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Scientists to research the democratic repertoire of the Paris Commune

Date of news: 19 November 2020

Researchers Carolien van Ham (political science), Gaard Kets (political science and history), Mathijs van de Sande (philosophy) and Evert van der Zweerde (philosophy) have been awarded a research grant from the Gerda Henkel Foundation for their ‘Vive la Commune: Communalism as a Democratic Repertoire’ project. The foundation wishes to support science by supporting projects in the humanities.

The Paris Commune

The research group have been awarded over three hundred thousand euros for their project which will research the Paris Commune that ran the city for a period of several months in 1871. For 72 days Parisians autonomously organised a form of democratic self-government, until the Commune was bloodily suppressed by the French government, as political philosopher Mathijs van de Sande explains. “The often-idealised image of ‘the Commune’ was and is a key source of influence for a number of social movements in the 20th and 21st century. We focus on three of these movements: German and Dutch council-communist movements at the beginning of the 20th century; radical city movements during the nineteen sixties and seventies; and current municipalist movements such as they appear in Spain. We would like to reconstruct how ‘The Commune’ became and remains today a symbol for a specific view of democracy. On the one hand this view is typically local and organised in a decentralised, devolved manner, on the other side however it clearly demonstrates a very strong and binding international orientation. We ask if there is such a thing as a typical ‘communalist’ democratic repertoire.”

Taking this revolutionary form of government forged 150 years ago in Paris as a starting point, the researchers will examine how it has influenced thinking about radical democracy down the years.


Linking the fields of history, philosophy and political science, the group hopes to reconstruct the Paris Commune’s impact. “The funding programme has the explicit objective to place current challenges of democracy such as experience, utopia and threat into a larger historical context,” explains Gaard Kets. “And that’s exactly what we wish to do by choosing this interdisciplinary approach.”

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