Accepted paper:

Democracy promotion and the role of epistemic communities in post-communist hybrid regimes

Authors:

Aytan Gahramanova (Dublin City University )

Paper short abstract:

The paper analyses a role of the local epistemic community, namely economic think tanks in Azerbaijan in light of its role in strengthening legitimacy of the civil society in the context of the restrictive political regime through defining a scope of a "change agency" in the society.

Paper long abstract:

International democracy promotion programs are grounded on the belief that democracy progresses in a linear fashion and that civil society is the primary engine of such a progression. Consequently, aid strategies and the assessment of civil society in hybrid regimes are elaborated along the "strong-weak civil society" dichotomous scale, according to which civil society is considered in opposition to the state. Under such assumption, only one conclusion can be reached in the context of post-communist hybrid states: "civil society is weak". Nevertheless, such conclusion overlooks nuances that would help us seeing alternative entry points for meaningful democracy assistance. Moreover, such a conclusion, together with other structural and broader political circumstances, led to the cut of democracy promotion schemes in "unsuccessful" host countries. It follows that broadening our perspective on the function of civil society in the context of hybrid regime is needed. I propose to shift the focus from the goal of achieving regime change and "tangible results" to that of nurturing the local discourse around public policies. In this perspective, local epistemic communities represented by individual experts, think tanks, and research institutions are the main actors that can nurture a discourse of public policy- making based on the notion of democratic accountability. The role of epistemic communities can be useful not only for voicing alternatives in public policy issues and for having a policy impact, but also for enhancing the legitimacy and weight of the civil society in the eyes of other social and political actors.

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Stream:
Opening (up) Development Practice
Unravelling, unfolding and unsettling NGOs' work, role and methodologies [paper]