Curriculum Vitae
Research Projects

Research Projects


Pro-Democracy Movements in a Comparative Perspective: A Frontiers in Political Science Research Topic (open access, first manuscripts expected to be out in summer 2021)


Why do political activists (and especially their movement’s leaders) fight against dictatorship and for political change even under high risk of imprisonment, torture or capital punishment? Given the repertoire of intimidation and repression available to authoritarian incumbents, fighting against their rule can come at a high cost, endangering the well-being of individual activists as well as that of their closest allies. The fate of pro-democracy activists in Belarus, Russia or Hongkong provide striking examples.Scholars from different disciplinary angles investigate political activism in autocracies. Studying the emergence, and endurance of political activism and social movements, scholars from sociology and political science focus on political opportunities such as regime structures, socio-economic context, and external support, as well as pre-existing social networks, previous protest experience, and existing communication channels to explain political activism. Anthropologists and ethnologists investigate political activism as a socio-cultural practice that is strongly rooted in local contexts while being also mobile beyond national borders. Researchers in the field of political psychology prefer to highlight personality traits, values, attitudes, and self-attributed personality characteristics to study individual activism. This Research Topic intends to comprehensively analyze and explain the reasons, motivation and mobilization mechanisms of political activism and its leadership in autocracies for a broad social science audience.


This research topic (equivalent to a "special issue") is edited by Sonja Grimm, University of Konstanz, Sebatian Hellmeier, Social Science Research Center Berlin, Jan Matti Dollbaum, University of Bremen, and Véronique Douduet, Berghof Foundation.




Pro-Democracy Movements and International Democracy Promotion in Competitive Authoritarian Regimes (since 2020)


This project asks: Under what conditions and to what ends do liberal networks of international democracy promoters contribute to the formation and empowerment of pro-democracy activism in competitive authoritarian regimes? I study here how international democracy promoters get in contact with, influence, empower and contribute to mobilize pro-democracy movements in competitive authoritarian regimes. For the quantitative part of the project, I have already begun to compile a large-n dataset about pro-democracy campaigns (1988-2018), the internal characteristics of such campaigns, national structures and the behaviour of incumbent regimes, as well as the influences and support mechanisms of international actors (such as other states, international organizations, other pro-democracy movements) upon these campaigns. For the qualitative part of the project, I plan to conduct in-depth interviews with representatives of past and current pro-democracy movements and international democracy promoters. The hypotheses on the impact of specific conditions on interaction outcomes as developed in the quantitative part will be tested through a structured focused comparison. The ultimate goal is to shed light on those liberal networks that support pro-democracy movements, studying the conditions under which they operate and discovering the outcomes of such international democracy promotion. The project innovatively investigates how a multitude of national, international, and transnational actors cooperate to spread democratic governance globally, particularly in authoritarian regime contexts.




Studies of International Democracy Promotion in Post-conflict Societies and Fragile States (2010-2018)


In my cumulative habilitation project I investigate the instruments and strategies of international democracy promotion in post-conflict societies and fragile states, the effects of such external support and the reasons for the (mostly limited) effectiveness of international democracy promotion. Three research questions are investigated: How do external actors promote democracy in post-conflict societies and fragile states? How effective is international democracy promotion in post-conflict societies and fragile states? What does influence the effectiveness of international democracy promotion in post-conflict societies and fragile states? To understand successes and failures in post-conflict democratization, the standard literature is right to argue that both external and domestic structures and actors need to be taken into account. However, this is not sufficient to explain the limited effectiveness of international democracy promotion in post-conflict democratization. In my view, the interplay of external and domestic actors in political power struggles during regime transition corresponding to international democracy promotion and post-conflict democratization also needs to be taken into account. Why domestic actors adapt or not towards democratic rules and norms can be explained through the dynamics of the external-domestic interplay, conflicts of preferences between and among external and domestic actors and domestic constraints such as the existence of domestic third parties that limit the room to manoeuvre of relevant domestic political actors. 

Funded by the University of Konstanz and the Institute for Advanced Study, Center of Excellence, University of Konstanz.



