Interaction Between Internal and External Actors in Democracy Promotion

Workshop (Invitation only)

Bonn, 25.03.2015 bis 27.03.2015


German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

Among both practitioners and scholars of democracy promotion, there is broad consensus that democracy is not simply a good that can be exported from one country to another. External democracy promotion, by definition, involves a complex sort of interaction between external and local actors that can hardly be grasped by the notion of a trade-like import/export relationship. By the very nature of their mission, democracy promoters continuously interact with various kinds of “recipients” or “partners” and frequently become part of the domestic politics of the countries they work in – promoting democracy from within, rather than from without. These interaction processes are certainly shaped by perceived interests (in power, wealth, security, etc.) that motivate external and local actors. Still, they involve more than just strategic action. Democracy promoters must confront the fact that democracy is a deeply contested concept and, therefore, democracy cannot be promoted if it simply tries to implement preconceived formulas from the outside.
As a result, interaction in democracy promotion cannot be grasped by the unidirectional notion of an external actor helping implement a given set of democratic norms and institutions in a recipient country – by way of applying a series of strategies (ranging from persuasion, material support, and incentives to sanctions, threats, and military force), therewith leaving the recipient the choice of either accepting or resisting the offer of help. Rather, interaction encompasses meaningful agency on both sides, with local actors having ample room to use or divert external aid activities for their own purposes and to “localize” or “appropriate”, and thereby transform, the very ideas, norms and institutions that democracy promoters seek to advance. Additionally, due to the diverse range of democracy promoters that work with different state and non-state actors in target countries, interaction in democracy promotion also concerns the relationship within the “architecture of foreign aid”, including a multitude of state-, semi- and non-state organizations.
General agreement as to the interactive nature of democracy promotion and the need for local ownership notwithstanding, existing research on democracy promotion has either implicitly or explicitly assumed a unidirectional perspective. Most scholars have focused on the strategies and policies carried out by democracy promoters or have tried to assess outcomes. However, what is happening in between – in the interaction process between external and local actors – is largely treated as a black box and has yet to be theorized and empirically studied in greater detail. In order to consolidate a research agenda on “democracy promotion as interaction”, the workshop aimed at critically assessing the state of the art on the interplay of external and internal actors in democracy promotion and related fields of study that also tackle the issue of external actors somehow intervening in societies (military intervention, peacebuilding, development cooperation). Crucial sets of questions included:

  1. How can we conceptualize/theorize the interaction between external and local actors?
  2. How do local actors – governments, political parties, civil-society groups, etc. – respond to democracy promoters; do they adopt or resist externally promoted democratic norms, appropriate or divertexternal aid? To what extent do “recipient” governments introduce regulations on democracysupport (and foreign aid in general)? What is it that drives local actors?
  3. How do the very democracy promoters, on their part, react when their policies are challenged and/or transformed “on the ground”?To what extent do they adjust their democracy support activities or even the whole system of foreign aid? What is it that drives these responses?
  4. Which dynamics of interaction emerge, and what are the consequences for both the state of democracy in recipient countries and the shape of external democracy promotion?

Hinweis / Please note

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Datum / Uhr
25.03.2015 bis 27.03.2015 / 17:00 - 13:30


German Development Institute /
Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)
Tulpenfeld 6
53113 Bonn