Sofia Näsström

Professor at Department of Government, Faculty

+4618-471 6127
Visiting address:
Östra Ågatan 19
753 22 Uppsala
Postal address:
Box 514
751 20 UPPSALA

Short presentation

Sofia Näsström specialises in political theory. She has written on the state, legitimacy, the people and representation and finds inspiration in the work of Levinas, Arendt and Montesquieu. Recent publications include The Spirit of Democracy: Corruption, Disintegration, Renewal (Oxford University Press 2021) and Democracy. A Small Book of Thoughts (Historiska Media 2021), in Swedish, under tr. Her next book is entitled Democracy and the Social Question. For more info, see CV and biography below.

Keywords: political philosophy democratic theory history of ideas political theory

I work in the field of political theory, with particular focus on issues connected to democracy, constituent power, the people, representation, freedom and precarity. My current focus is on the difference between political lifeforms (in Montesquieu's sense of the term), and I have recently published a monograph on this topic, The Spirit of Democracy: Corruption, Disintegration, Renewal (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2021).

Democracy is today challenged by populism and elitism, as well as by the resurgence of new forms of authoritarianism. The Spirit of Democracy: Corruption, Disintegration, Renewal argues that while we have good reasons to worry about the corruption of democratic practices and ideals, these worries are often attributable to questionable assumptions about what democracy is. Drawing on Montesquieu's classical work on the spirit of laws, the book sets out to reconceive the ways in which we understand and conceptualize modern democracy: from sovereignty to spirit.

According to Montesquieu, different political forms are animated and sustained by different spirits: a republic by virtue, a monarchy by honour, and a despotic form by fear. Montesquieu did not live to see the birth of modern democracy in the revolutions in the late eighteenth century. This book argues that modern democracy is a sui generis political form animated and sustained by a spirit of emancipation. The removal of divine, natural, and historical authorities as collective sources of political legitimacy unleashes a fundamental uncertainty about the purpose and direction of society. In a democracy, we respond to that uncertainty by sharing and dividing it equally. It emancipates us from a state of self-incurred tutelage. Based on this argument, the book develops a new theoretical framework for studying the corruption, disintegration and renewal of democracy; what it is, how it begins and where in society it plays out.

As of 2019, I am coordinating a project on "Democratic Self-Defense: The Social Model" funded by Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation (2019-22). Fall term 2022 I will spend time as a research fellow at SCAS, Uppsala.

Selected publications:

The Spirit of Democracy: Corruption, Disintegration, Renewal (Oxford,UK: Oxford University Press, 2021).

"Democratic Self-Defense: Bringing the Social Model Back In", Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, 2021.

Demokrati. En liten bok om en stor sak (Lund: Historiska Media, 2021).

"A Democratic Critique of Precarity", Global Discourse (2015), Vol. 5, Issue 4: 556-573. Co-authored with Sara Kalm. Access here.

"Democratic Representation beyond Election", Constellations (2015), Vol. 22, Issue 1: 1-12. Abstract

"The Right to have Rights: Democratic, not Political", Political Theory, (2014) Vol. 32, No 5: 543-568. Abstract.

"Where is the Representative Turn Going?", European Journal of Political Theory (2011), Vol. 10, No 4: 501-510. Abstract.

"The Challenge of the All-Affected Principle", Political Studies (2011). Vol. 59, Issue 1: 116-34. Abstract.

"The Legitimacy of the People", Political Theory, (2007), Vol 35, No 5: 624-658. Abstract.

"Representative Democracy as Tautology: Ankersmit and Lefort on Representation", European Journal of Political Theory, (2006), Vol. 5, No 3: 321-342. Abstract.

The An-Archical State. Logics of Legitimacy in the Social Contract Tradition, (Stockholm: Department of Political Science, Stockholm Series in Politics 99, 2004).

"What Globalization Overshadows", Political Theory, (2003), Vol. 31, No. 6: 808-834. Abstract.

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Sofia Näsström