EU Democracy Promotion in the Western Balkans  (2011-2014)

The purpose of this project is to investigate and explain how the mode of interaction of the European Union (EU) and the national governments in (potential) candidate countries of the Western Balkans influences the adaptation of the democratic behaviour of relevant domestic actors. In studying the effects of the external-domestic interplay, the project brings domestic actors back into democracy promotion research; it goes beyond studying compliance of rule adoption, but focuses on rule application and behavioural changes of relevant political actors; and it systematically takes post-conflict contexts into account. Democracy promotion takes place in the framework of a two-level game. The project puts special emphasis on the first level, namely on the interaction between the EU as the external democracy promotion actor with the national governments and their administrations as the relevant domestic actors. Considering the effects of the second level on domestic policy-making, the team members will consider to which extent domestic veto players and national constituencies constraint the behaviour of national governments. The research design is based on qualitative methods of empirical enquiry such as semi-structured interviews, media and document analysis, combining a case study approach with cross-country and cross-reform-issue comparative analysis. It uses the interference logics of process tracing and structured, focused comparisons. The project seeks to develop a theory about the influence of the internal-external interplay on the adaptation of democratic behaviour and gives recommendations for more effective post-conflict recovery.

A pilot study for this project has been funded by the Young Scholar Fund of the University of Konstanz.



The Notion of "Fragile States": Between Power and Knowledge (2011-2014)

Knowledge is power. Since Foucault and Bourdieu, social sciences enjoy epistemological and conceptual tools to dissect such an old saying. In international relations, the interrogations regarding the use of knowledge have been specifically explored through constructivism as well as critical studies. The capacity to shape the representations of the reality is an attribute of power on the same account as raw military capacities. The notion of failed states appears as one of these attempts made by powerful actors to describe the reality according to their priorities. This project aims to bring together professionals and academics from various fields of expertise (development, state- and peace-building, democratization and asymmetrical violence). The purpose is to reflect upon the use of the notion of "fragile state" in order to discover patterns of legitimation of intervention strategies and tools to overcome "state fragility" whereby external actors heavily influence domestic politics from the outside. In order to uncover the politicized uses of state "fragility," participants of the panels will tackle: Who uses the "fragile states" notion and for what purpose? How and in which condition this framework has been elaborated?

This is a joint project by Dr. Sonja Grimm, Dr. Nicolas Lemay-Hébert, University of Birmingham, and Prof. Olivier Nay, Université de Sorbonne, Paris I. A special issue titled "Fragile States: A Political Concept" presenting the findings of the project has been published in Third World Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 3 (2014).



Do All Good Things Go Together? Conflicting Objectives in Democracy Promotion: A Democratization Special Issue (Democratization, Vol. 19, No. 3,  June 2012)

Conflicting objectives are often problematized as challenges to the effectiveness of international democracy promotion. However, systematic research about their emergence and effects is still missing. This special issue addresses this research gap and seeks to provide conceptual and empirical answers in the field of conflicting objectives in international democracy promotion. The authors represented in this special issue investigate (post-) conflict societies, developing countries, and authoritarian regimes, attempting to identify the patterns of conflicting objectives in democracy promotion, the reasons for their emergence, and their consequences. This introduction presents a conceptual framework that pursues four aims, namely, it differentiates between two types of conflicting objectives (intrinsic and extrinsic); second it offers an approach for identification of their phases; third, it proposes reasons for their emergence, and fourth, discusses how political actors deal with these conflicting objectives. The empirical findings of the contributions to this special issue illustrate and substantiate the theoretical and conceptual reflections.

The special issue is edited by Dr. Julia Leininger, DIE Bonn, Dr. Sonja Grimm, and Dr. Tina Freyburg, ETH Zurich; it is a publication of the reserach network "External Democratization Politics" [EDP] and is funded by the German Science Foundation [DFG] and the NCCR Democracy of  ETH Zurich and University of Zurich [NCCR Democracy]. Please find more information on the authors' workshop in the NCCR December 2011 Newsletter (pages 16-17).



Can Democracy be Imposed? External Democracy Promotion after Military Intervention 1945-2010 (PhD research project 2005-2010)

The purpose of this project is to investigate the influence of external actors on transition and regime change through and after military intervention. External actors increasingly seek to induce democratic regime change in conflict torn societies to secure peace and stability. However, the legality, legitimacy and effectiveness of changing a political system in a sovereign country through large scale external intrusion in domestic state affairs have to be questioned. Cases of external democratization between 1945 and 2010 are investigated and the dilemmas of external democratization after military intervention are discussed. The project takes a special glance on the external supervision in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the international trusteeship administration in Kosovo, the multilateral monitoring mission in Afghanistan and the US occupation of Iraq. A critical comparison with West Germany’s way to democracy under Allied oversight 1945 till 1949 rounds up the analysis. It becomes apparent that the dilemmas of external democratization can hardly be solved and democratization success  by externally induced regime change is limited.

 The results of this project have been published as "Erzwungene Demokratie: Politische Neurodnung unter externer Aufsicht nach militärischer Intervention" (in German) in 2010, supported by a publication grant of the Social Science Research Center Berlin [WZB] and the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt [PRIF/HSFK].


(c) Sonja Grimm 2022. All rights reserved.