Cooperation with German Cluster of Excellence

WP 1 - Theoretical Framework

RECON and the Cluster of Excellence ‘The Formation of Normative Orders’ at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University (JWGU) are bringing together partners from different countries and professional backgrounds and exhibiting scientific synergies. This report is written by Heike List at JWGU.


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Europe today faces a number of complex challenges. The future and mainstay of democratic institutions in the European Union and questions about the EU’s normative validity and democratic legitimacy are examples of some of the issues with which we must come to terms. They demand significant resources and intelligent synergies in political and philosophical research in order to test traditional conceptions of the role of the state for democratic governance. The aim of this report is to illustrate how the Europe-wide research project RECON and the research areas of the Cluster of Excellence 'The Formation of Normative Orders' are currently exhibiting these scientific synergies and bringing together partners from different countries and professional backgrounds at the Goethe University in Frankfurt.
After a short overview of the German 'Initiative of Excellence' and the Frankfurt Cluster 'The Formation of Normative Orders', this report will highlight the ways in which a number of core objectives of the RECON project – such as the development of a theoretical account of democratic legitimacy in times of changing political orders – were addressed in several workshops, lectures and conferences within the framework of the Cluster and involving the active participation of RECON researchers at Frankfurt.
The information in the following summary is available at Cluster's website. The Initiative of Excellence of the German federal and state governments is a German-wide competition aimed at developing world class research at universities by establishing internationally visible research schools, excellence clusters and future concepts. These three funding lines are meant to promote interdisciplinary cooperation within universities, between universities, and between universities, non-university research institutions, and the private sector. For further details see the official website of the German federal government or the DFG Video-Portal.
'The Formation of Normative Orders' at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt is one of few Clusters in the humanities and social sciences in Germany. Researchers from a wide variety of disciplines, such as philosophy, history, political science and legal studies, as well as ethnology, economics, theology and sociology, cooperate within this research alliance. Their goal is to be able to reach conclusions informed by all of these perspectives concerning the extent to which we live in an era of the formation of new normative orders. RECON member Rainer Forst is one of the two representatives of the Cluster, together with Klaus Günther. Together with his colleagues, he was successful in drafting this research program on 'The Formation of Normative Orders', which was nominated, selected and finally funded as a Cluster of Excellence. Since its beginning in 2007, the Cluster has established ten new professorships, and to date the overall number of researchers and administrative staff is 170.
Forst describes normative orders as historically grounded 'orders of justification' based upon 'justification narratives' which privilege certain legitimations, where norms and values of very different sorts (moral, legal, and religious, to mention just a few) are interconnected, give rise to tensions, and are under all circumstances dynamic. The Frankfurt Cluster is organized into four research areas: 'Conceptions of Normativity', 'The Historicity of Normative Orders', 'The Formation of Legal Norms between Nations' and 'Transnational Justice, Democracy, and Peace'. The latter research area is led by Rainer Forst, to whom the question of the formation of normative orders under the conditions of globalization is raised in the crossfire between three central concepts: justice, democracy, and peace. Since these concepts form the core of the ‘Western’ understanding of politics geared toward the order of nation-states, the process of globalization poses fundamental challenges to this understanding. Together with his colleagues, Rainer Forst explores the question of whether and to what extent normative orders are currently evolving which can be meaningfully described using the (classical or reconfigured) concepts of justice, democracy, and peace.
