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Department of Government

Research Conference: The Gap from Parchment to Practice

Ambivalent Effects of Constitutions in Democratizing Countries, May 28-29, 2013

This conference seeks to identify the conditions under which the promulgation of new constitutions in already-democratizing nations does not necessarily foster democratic deepening, but in fact may produce a decline in nations’ levels of democracy. We define such already-democratizing nations as those that were already “free” or “partly free” according to Freedom House, at the time of constitutional promulgation. Using case studies ranging from Colombia (a democratizing constitution) to Venezuela (a constitution which does not improve democracy), and Bolivia (an ambiguous case), the panel identifies conditions under which constitution-making in democratizing nations contributes to improvements or declines in democracy. Existing studies of constitutionalism have taken substantive and legalistic approaches or process-oriented political approaches, but none has combined these. This project pursues a multi-method strategy combining quantitative indicators of democracy, the content of constitutions, and ethnographies of processes used to establish them.

RSVP: Ghazal P. Nadi,


New Constitutions and Democracy: Political View (Read .pdf)
Todd Eisenstadt and Carl LeVan, American University

Can We Trust Legislators to Write Constitutions? (Read .pdf)
Zachary Elkins, University of Texas, Austin

Bringing Insights from Corporate Governance to the Study of Constitution Making (Read .pdf)
Jennifer Widner, Princeton University

Deepening Democracy via Constitutional Change? Contrasting Colombia and Venezuela (Read .pdf)
Ana Maria Bejarano, University of Toronto and Renata Segura, Social Science Research Council

Venezuela: Between the Bolivarian Constitution and the Authoritarian Populism of Hugo Chávez (Read .pdf)
Nelly Arenas, Central University of Venezuela

Constitutional Legitimacy and the Dimensions of Participatory Constitution-Making (Read .pdf)
Devra Moehler and Eleanor Marchant, University of Pennsylvania

Constitution-making and Democracy in Mali: The Unraveling of a Democratic Model
Susanna Wing, Haverford College

Constituent Power from Below in Bolivia? Implications of Rights-based Conflict in the New Constitutional Era
Robert Albro, American University

Refounding “Halfway” in Bolivia: The Consolidation of a Hybrid Democracy after the Promulgation of the 2009 Plurinational Constitution (Read .pdf)
Diego Ayo, Universidad Católica de Bolivia

Bringing the Constitution Online: The Struggle Over Egypt’s New Constitution (Read .pdf)
Ghazal Nadi and Tofigh Maboudi, American University

Constitutionalizing Islam: Variations in Religion-State Relationships among Muslim Countries (Read .pdf)
Shaheen Mozaffar, Bridgewater State University

RSVP: Ghazal P. Nadi,


Tuesday, May 28, 2013
9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Abramson Family Founders Room, SIS Building

See the full schedule (.pdf) »


School of Public Affairs, American University

School of International Service, American University

Latin American Studies Association (LASA)

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation