The working life of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights is guided by an ethos of experiment: the belief that the subjects of democracy and human rights require bold and creative thinking, that clinging to the tried, tested and true is not a viable option because contemporary politics and political thinking are failing in their efforts to name, explain and engage with a wide range of new global realities. IDHR welcomes ‘thinking outside the box’.
It supports novel approaches that can change our perceptions of human rights and democracy, alter our sense of research priorities and methods and generally improve the capacity of scholars to communicate with each other, and with citizens and representatives, about matters of pressing importance to the present and future of democracy and human rights.
Research at IDHR combines a number of interconnected research nodes. Each adopts an expansive view of democracy and human rights as a whole way of life, as more than just a mode of electioneering, government or written constitutions. Their work emphasises the need for context-sensitive, evidence-based analyses of the languages, institutions and actors that comprise any experiment with human rights and democracy. Priority is given to the precept that social and political realities are always infused with ideals, so that normative accounts of democracy and human rights are not a theoretical distraction, but a vital component of scholarly enquiry.
IDHR’s work also encourages a strong sense of historical awareness, not just because in matters of human rights and democracy ignorance of the past inevitably spawns misunderstandings of the present, but also because they are a uniquely time-sensitive political form that sharpens actors’ shared sense of the contingency of power relations.
Finally, the work of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights is motivated by dissatisfaction with the unthinking habit of applying Western yardsticks when studying democracy and human rights. Since their imaginary homelands are changing, scholarly accounts of human rights and democracy must be opened to a wide variety of comparative methods and global settings previously ignored or downplayed by scholars.