Prefiguring Democratic Futures

Cultural and Theoretical Responses to the Crisis of Political Imagination

Prefiguring Democratic Futures (PREDEF) proceeds from the assumption that the much-discussed crisis of democracy is not simply a crisis of the political system. It is, more fundamentally, a crisis of political imagination. Political creativity is rejected under the neoliberal hegemony of the ‘TINA-principle’. It has become increasingly difficult to imagine democratic futures different from a mere extension of the status quo. The crisis of political imagination is therefore accompanied by a loss of belief in democratic ‘futurity’, that is, the promise of an open and better future for all.

If this assessment holds, then it does not suffice to defend existing democratic achievements. Addressing the crisis of democracy rather requires broadening the horizon of democratic possibilities by exploring potentials for deepening and pluralizing democracy. To achieve this goal, PREDEF goes beyond the sphere of politics narrowly defined as the body of existing political institutions (i.e., the minimal institutional framework of Western liberal democracy) and conventional channels for political participation. The project will turn to the fields of culture, art and intellectual history, as these fields hold hitherto untapped potentials for extending our democratic imaginary and disclosing political alternatives.


The main objectives are:

  • contributing to regaining a ‘sense of possibility’ in a time of vanishing democratic alternatives and a lost belief in democratic futurity;
  • exploring the democratizing potential of cultural and artistic practices and institutions;
  • learning from alternative configurations of the past as well as boldly envisaging alternative democratic futures, specifically regarding institutional designs;
  • connecting theoretical and empirical research with the aim of genuine cross-fertilization in a project that appreciates both forms of research equally.

Scientific Approach & Structure

PREDEF meets this challenge empirically and theoretically: empirically, artistic and cultural counter-practices are investigated that challenge democratic deficits and champion democratization in the spheres of time-based arts, law, and international relations. Theoretically, the project contributes to a widening of the democratic imaginary by building an archive of past and forgotten institutions as well as by elaborating a theory of democratic imagination. Thus, we will turn to the past to enrich the social sense of institutional creativity, and we will turn to contemporary cultural-political practices that prefigure future democratic forms of living-together.

PREDEF divides into three subprojects in the fields of cultural research, history of ideas, and democratic theory. They are designed to cross-fertilize each other, thus offering a comprehensive perspective on how to overcome the crisis of political imagination.