The goal of this Fund is to apprehend the problems and challenges arising when thought and action are harnessed together in a commitment to furthering the democratic ideal; that is, a way of thinking in which universal ideals are brought into dialogue with the specificities of the national or local cultures in which these ideals are to be deployed.
By culture, we mean bodies of knowledge, values, and symbolic references that are transmitted from one generation to another and manifest in various practices (not only social but political, economic, scientific, artistic, etc.) throughout societies.
The Fund will therefore address the way theoretical reflection and practical action are bound together, the indissociability of nature and culture, of hypo-ethical-deductive reasoning and social rationality. This is to be done in a manner fitting the original impetus of the project, the idea that all thinking is rooted in culture and engaged with the world. Rather than developing a discourse on society, its goal is to consider the democratic ideal and its human challenges within society, with regard to the conditions under which citizenship is exercised and the pathways to “real liberties” – particularly political and economic ones – actually open to populations.
The Fund’s main objective will be to approach the question of democracy from multiple angles, understood fundamentally as a relationship between theory and action – in the plainest terms possible, to think about theory in action. All too often, political and economic theories emerge as idealist constructions that do not truly engage those who support them, neglect the concrete conditions under which citizenship is exercised, and efface the specificities of the cultural contexts into which rules and principles must be integrated. The result of this is a widening chasm between theoretical language and practical action, between discourse and action.
To use its action in the world as a basis for reflecting on the validity of a theory is to engage the idea that any use of language constitutes a moral commitment. There should be no insurmountable gaps or radical separation between discourse based on hypothetical-ethical-deductive reasoning and the public discourse by which human beings govern themselves through representative structures. Such linguistic engagement, a commitment to critical and responsible action, requires people to participate with their whole beings. Knowledge and action, in other words, are inextricably bound.
From this perspective, it is no longer sufficient for political, economic, and legal theories to propose abstract rules and principles defining what should be understood by the term “just society.” Such theories must be proven through action, and must serve the democratic ideal by proposing concrete possibilities for correcting actual imbalances of power.
The project’s goal is therefore twofold:
1- An epistemological goal linking theory and action in an attempt to demonstrate that many political, economic, and legal problems can only be understood from a practical perspective, and, by the same token, calling for the construction of a trans- and interdisciplinary approach.
2- An ethical and political goal seeking to develop a form of democratic reflection that is both adapted to contemporary globalized societies and respectful of cultural differences (between North and South, East and West, etc.).
In a manner befitting its goal and in close partnership with civil society, the Fund will undertake the four following projects:
(1) an international research seminar series on the theme of “Democracy, Cultures, and Action”;
(2) the promotion of two Phd. thesis in political sociological and law/sociology of law;
(3) Training activities : on the one hand university training schemes designed for emerging leaders in civil society from across the world who are working for social change that seeks to further the democratic ideal, and the PeaceJam project on the other hand, which aims to foster a culture of peace among the global youth, following the tracks of thirteen Nobel Peace Prize winners ;
(4) and a multilingual information platform covering democracy and human rights developments in Burma.
While a portion of the research support program will be devoted to Burma, its broader aim is to ensure that questions and reflections on the Burmese experience occur in the context of a fundamental exploration of the relationship between theory and practice, with the goal of furthering the democratic ideal.