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Last modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2009

IU Bloomington conference to examine what makes democracy sustainable

Jan. 27, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Scholars from across the U.S. and from Canada and Scotland will join together this week at Indiana University Bloomington to tackle a vexing question: What does it take to establish a lasting, successful democracy?

The "Building Sustainable Democracies" conference will take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Indiana Memorial Union. It is being presented by the Working Group on the Political Economy of Democratic Sustainability in IU's Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis.


It takes more than elections to make a sustainable democracy. An IU Bloomington conference will explore why.

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The conference draws on Indiana University's expertise and interest in democratization across multiple fields, including political science, sociology, geography, economics, informatics, law and public and environmental affairs.

It will bring together two dozen experts, including Roger B. Myerson, a University of Chicago professor and the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in economics, and political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, geographers and economists from Stanford, Brown, Princeton, the University of Edinburgh and other institutions.

"This work is by its nature interdisciplinary," said Regina Smyth, who organized the conference with William Bianco. "The questions are interdisciplinary and the tools are interdisciplinary. These are people who have probably never read each other's work. The idea is to get them to talk to each other."

Smyth and Bianco are faculty members in the IU Bloomington Department of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences. Both are affiliated faculty of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis and co-chairs of its Working Group on the Political Economy of Democratic Sustainability.

The conference, which is open to attendance by invitation only, will focus attention on new techniques and theories for understanding what factors sustain democracy. It will seek to build on the research accomplishments of IU faculty members Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, co-founders of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis. Elinor Ostrom will take part in a Friday morning roundtable on "Sustainability and Sustainable Democracy."

Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom, co-founder of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, will take part in a roundtable on sustainable democracy.

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It also is a first step in developing an interdisciplinary research and training program at IU aimed at linking the analysis of a wide range of democratic systems, Smyth and Bianco say. The goal is to draw on IU Bloomington's strengths in social sciences and area studies to address democratic sustainability in new ways.

Michael D. McGinnis, an IU political science professor who will become co-director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis in July, said the conference could point the direction for future research, building on work done by scholars associated with the Workshop regarding sustainable development.

"In many parts of the world, new democratic regimes have been established in recent years, but not all of those arrangements are likely to survive over the long term," McGinnis said. "Conference participants will help Workshop scholars design a long-term research agenda to investigate these critically important questions of public policy and democratic governance."

IU Bloomington faculty members Lauren Morris McLean and Abdulkader Sinno from the Department of Political Science will present papers at the conference. Other IU faculty members who will chair or take part in panels are Smyth, Bianco and Ostrom from political science, Rinku Roy Chowdhury from geography, Michael Alexeev and Roy Gardner from economics, Paulette Lloyd and Stephen Benard from sociology, Matthew Auer from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, David Hakken from the School of Informatics and Christiana Ochoa from the IU Maurer School of Law.

Funding for the conference comes from the National Science Foundation and from Indiana University's Bureau of Social Science Research, College of Arts and Sciences and Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis. For more information, see