ECPR Joint Sessions 2008

Rennes, 11-16 April 2008


Antje Wiener (University of Bath) and Rainer Schmalz-Bruns (University of Hannover) convened a workshop on Contested Constitutionalisation: Towards a Theory of Democratic Constitutionalism at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) 36th Joint Sessions of Workshops in Rennes in April 2008.

The workshop set out to develop further insights into the contested nature of the foundations of processes of constitutionalisation beyond the nation state and to pin down the implications this may have for adequate conceptualisations of constitutionalism. By linking theoretical and empirical perspectives the aim was to improve our understanding of the effects of ethical pluralism and contested normative meanings in political, legal and societal settings beyond the state. In these contexts practices of contestation is a central issue for research, especially with regard to problems of political representation and constitutional arrangements. The main conceptual claim, structuring the contributions to the workshop and the subsequent discussions, was that studying the processes of constitutionalisation while focusing on ‘diversity’ and ‘contestation’ as its key norms, will reveal a need to move beyond the traditional notion of ‘constitutional democracy’ towards a notion of ‘democratic constitutionalism’ that accepts the equiprimordiality of democracy and constitutionalism. The presumption was therefore that the traditional view of constitutionalism that viewed the system of politics as itself both constitutive and constitutional needed revision.

Against this background, two main questions were raised:

(1) What is constitutionalisation beyond the state and what shape does it have to take?

(2) What are the conceptual prerequisites and the favourable empirical conditions for rendering institution-building beyond the state democratic and how can these be analytically captured and empirically observed?

The workshop was organised in six panels which thematically varied the level (national, regional, transnational), the context (social, cultural, institutional) and the actors (internal or external powers) of processes of constitutionalisation and asked for the role of weak publics in these processes or whether (and if, to which degree) they may be informed and (partially) structured by a universal code of the rule of law. Whilst the thrust of normative research in constitutionalisation has always stressed the structuring quality of norms, as a general result of the discussions it turned out that the additional dimensions of context and time cast light on a more complex approach that appreciates the dual quality of norms, both as structuring and constructed through social interaction and practice.

The outlook which emerged for future research in this field was the suggestion that we should expect an increasing diversity in the interpretation of normative meanings so that constitutionalisation cannot rely on but must be premised to settle processes of the contestation and politicisation of the normative foundations of constitutional normative orders. It follows that we can also safely expect that, even if the formal validity of constitutional texts is accepted and a social environment, such as state structures or an international organisation exist to provide reference frames for interpretation, cultural validation is likely to generate divergence. Subsequently, expectations of the role of any particular norm are likely to differ as long as transnationalisation remains exclusive and partial.



Agné, Hans (University of Stockholm)
De Burca, Aoibhin (University College Dublin)
Federico, Veronica (University of Florence)
Fossum, John Erik (ARENA)
Isiksel, Türküler (Yale University)
Koch, Cordelia (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt)
Kutter, Amelie (Free University of Berlin)
Liebert, Ulrike (University of Bremen)
May, Christopher (Lancaster University)
Olsen, Tore Vincent (Copenhagen Business School)
Puntscher-Riekmann, Sonja (Univ. of Salzburg)
Rajkovic, Nikolas (EUI)
Ruacan, Ipek (University of Birmingham)
Schmalz-Bruns, Rainer (University of Hannover)
Trenz, Hans-Jörg (ARENA)
Turkka, Tapani (University of Jyväskylä)
Wiener, Antje (University of Bath)


Publications and activities WP 2 

RECON WP 2 events