Global vs. Populist Constitutionalism

Gábor HALMAI and Paul BLOKKER (Charles University, Prague)

15 and 16 February, 2018

Sala del Consiglio, Villa Salviati, European University Institute, Florence

3 credits

The course deals with the future of liberal constitutionalism amid the emergence of populist constitutionalism both in constitution-making, constitutional reform and in constitutional adjudication, in the form of judicial populism. The course will first discuss liberal and legal constitutionalism, and explore some of its problems from a democratic point of view. Second, participants will engage with the emerging literature on the phenomenon of populist, illiberal and abusive constitutionalism. Third, the course will engage with (instruments of) constitutional reform, and will contrast populist with popular, participatory approaches to reform. And fourth, the relation between judicial institutions and wider society is discussed in the forms of ‘popular constitutionalism’ and ‘judicial populism’.

The main objective of the course will be the comparative study of populist constitution-making and reform processes, the discussion of jurisprudence of populist constitutionalism, and an engagement in the comprehensive analysis of the threat of populism to constitutional democracy. While the main focus is on European societies, the populist tendencies in constitutionalism in the US and the UK will also be discussed. The course further deals with the question of how to strengthen liberal constitutionalism, with special regard to the EU context. Hence, we discuss the chances of, and difficulties in, strengthening the European constitutional value community through democratic oversight of defiant Member States using populist constitutionalism.

Please note that this will be a highly interactive course. All participants should be familiar with the readings. The readings are available on the Seminar Material website.


The participants of the course are assigned to write a relatively informal essay of about 1-2 pages with no or very limited footnotes about one chosen aspect of the theme of the course. The subject of the essay may be your own ideas on populist and/or liberal constitutionalism. Alternatively, you may also write about a case study, we do not cover at the course, or a not mentioned aspect of a discussed case.

You should upload the essay by the end of 11 February to the site of the course to give the chance to all of us to read them beforehand, and eventually also discuss them during the class.

A Constitutional Sociology of Europe: Law, Politics, and Society

Charles University

Summer 2017/Summer 2018

The sociology of constitutions has in recent years emerged as a dynamic and innovative sub-discipline of sociology and the sociology of law, and explores the foundational aspects of a sociology of law and significantly contributes to debates about the role of constitutions in modern societies as well as on the transnational level. The course will discuss various sociological approaches to the study of European constitutionalism, analyze socially relevant dimensions of constitutions (legitimacy, democracy, identity, integration, values), and apply this knowledge in the study of constitutional traditions in Europe. The final part of the course will closely look at emerging constitutional dimensions of the European Union.
• To introduce the students to the sociology of constitutions;
• To provide insights in the societal context in which constitutions operate;
• To obtain knowledge regarding different traditions of constitutionalism in Europe;
• To explore constitutional dimensions of the European integration project;
• To provide insights into the social operation of the law;
• To explore the changing nature of constitutionalism from the perspective of social functions of constitutions, including axiological, integrative, and participatory functions;
• To provide insight into the social embeddedness of rights and constitutional norms.

Sociology of Human Rights in Contemporary Europe

Charles University

Summer 2015, 2016, 2017

We are living in an age of rights. In contemporary Europe, human rights seem to constitute a general language of justice and emancipation. The course explores the post-1945 emergence of human rights in Europe, the role of human rights in European integration, and the complex justification and usage of rights in contemporary Europe. The course provides an interdisciplinary – in particular a sociological and critical – focus on human rights, and explores and explains the role of human rights within European societies, the European integration process, and on the transnational level.
Human rights have classically been understood as individual rights, and the enjoyment (of a variety of civic, political, social, and cultural) rights as to be guaranteed by the state. Citizenship is in this a crucial element of human rights and human rights formed a foundation of the post-authoritarian societies constructed in post-WWII Europe. But human rights seem now to be increasingly guaranteed by international institutions, such as the European Court of Human Rights, often against the state. In this, they provide some sort of external benchmark, grounded in a European ‘ius commune’, originally derived from the post-1945 European conventions on rights.
A sociology of human rights needs in this to focus on the state, but equally to be concerned with inter- and supranational judicial institutions, as well as national and transnational rights movements, and NGOs, who make claims against states. A sociology of human rights is therefore particularly concerned with the emancipatory nature of human rights, and the potential advancement of marginalized groups.
The course explores the historical emergence, the current prominence, the complex nature, and the claims for, and application of, human rights, in particular in the multi-level and pluralistic context of the European Union. Key questions are: to what extent do you human rights advance greater justice, equality, participation, and recognition? And to what extent are human rights accessible for some, but not for others? How are human rights constructed, how do contextual conditions in which human rights claims are made matter, and which different interpretations and framings of human rights do we encounter?

