Cfp: ECPR Join Sessions Virtual Workshop ‘Civil Society Space in Times of Crises: From 9/11 to COVID-19’

Publication date
December 15, 2020
February 8, 2021
Short description

Various reforms in recent years have shown that established democracies inside and outside
the European Union (EU) are not immune to illiberal tendencies, with fundamental
implications for the conditions in which civil society organizations (CSOs) operate.
Consequently, the ‘shrinking of civil society space’- defined as CSOs’ room for activity and
manoeuvre that directly impacts on organizations’ capacity to function and to perform key
tasks (Borgh & Terwindt 2012; Buyse 2018) - has become a central concern not only in the
EU (e.g. EP 2018; CoE 2018; FRA 2018) but also in other consolidated democracies such as
the US (e.g. Sidel 2011; IDEA 2018; Civicus n.d.).

In some European countries such as Hungary reforms ‘shrinking civil society space ’have
been read as part of a deliberate governmental effort to dismantle checks and balances and
other fundamental mechanisms that assure executive accountability (Khaitan 2019; Bermeo
2016). In others they might constitute an unintended side-effect of governmental policies
trying to cope with severe crises including counterterrorism measures (including rules on
financial transparency), austerity packages following the 2008 financial crisis, responses to
the European migration crisis and most recently the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed,
echoing numerous case-oriented studies by academics and practitioners, recent expert data
suggests that since the early 2000s government control over and repression of CSOs have
increased in 2/3rds of EU member states (V-Dem), a trend reinforced by the current
Considering the link between the growing legal restrictiveness on CSOs in a range of
established democracies and its association with democratic governments’ crisis responses
this workshop addresses the following questions:
How have democratic governments altered the environments in which civil society
organizations operate over the last two decades – through legal or other means – and why?
How have these changes affected civil society organizations’ ability to survive, operate and
perform key functions central to democracy? What consequences did these changes –
especially when put in place in the context of specific crises - have for democracy? How
have they affected governments’ capacity to manage crises?
To date there is little academic research explicitly targeting the drivers or the effects of the
‘evolution of civil society space’ in established democracies (see, for a recent assessment,
Buyse 2018) or how different crises might push democratic governments to fundamentally
alter the environments CSOs operate in. This is the case although numerous debates have
direct relevance for the theme, including those on militant democracy and rights-restrictions
related to counterterrorism measures (e.g. Sajó 2004; Epifanio 2011; 2016), on performance
management in welfare provision curtailing voluntary organizations resources reinforced in
times of austerity (e.g. Farnsworth & Irving 2011) as well as illiberal tendencies of populist
law-making, especially in times of crisis (e.g. Mudde 2016; Caiani & Graziano 2019) populism
and public administration (Bauer & Becker 2020), executive aggrandizement (e.g. Bermeo
2016; Khaitan 2019), autocratic legalism (e.g. Scheppele 2018) and democratic backsliding in
the EU more generally (Sitter et al 2016).
Keywords: Civil society space, crisis policymaking, rights-restrictions, populist law-making,
Covid-19, organizational responses
Expected Participant Profile
Given the salience of the theme and its far-fetching repercussions for a range of academic
debates across several social science disciplines, the workshop aims at bringing diverse
group of scholars interested in the changing state- civil society relations in Europe and the
relationship between crisis management and civil society space broadly defined. More
specifically, the workshop aims to open a dialogue between public policy, comparative
politics and legal scholars studying government crisis management and reform with scholars
focused on civil society organizations themselves and their responses to changes in their
environments as well as theoretically oriented scholars interested in the repercussions for
the quality of democracy.
We invite papers that study governments’ responses to crises and their implications for the
organization, activities and development of civil society in established democracies.
Whether this relationship is approached at the level of a specific crisis or sequences in which
responses to earlier crises affect responses to later ones, we look forward to a wide range of
empirically grounded submissions, using quantitative, qualitative or mixed-method
approaches. Cross-case and within-case country comparisons are welcome, also papers that
focus on the repercussions for organisations operating in certain sub-sectors (eg. migration,
gender equality, human rights and democracy etc.) but also papers that include
organisational responses across policy sectors and core missions (advocacy groups and
service providers). Conceptual papers advancing the debate on crisis management and civil
society space are also welcome. Finally, we encourage the submission of papers that focus
on populist-law making, rights-restrictions and organizational responses.
If you have any questions or need additional information please contact the workshop
directors: Fabrizio Di Mascio ( and Milka Ivanovska Hadjievska

Paper proposals of max. 500 words should be submitted via the ECPR webpage:

  • Other
Geographical focus
  • Europe
  • European Union (EU 28)
  • WBC
Scientifc field / Thematic focus
  • Cross-thematic/Interdisciplinary

Entry created by Admin on December 18, 2020
Modified on December 18, 2020