Investigating these concepts and their relations contributes in many aspects to the aim of RECON, particularly RECON’s WP 1 - Theoretical Framework which seeks to clarify whether the state form as such can be rescued in Europe, or if not, what alternatives have to be considered. In Frankfurt these concepts have been analyzed in a series of workshops, lectures and conferences from different research perspectives involving political philosophy, the theory of political institutions, the analysis of international relations, conflict and peace research, legal studies, economics, and the humanities: The list of the recent events includes e.g. Prof. Dr. Chantal Mouffe’s (London) talk 'Which Democracy in a Multi-Polar World?' (4 November 2009); a lecture by Prof. Dr. María do Mar Castro Varela (Berlin) and Prof. Dr. Nikita Dhawan (Frankfurt/M.) on 'Solidarity across Borders? Rethinking "the Political" in a Postcolonial World' (13 January 2010); or events like the Second Annual Conference of the Cluster (13 and 14 November 2009), which was devoted to the topic of ‘justification narratives’. This conference drew attention to the historical dimension of orders of justification, that is to the narratives that become consolidated into legitimations of social structures and political institutions. These narratives were analyzed in their diversity, conflicts, and dynamics under the leadership of Research Area 2 ‘The Historicity of Normative Orders’. The lectures were delivered by prominent guests representing the different disciplines participating in the Cluster: the social anthropologist Harri Englund from Cambridge, the legal scholar Robert Howse from New York University, the philosopher Michael Hampe from the ETH Zurich, the historian Hans Kippenberg from Bremen, and the economic historian Keith Tribe from Sussex. Gunter Pleuger, who has served as the German permanent representative to the United Nations, as Secretary of State in the Foreign Ministry, and now as President of the European University Viadrina, attended the conference as well. From among the members of the Cluster, the historian Hartmut Leppin, the political scientist Nicole Deitelhoff (also a RECON member), the legal scholar Günter Frankenberg, and the philosopher Martin Seel contributed lectures to the panels.
In the newly initiated “Frankfurt Lectures” outstanding international scholars are invited to address particular aspects of the formation of normative orders in a theoretically innovative and topical manner in a series of two consecutive lectures. Following the well-received public lectures by the moral and political philosopher Charles Larmore on “Rationality and Subjectivity” (2 and 3 November 2009) and by the New York political scientist Nancy Fraser on the “Crisis of Capitalism” and the “Ambivalences of Emancipation” (19 and 20 April 2010), another prominent American scholar was welcomed to the Frankfurt Lectures of the Cluster of Excellence. Frank I. Michelman, Professor of Law at Harvard University, who is one of the most renowned contemporary legal theorists, spoke on May 17 and 18 on the topic “Contract and Common Ground: The Case of Liberty”. The lectures examined the concepts of contract, consensus, and ethical values with particular reference to the justification of democratic political systems. They addressed the question of whether a sharp distinction between contract-based and value-based systems of justification is tenable. This question was framed by an examination of different approaches to defining constitutionally protected freedoms, such as those proposed by John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin. Some weeks before Michelman presented his interpretations on the latest theoretical writings of Dworkin, Professor Ronald Dworkin (New York/London) himself – one of the world’s leading legal theorists – also visited Frankfurt. He gave a lecture on May 4, 2010 on “Political Justice and Human Rights”, which marked the opening of “Justitia Amplificata: Rethinking Justice – Applied and Global” – a new centre for advanced studies in Frankfurt, led by Professor Stefan Gosepath and Rainer Forst.
The research area of the Cluster, which explores the “Formation of legal norms between nations”, in many aspects parallels RECON’s work on Constitutionalisation in Europe and Constitutionalism Compared (WP 2) as the latter also asks whether constitutional processes at the international level undermine or consolidate national democracies, and in how far they reflect democratic requirements. Over the course of the winter semester of 2009/2010, the Cluster research area has organized the lecture series “Law without the State? On the Normativity of Lawmaking beyond the State”, which explored the development of transnational legal structures. The series analyzed how much influence the state exerts on the emergence of non-state law and how far the reach of democratic legislation extends to these emerging forms of transnational law-making.
