political actors advancing partisan positions in ways that undermine their independence. Often (although not always) composed of unelected actors, judiciaries increasingly step in for other governmental branches’ inactions or are co-opted by those in power rather than acting as a counterweight.
Across the Americas, courts have been drawn into decisions and controversies that were previously seen as beyond the reach of judicial adjudication. Judges have been called upon to decide highly politicized issues: from voting rights and the integrity of elections (United States) to an impasse between the president and Congress over the selection of constitutional magistrates (Peru) to ordering police to seize documents and computers tied to those who criticized the Supreme Court (Brazil). This deepened and at times blatantly partisan engagement politics may generate a backlash that puts the judiciary’s independence, legitimacy, neutrality, and efficacy into question.
This Request for Proposals invites projects that contribute to our understanding of the causes and consequences of the judicialization of politics in the Americas, especially regarding political representation and participation, democratic functioning, and democracies’ capacity to tackle major public issues. It also invites research on how courts have avoided or succumbed to partisan capture and, as political and/or partisan actors, how their capacity to serve as an essential guardrail for democracy is affected.
For either of the two themes outlined above, research projects that can make comparisons across the contexts of multiple countries in the region are particularly welcome.
The SSRC invites proposals for Democratic Anxieties in the Americas Research Grants from researchers—based at both academic and non-academic institutions—who meet the following minimum requirements:
- Researchers who have received their PhD in any social science discipline or related fields within the last five years or who have reached ABD status and are writing a dissertation toward a PhD in the social sciences and related fields.
- Applications must focus on countries from the Americas.
- Applicants must reside in a country in the Americas.
- Submission of a project proposal on a research topic that relates to one of two themes described above as well as all other requested documents via apply.ssrc.org.
- Contribute an essay based on the research to SSRC’s digital forum, Items: Insights from the Social Sciences.
Additional details about eligibility requirements and related information may be found in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.
Applications are welcome from researchers based in any country in the Americas and may be submitted in English, Spanish, or Portuguese. In particular, we encourage the participation of researchers who are part of historically unrepresented or underrepresented groups in research communities.
Awards will range from US$5,000 to US$10,000, with larger amounts directed to projects committed to transregional research partnerships (two or more researchers based at two or more institutions across the Americas). Proposals in all disciplines of the social sciences and related fields will be accepted, provided that all the eligibility criteria listed above are met.
While new knowledge is urgently needed, under the conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic many social research methodologies are either not possible or require adaptation to protect the health and safety of both researchers and research subjects. The Democratic Anxieties in the Americas Research Grants will support projects that deploy research methods–whether remotely or on-site – that are both feasible and safeguard health and safety. Applicants should describe in some detail how they intend to address these constraints in the methods they propose, as well as the ethical dimensions of their research plans and methods. Please refer to the FAQ for additional details about research ethics, including Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval.
Proposals will be evaluated by a multidisciplinary, multilingual, and cross-regional review committee based on their relevance to the topic, quality and intellectual merit, potential for innovation, the fit between their research question and research design, and feasibility under current constraints on research. Applicants should specify their intended outputs for the project and the audience(s) for those outputs. Successful applicants will be required to contribute at least one brief essay to the SSRC’s digital forum Items: Insights from the Social Sciences, as well as inform us about plans to publish an article based on their research in a peer-reviewed, academic journal.
Detailed eligibility requirements, research timeline, awards, application documents, and all other related information about the Democratic Anxieties in the Americas Research Grants may be found on the FAQ page.
Applications may be submitted through the SSRC’s application portal (apply.ssrc.org).