Press release

Daniel Ziblatt joins WZB as director

New research department will investigate "Transformations of Democracy"

American political scientist Daniel Ziblatt has been appointed as director at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. From October, he will head the new Transformations of Democracy research unit. With Ziblatt’s appointment, democracy research at the WZB receives a major new impetus. He succeeds Wolfgang Merkel, who directed the Democracy and Democratization department from 2004 until his retirement this spring. Daniel Ziblatt will continue to teach at Harvard University.

One of the principal questions guiding Daniel Ziblatt’s work is whether and how liberal democracy can endure in an era when even established Western democracies themselves face existential crises. As a political scientist, Ziblatt’s work is both comparative and historical. His research at the WZB will focus on the connections between economic inequality, radical right-wing mobilization, and processes of democratization and institutional renewal.

“In Daniel Ziblatt, the WZB has recruited a leading international researcher in the field of democracy research. His research interests focus on many important interdisciplinary topics that are at the heart of the WZB’s research agenda. Daniel Ziblatt and his new department will therefore congenially continue the previous research on democracy at the WZB in a most congenial way,” explains WZB President Jutta Allmendinger.

Daniel Ziblatt’s research agenda will initially consist of three projects. The first investigates questions of inequality, identity and the mobilization of resentment. How does economic inequality transform the narrative and understanding of identity, and how does it trigger the rise of right-wing populism? The second project aims to develop a political geography of the radical right in Europe and North America. Why does the radical right perform so well in certain areas? What role do factors such as socio-economic background, gender, and local social milieu play? The third project traces historical legacies of pre-20th century democratization, intending to draw conclusions for the present.

Daniel Ziblatt, born in 1972, is Eaton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University. In 2018, he and his Harvard colleague Steven Levitsky published “How Democracies Die” which has since been translated into 22 languages. He is the author of “Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy” (Cambridge University Press, 2017), a historical study on democratization in Europe. His first book, “Structuring the State: The Formation of Italy and Germany and the Puzzle of Federalism” (Princeton University Press, 2006), is an analysis of 19th century state-building.

In 2019/2020 Daniel Ziblatt was Karl W. Deutsch Visiting Professor at the WZB and Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.