Sociology of European Integration

Charles University

Summer 2015, 2016, 2017

The course has as its main objective the exploration of a set of emerging and distinctive approaches in European Integration Studies, that of sociology and political sociology. The first aim is to review the emerging and promising debate on a sociology of European integration, which wants to shed light on aspects of European integration not covered by International relations, Political Science, and Legal Studies. A second aim is to explore and clarify the advantages and disadvantages of a critical, political-sociological analysis in comparison with existing political science approaches, in particular with regard to the study of European democracy, the democratic deficit, and an emerging European political society. Such an approach is useful in terms of exploring the engagement of ordinary citizens and civil society organizations in European integration as well as in analysing the contours of the emergence of European societal dimensions. A third aim is to exemplify the fruitfulness of a political-sociological approach to European integration by looking at specific cases that regard processes of political interaction and conflict, political claims-making and justification, civic participation and contestation, and social integration and fragmentation in the European Union.

Academic Writing II

Charles University

Summer 2015, 2016, 2017

The purpose of this course is to help graduate students develop skills necessary for setting up an effective research design, writing a proposal or funding application, and articulate findings in writing. The objectives include both the enhancement of students’ analytical and critical skills and their writing capabilities. This is a hands-on course in which students are expected to put in practice the principles and guidelines they read about in the texts assigned and that we discuss in class.

By the end of the semester students will be able to:

  • understand a writing assignment
  • draft a literature review
  • design research questions, match research questions to the right method, design a schedule of research activities
  • learn how to outline a project proposal or funding application
  • draft a proposal
  • write a convincing proposal or application
  • evaluate peers’ proposals and research applications
  • develop a good mastery of the English language for academic writing

A Sociology of Critique

Charles University

Winter 2015, 2016

The course provides both an introduction to the sociology of critique, in particular as developed by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot in their seminal On Justification and an overview of sociological analyses of the role of critique, justification, and conventions in the economy (capitalism), politics (democracy), human rights and on the supranational level (the European Union). The course introduces students to French pragmatism or the sociology of critique, distinguishing the sociology of critique from critical theory and critical sociology, and exploring main concepts such as justification, different orders of worth, conventions, tests (of truth, reality, and existentiality), commonality, and reality and the world. The sociology of critique will be situated in the context of sociology and social theory as well as more specifically linked to economic, cultural, political, and legal sociology. In the second part, the course will explore distinctive applications of a sociology of critique to capitalism, democracy, human rights, and European integration.

An Introduction to Economic Sociology

Charles University

Winter 2014, 2015, 2016

The module provides an introduction to economic sociology, with an emphasis on its emergence as a sub-field of sociology and its recent growing into a prominent field within sociology. The course focusses on the sociological study of economic phenomena and will both pay attention to contributions of classic sociologists to reflecting on and analysing the economy, the market, and capitalism, as well as focus on recent developments and new theoretical avenues. The main sociological approaches to the economy will be reviewed, an introduction will be provided to the basic conceptual and heuristic tools used in economic sociology, and new ways of researching the interaction between the economy and the market, on the one hand, and society, on the other, will be explored. 

  1. To introduce the students to the way sociology can contribute to understanding the economy, the market, and capitalism;
  2. To explore different ways in which the economy is related to, and embedded in, society;
  3. To help students develop a set of critical skills to analyse the economy and capitalism;
  4. To create a basis for the analysis of social change and the relations between market mechanisms, political institutions, solidarity and communitarian structures;
  5. To stimulate understanding of different forms of capitalism, and the historical and contextual basis of capitalist economies.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s