What is democracy and where does the idea come from? What are its limitations? Which transformations have occurred in the last century and which were the innovations marking the growth, in number and quality, of democratic regimes in the new millennium? To what extent are the different democracies across the world showing resilience in the face of on-going crises? These and other queries, at the backbone of democratic theory, constitute the starting point of the Doctoral Programme in "Democracy in the 21st Century".

This Doctorate is an advanced interdisciplinary training programme which promotes a comprehensive and integrated perspective on the major challenges for democracies today. Focussing on the contemporary debate since the 20th century, the course offers an introduction to the critical analysis of democratic theory and develops various emerging topics of great importance to the current international debate, such as political ecology, technopolitics, eurocentrism and antiracism, populist rhetoric, the relation between democracy and science, the experience of the communitarian and participatory democracy, the instruments of direct democracy, and the regional and international dynamics of democracy. The programme offers the possibility of critically discussing a diversity of epistemological approaches.

The Doctoral Programme "Democracy in the 21st Century" was initiated in 2007/2008. It is a third cycle programme, in compliance with the key elements proposed by the Bologna Process and accredited by the Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education (A3ES).


The Doctoral Programme aims at contributing to an advanced training with a interdisciplinary and trans-scalar nature on the contemporary Democracy. Its objectives include:
1. Providing a systematic and critical understanding of Democracy, its underlying assumptions, concepts and practices concerning the different local, regional and national contexts;
2. Promoting an in-depth discussion about key issues, such as political ecology, technopolitics, populism, (anti-)racism, inclusion, political and civic participation and governance, among others;
3. Fostering an advanced research that promotes a dialogue between perspectives in Sociology and Political Science, and leads to the production of high quality original findings that deserve to be nationally and internationally disseminated, encouraging the social and cultural advancement of the Social Sciences;
4. Offering the students the opportunity of benefitting from the teaching-learning-research-action articulation;
5. Providing a space for the discussion and production of doctoral theses conducting an in-depth, critical and transdisciplinary analysis of political-sociological phenomena;
6. Providing students with spaces for debate and learning about research methodologies and ethics.


The Doctoral Programme articulates four main lines of research:

- Citizenship, Equality and Diversity
This line of research aims at comparing different approaches on citizenship and analysing the main debates on diversity and ethno-racial equality in the contemporary democratic soceities. Key issues of great socio-political relevance are addressed, namely: multiculturalism and interculturality; democracy and populism; 'race', nation and Europeanness; racism and Eurocentrism; feminism and intersectionality; secularism and Islamophobia. These questions are analysed from three main angles: theoretical debates on the production of academic knowledge in post-colonial contexts; critical perspectives on public discourses and policies against ethnic-racial discrimination and for social inclusion; engagement with the important collective processes of struggle against ethnic-racial inequalities and for recognition by minoritised groups (cultural, religious and with different sexual orientations), considering their contribution to reconsidering notions of citizenship, identity and national belonging.

- Compared Democracies
This line of research aims at analysing innovative practices enriching democracy through different forms of citizen involvement in the territorial and budgetary planning and in the decision-making process of public policies. Special focus is given to local and regional innovation, such as the Participatory Budget, knowledge democratisation practices - namely Health Councils and others related to the various people’s knowledges with specific action scopes of science and technology. Particular attention is also given to the re-constitutionalisation processes identified in many countries, for example, in countries in Africa and Latin-America, where civil-society based consultation processes have been activated, in a comparative approach. Another relevant topic covered is technopolitics,  focusing on the analysis of the rapidly changing relationships between technological transformations, new instruments, social networks and the modification of the ways of doing politics and organising public policies, considering both top-down and bottom-up perspectives.

- Participation, Networks and Social Movements
This line of research aims at analysing emerging social movements and their interconnection networks, engaging with a wide understanding of the concept of "political" and "politicisation" work. The discussion lies in the possibility of turning what appears to be non-political into political. This transformation implies approaching topics and experiences which have remained unseen to the majority of the civil society and to the State, as well as creating new power relations through actions and confrontations of great public exposure. Special emphasis will be given to topics, such as political ecology and artistic movements, among other movements committed to the struggle for the Right to the City and the deepening of democracy.

- Global Governance
This line of research aims at identifying the global governance mechanisms and dynamics, questioning the place and density of democracy within those processes and critically analysing its impact on democratic practices at a regional, national and local level. It also aims at exploring the connection between democracy, peace and conflict. Some of the main international political institutions, such as Bretton Woods, their evolution and roles in the contemporary global political-economic system are addressed, especially with regard to the inclusion of national and transnational movements. Additionally, notions of comparative politics are proposed in order to highlight alternative regimes of international order and, in this way, the main debates in relation to the democratisation of national, regional and global organisations.

The Doctoral Programme also encourages reflection on the epistemological and ontological dimensions of research, through seminars that prepare students in the first steps of their thesis projects, supporting them in the formulation and definition of scientifically relevant research questions. The study of research methodologies in the Social Sciences allows students to be familiar with different research paradigms (e.g. post-positivism, constructivism and critical science). Special emphasis is given to how the adopted paradigm impacts on the definition of research questions, as well as the on the selection and use of research methods. Finally, the role of concepts and theories in social research, and the tools and techniques for carrying out a focussed and systematic literature review, are also discussed.

This PhD provided contact with a diversity of new and relevant themes for the critical study of democracies today. For the construction of the research project, I found the necessary support with a productive debate in the seminars dedicated to this purpose.

Daniela Lima, 2nd year (Brazil)

"Having a considerable number of collaborators and guest lecturers from various fields, the programme offers both a strong theoretical background in a vast area of subjects, as well as a better comprehension of the latest debates in social sciences."

Hestia Delibas, all but dissertation (Romania)