CEST Symposium 2022

Convened by Kerem Öktem (Ca’ Foscari), Bilge Yabancı (Ca’ Foscari and Northwestern), Karabekir Akkoyunlu (SOAS)

Call for papers

After more than a decade of steady democratic decline around the world, we now have considerable insight into how autocratisation works. Autocratising rulers target civil society and the media, exploit and deepen social polarisations, delegitimize opposition, and gradually undermine formal institutions. But, as in the case of democratisation, consolidating autocracy can prove harder than establishing it in the first place. Although autocratic leaders are not bound by the same rules and procedures as their democratic counterparts, they face similar challenges, such as delivering public goods and economic growth, the failure of which may threaten stability. In Turkey as well as in a number of other countries that recently experienced democratic backsliding, processes of autocratisation are neither unidirectional, nor irreversible.

We propose the concept of ‘heavily compromised’ democracies in which autocratisation is constrained by two factors. First, established rules of competition among rival political actors and a culture of participation distinguish these cases from consolidated authoritarian regimes. Second, the self-destructive dynamics of insecure authoritarian politics can sustain spaces of resistance and opposition. Such spaces enable the emergence of cadres, institutions and conditions that limit or even reverse processes of autocratisation.

However, there is a big variety in terms of actors and institutions of resistance and opposition. In some cases, civic and political mobilisations against autocratisation have shown remarkable longevity even after persistent processes of democratic erosion (e.g. Turkey, Hungary). In others, co-optation and repression have divided the oppositional field and threatened its institutional viability (e.g. Venezuela). Yet, in others, the coordination among oppositional forces has reversed democratic backsliding (e.g. Ecuador, Slovakia). How can we account for this difference? Between co-optation and various forms of repression, what sustains resistance and opposition? How do programmatic and ideological differences account for oppositional disunity? How can civic and political resistance cooperate and complement each other? Which directions may post-authoritarian transitions take?

The Venice Symposium seeks to discuss challenges to authoritarian structures in Turkey with a comparative lens on inter alia Eastern Europe, Latin America and South & Southeast Asia. In terms of analysis, we seek to understand the potential of political parties, trade unions, bureaucracies, professional organisations, civil society and social movements in weathering and challenging the authoritarian incumbent, as well as the limitations they face from within their organisational structures and political traditions (not all opposition to authoritarianism, after all, is democratic or anti-systemic). The symposium aims to go beyond descriptive accounts of discrete and issue-based acts and spatialities of resistance. We do not only aim to take stock of oppositional groups but also to theoretically reflect on the facilitators, spaces and timing of (potential) post-authoritarian transitions. We welcome theoretically-informed empirical contributions on the limits to autocratisation. We also seek to theorize push-backs against it by considering different levels of administration - from bureaucratic agencies to local governments – with an eye on identifying the role of democratic legacy, old or new ‘democratic enclaves’, and examining the possibilities of ‘springboard politics’ on the national and subnational levels.

The convenors

This Symposium is organised by the University of Ca’ Foscari and the Consortium for European Symposia on Turkey (CEST). The Consortium brings together leading Turkish studies scholars in Europe and seeks to advance the field of Turkish studies in Europe by providing opportunities for young scholars through academic events. Our key aim is to create a safe, friendly but intellectually stimulating interdisciplinary environment for critical research and reflection on Turkey’s society and politics in a comparative perspective.

CEST is funded by Stiftung Mercator, with additional contributions from the Swedish Institute, Stockholm University, and the member institutions of the Consortium, including: SciencesPo Paris, Stockholm University Institute of Turkish Studies, University of Vienna, University of Duisburg-Essen, Naples L’Orientale and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.


The Symposium is geared towards the publication of a special issue/edited volume. Hence, selected participants will be expected to submit their draft papers before the Symposium.

All participants will be provided with accommodation for 2 nights at San Servolo Island, as well as dinner and lunches. Participants from wider Europe including Turkey will be eligible for a travel reimbursement of up to 250 euros, covering visa expenses if required. Participants from other world regions are welcome to apply, but cannot be reimbursed for their travel expenses.

All participants are encouraged to book low-cost carriers if applicable and seek additional funding from their own institutions.


The following material is required for the application. Please include all documents in one PDF file.
1. Short abstract (200 words)
2. Short statement (300 words) indicating how your larger research speaks to the Symposium theme
3. Short written CV indicating education, current position, and main publications (150 words)
4. Full 2-page CV (no Euro-Pass)!

Please send your application PDF by Monday, 23 May to: venicesymposiumcest@gmail.com
We will notify you of the decision of the Selection Committee by Monday, 6 June.