Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Circle U. Academic Chair in the Democracy Hub

Eveline Kilian (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Academic Chair in the Knowledge Hub on Democracy

I am Professor of English at HU Berlin and have been a major player in setting up our Joint PhD programme and cooperation with King’s College London. My research areas include the literature and culture of modernism and the interwar years, life writing, gender and queer theory and metropolitan studies.

I approach Democracy from a cultural studies perspective. My activities will focus on the entanglements of politics and culture, on the link between social differentiations like gender, class or ethnicity and political structures, and on the ways cultural representations and political discourses impact on and shape these relations. While this feeds into the interdisciplinary structure of the Democracy Hub, one of the aims of my work is to reach out to and provide a platform and a channel for the Humanities in this project.

I applied for this Chair with a project entitled Democracy under Pressure then and now? Political and Cultural Entanglements during the Interwar Years (see project description below). For this project I will seek and liaise with cooperation partners in the near future. Please also contact me if this meets your or any of your colleagues’ interests.

Project Outline:

In general terms, this project deals with the destabilisation but also the resilience of democratic structures on both macro- and micro-levels. While it predominantly focuses on the interwar years in Europe, it will at the same time use this particular framework as a lens to assess our present-day crises of democracy in a comparative perspective.

In Europe, the years between 1919 and 1939 were a time of international conflict, political upheaval, economic instability and social change particularly affecting gender and class relations. Standard historical narratives on the crisis of interwar democracy identify a “protracted crisis of capitalism” (Kershaw), disabling rifts between political parties and the inability of elected governments to find solutions to highly complex political challenges as major factors that left a vacuum to be filled by political extremism and the rise of fascism. Consequently, the interwar years provide an ideal laboratory to study ‘democracy under pressure’.

This project will move away from these broad analytical brushstrokes, however, and instead focus on the social and cultural underpinnings of democratic systems. It investigates the internal structures of democratic societies and their ability to accommodate social change and respond to hierarchal social stratifications and unequal power relations between different social players and groups. This project takes its inspiration from feminist political and legal theories that have consistently addressed the importance of social power relations and culturally rooted marginalisation and exclusion for political participation and agency. It explicitly targets democracy as culture (Beeman et al.) and investigates processes of social differentiation based on gender, class, ethnicity or sexuality to identify the potentially ‘undemocratic’ (ideological) undercurrents of democratic societies that may foster political disaffection.

Implementation / Formats (provisional outline of planned events):

At the core of this project will be a one-week international and interdisciplinary autumn school on the topic and foci outlined above to take place in 2022. It will cover three broad areas: (1) discussion of theoretical approaches to democracy/-ies; (2) political and cultural entanglements in Europe during the interwar years and (3) in the present (focus on cultural and literary perspectives). Participants will include experts from the network, young researchers/PhD students, individual MA/BA students to be recruited by cooperation partners (e.g. from previous teaching units).

HU Berlin input in the preceding summer semester 2022: I will teach a module in the MA programmes English Literatures and European Literatures (also open to other disciplines as an ÜWP seminar) on interwar gender politics in Britain (with a comparative view on Germany) focusing on life writing, journalism, essays, women’s international activism and fictional texts. An advanced BA class on a related topic will be taught by a postdoc. Selected students from both courses will take part in the autumn school.


Autumn School: The Social and Cultural Dimensions of Democracy (HU Berlin, 29 August –2 September 2022)