Meet OPG Members: Yannicke Goris

We would like to introduce you to the members of our School and
show the diversity of the themes that are studied within it. Every
month, the mini-interview gives you a glimpse into one research
project. This edition: PhD candidate Yannicke Goris (Radboud University).

What is your research project about?

My research is about the role of civil society in autocratisation. Generally, civil society is perceived as a pro-democratic force, indispensable for democratisation, but not seen as a contributor to the deterioration of democracy. Yet, historical and contemporary evidence shows that civil society does facilitate autocratisation – at times deliberately, at times inadvertently. I am interested to learn more about this ‘dark side’ of civil society; its dilemmas, priorities, strategies and (inter)actions.
To study this complex dynamic, I will focus on the contestation over so-called ‘civic space’; the arena in which civil society operates. In contexts marked by autocratisation, civic space is assumed to be shrinking. Yet, as some civil society actors support the autocratising leaders, they may actually get more space for their actions and interests, thus benefitting from the process of autocratisation. Thus, I will use the contestation over civic space – within civil society itself and between civil society actors and the state – as a way to better understand the role of civil society in autocratisation.

Would you describe your project as political history? Why (not)?

Yes! Obviously, the focus on autocratisation and civil society’s role in that process is political. The historical dimension lies in my diachronic analysis. I will compare four country cases, each of which has experienced various phases of autocratisation in the past century. The changing role of civil society – and of specific civil society actors – over time will take centre stage in my project. It will be exciting to see how civil society’s role varies across time, and to try and explain its changing strategies and actions.

What do you like most about your project?

In my previous job I have worked a lot on issues of civil society activism, civic space and democracy. Though I got to research a lot of wonderfully interesting topics, due to constraints of time, money and organisations’ agendas, my curiosity was never quite satisfied. I am thrilled that I now have time to really delve into the complex nitty gritty of civil society’s (inter)actions, dilemmas and strategies; and especially learn more about how these have changed… or perhaps stayed the same… over time.