Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Annual Themes

2015-16

Digital Media and the Future(s) of Democracy

The long-term impacts of disruptive new technologies are always difficult to predict. This is particularly true for the emergence, spread and evolution of digital media over the last several decades. Do web-based, mobile, and social media provide unprecedented opportunities to democratize the production of news and public information, or do they only weaken the authority and legitimacy of professional journalists? Do they improve the efficiency and accountability of governments and businesses, or do they provide new tools for government and corporate surveillance? Do they enable democratic movements against repressive regimes, or do they provide these regimes greater means of repression? Do they facilitate and even redefine the nature of civic and political engagement, or do they divert attention from public life and issues? Do they contribute to new forms of citizenship and identity that cross national and social boundaries, or do they harden national, ethnic, religious and social divides?  Do they serve as public spaces for deliberation and rational discourse, or do they amplify extreme voices that contribute to the fracturing of societies along ideological lines?  As it devotes its 2015-16 year to the theme, “Digital Media and the Future of Democracy,” Penn DCC seeks to assess the complex impact of the radically evolving media landscape on democratic politics, as well as on the closely related issues of citizenship and constitutional government, both in the United States and around the globe. In our faculty workshops and annual conference, we will enlist the help of an interdisciplinary group of scholars to shed light on these issues, in the hope of providing a clearer vision of future promise and peril.

2014-15

Post-Neoliberal Latin America

The first decade of the twenty-first century has been widely hailed as a new dawn for Latin America, putting an end to the dominance of neoliberal policies in the region’s politics. This was signaled by the election of such leftist leaders as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva in Brazil – and their successors – and the success of indigenous politicians in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.  DCC is devoting 2014-15 to a regional theme, “Post-Neoliberal Latin America,” that highlights the importance of these developments not only for Latin America but for the world. The Program welcomes both empirical and normative scholarship, focused comparatively or on particular nations, regions, or communities, that explores the recent transformations in Latin America; the changing nature of its politics; the impact of political developments on civic and social inclusion; the continuing legacies of mass violence and civil war; the prospects and consequences of regional integration; the changing role of Latin America in the global political economy; and the scope and durability of the post-neoliberal turn.

2013-14

Social Rights and Citizenship

Citizenship provides access not just to the political process but to an array of social services and support systems, which in turn shape an individual's capacity to participate as a citizen.  But in the decades since T.H. Marshall's influential 1948 lecture, "Citizenship and Social Rights," the concept has been much contested. Marshall cited the recent creation in Britain of national health care, among other programs, as a means to achieve full citizenship for all, offsetting the economic inequalities of modern capitalism.  At the same moment, though unmentioned by Marshall, the United Nations and international treaties expressed commitment to human rights, which included not-fully-specified social and economic rights.  Is some measure of social wellbeing a human right, a right of citizenship or – as many in the U.S. have long maintained – not a right at all?

In 2013-14, the Penn DCC program explores these questions, with a special focus on the degree to which social policy – in health, education, housing, employment, childcare, criminal justice, and other areas – has succeeded or failed to help members of marginalized groups exercise full and equal citizenship.

2012-13

Constitution Making

In Philadelphia in 1787, Americans pioneered the creation of written constitutions to empower, guide and limit national governments. Today, most modern regimes have such constitutions. But some do not, and many depart sharply from the American model. In 2012-2013, the Penn DCC program will explore how and why constitutions have been and are being made around the world, seeking to illuminate how constitutionalism can be strengthened in the 21st century.

2011-12

Corporations and Citizens

Modern business corporations receive charters from and operate within the legal frameworks of national states. Though they organize and regulate much of the daily lives of a considerable portion of humanity, and though they impact the planet more generally, corporations are not themselves typically constituted internally around ideals such as democracy, citizenship, and egalitarianism, which are associated instead with national political culture. How did corporations as social institutions develop historically, and what role have they played in the rise of modern democratic states? What are and by right ought to be the responsibilities of corporations to their owners, to those who work for them, to the nations in which they operate, and to the planet more generally? What are the national and international roles and responsibilities of multinational corporations who, in the 21st century, often operate on a global scale — and what should they be? How have corporations affected different parts of the world, from Europe and North America, to Latin America, the Middle East, East and South Asia, and Africa? These are some of the questions we explore in the DCC program for 2011-2012.

2010-11

Race, Ethnicity, National Minorities and Citizenship

Modern constitutional democracies confront many problems of how far citizenship should be structured to express, accommodate, or trump racial and ethnic identities. For example, are racially or ethnically-based representation and affirmative action in employment in education (banned in some modern constitutional democracies, required in many others) ever appropriate? If so, when and why? How far should minority cultural identities be accommodated in public institutions? Are reparations required for unjustly treated indigenous communities or racial minorities? These topics are scheduled for both empirical and normative study in 2010-2011.

2009-10

Sovereignty, Territoriality, and Plural Citizenships

Today traditional claims of national sovereignty are being challenged via the growth of dual national citizenships; the creation of supra-national forms of economic and political community; and the devolution of political and economic authority in many federal or federated systems.  More and more people around the globe possess plural citizenships, with no clear single sovereign governing them.  What is driving these developments?  In what respects are they normatively defensible or undesirable? These are the topics to be explored in the DCC program during 2009-2010. The volume for the 2009-10 year is now available here.

2008-09

Civic Representation, Elections, and Public Opinion

Recent elections in the U.S. and many other constitutional democracies have shown how one of the most basic rights of full citizens, exercise of the franchise, can be frustrated, and how citizens can feel that their opinions do not count even when elections do occur. Issues of how to structure electoral systems and representative assemblies to do democratic justice to all pertinent social and economic groups and political perspectives and to achieve competent governance are answered very differently in different constitutional democracies. Mainstream and emerging media systems also play varying roles in informing, reflecting, or arguably manipulating public opinion and electoral behavior. The DCC Workshops and Spring Conference in 2008-2009 will explore the empirical, normative and policy challenges facing achievement of just, effective representation in modern electoral systems and representative bodies, with attention to the media and other sources of public opinion that shape electoral behavior.  The volume for the 2008-09 year is now available here.

2007-08

Citizenship, Borders, and Human Needs

Both as sending and as receiving nations, many constitutional democracies today are experiencing serious, often polarizing controversies over heightened numbers of immigrants and emigrants as well as refugees and asylum seekers. There is intense debate over whether human economic, political, cultural and security needs are really best served by strictly enforcing civic borders, and over whose needs are served, whose are harmed. Some read history as indicating that constitutional democracies benefit from free movement of persons, some see very different lessons. Both empirically and normatively, some argue today that traditional nation-state boundaries for civic membership are becoming obsolete; some find these views utopian or unpatriotic. Scholars from many disciplines and countries will explore these issues in the DCC Workshops and Spring Conference for 2007-2008. The volume for the 2007-08 year is now available here.