One finding of these lectures was that from a historical point of view, the phenomenon of ‘Law without the State’ is the rule rather than the exception. However, only when it started to be closely bound to the organizational form of the state was democratically legitimated legislation institutionalized. Prof. Franz von Benda-Beckmann from the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, in his lecture entitled ‘Law without the State in the State’, addressed non-state legal pluralism from an anthropological perspective. With regard to the transnational domain of law without the state, Prof. Klaus Dieter Wolf (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt) examined the issue of the integration of private actors into transnational political steering processes (“Corporations As Norm Entrepreneurs”). Prof. Gunther Teubner (Goethe-University Frankfurt and London School of Economics) threw light on the idea of transnational constitutionalism in his lecture on “Constitutions without the State? On the Constitutionalisation of Transnational Regimes”. Prof. Rainer Hofmann (Goethe-University Frankfurt) examined a modern example of law beyond the state in his presentation on “Modern Investment Protection Law – An Example of the Setting and Implementation of Law outside the State?”. Finally Professor Dr. Thomas Duve, Max Planck Institute for European Legal History (Frankfurt) analyzed the viability of law beyond the state from a historical perspective.
With regard to RECON’s WP 4 - Justice, Democracy and Gender, which explores the relation between gender equality and democratization processes, two lectures of the Cluster were of special relevance. On 25 November 2009 Nitasha Kaul (London) posed the question: 'What is the Gender of Democratic Normativity?' and Prof. Dr. Pnina Werbner’s (Keele) lecture was titled 'Towards a New Cosmopolitanism: Rooted, Feminist and Vernacular Perspectives'. Both lectures were part of the Cluster lecture series 'Gender and ‘the Political’ in a Postcolonial World: Negotiating Normativity', which addressed the issues of cosmopolitanism, global governance, democracy and transnational justice from a feminist-postcolonial lens.
A conference on the 'De-legitimation of statehood: Human rights activism as a substitute for religion?' explored one important controversy of the philosophical human rights discourse, namely the question of whether human rights are grounded in laws and constitutions and thus are indivisible from states, or if they are rooted in a sphere beyond the state and are thus – at least sometimes - to be realized in opposition to the state (26 and 27 February 2010). This last aspect the conference intended to analyze, in particular, how civil society and the public sphere contribute to the development of human rights and democratic orders, which is also close to the aim of RECON’s WP 5 - Civil Society and the Public Sphere.
Two months later Professor Steven Lukes (New York University) offered a workshop about “The Diversity of Morals” and the difficulties in assessing the extent and nature of conflicting values, i.e. in the human rights debate (26 and 27 April 2010). The researchers of the Cluster regard human rights to be a central ‘normative order’ in the modern era and are as such among the principal concerns of the Cluster of Excellence. An upcoming international conference on human rights entitled ‘Human Rights Today: Foundations and Politics’ will follow up this line of research (17 and 18 June 2010). The goal of the conference - organized by Rainer Forst, Stefan Gosepath and Christoph Menke - is to explore the current state of affairs in the theory and politics of human rights through an examination of these difficult tensions.
To this end, the Cluster has invited internationally renowned researchers to lecture on and discuss four topics: Charles Beitz (Princeton) and John Tasioulas (Oxford) will address the question of the normative justifiability of human rights. Susanne Baer (Berlin) and Hans Joas (Erfurt) will examine the relation between religion and human rights. Abdullahi Ahmes An-Na’im (Emory) and Seyla Benhabib (Yale) will explore the issue of the intercultural validity of human rights. Finally, Étienne Balibar (Paris) and Costas Douzinas (London) will address the question of the relation between political practice and human rights. The conference keynote lecture will be delivered by Jürgen Habermas on the topic ‘Menschenwürde als Quelle des moralischen Mehrwerts der Menschenrechte’ (Human Dignity as the Source of the Moral Surplus Value of Human Rights).
Other upcoming and RECON-relevant events supported by the Cluster include a Symposium on Transnational Political Agency (13 June 2010) and the Conference 'International Political Theory' (10-12 June 2010), which will address the issue of democratic governance in multilevel constellations from a wide variety of perspectives. For more information, registration, and the program of this conference please see the homepage of the Cluster ( There you will also find an archive with documentation and further information about the above-mentioned lectures, workshops and conferences.

Heike List

June 2010