Rahel Süß



Rahel Süß research and teaching interests include the history of political thought, contemporary democratic theory, and digital democracy. I am particularly interested in  the effects of digital technologies on democratic politics, artificial intelligence and democracy, and theories of democratic renewal.



A Political Theory of Digital Democracy

Democracy and new digital technologies are twin objects of deep, though ambivalent attachment in the contemporary liberal imagination. What, then, is “digital democracy”? My current research project explores two central questions: (1) How have liberal ideas shaped and limited the way we think of both democracy and digitalisation? (2) What might a radical democratic conception of both terms involve? I begin from the assumption that democracy lives not as a lofty abstraction but through its material forms: and ours is a digital age. In speaking of digital democracy, then, I argue that we must understand each term through the other. Liberals imagine digital technology through their understanding of democracy, and increasingly understand democracy through their encounter with technology. My claim is that when liberals imagine digital technologies as democratic, they obscure forms of power that constitute those technologies, in their ownership, design, and control. Therefore, we must ask the question: How might a radical alternative to liberalism understand both democracy and digitalisation differently, and use the encounter with each to reshape our understanding of both?



Publications (selection)


  • Book Review: "Book Review: Digital Technology and Democratic Theory edited by Lucy Bernholz, Hélène Landemore and Rob Reich", LSE Review of Books, March 18th, 2020.
  • Blog: "Revolutionary Mathematics and Democratic Dreams." In: Verso Blog, March 22, 2022.
  • Paper: "The right to disidentification: Sovereignty in digital democracies," Constellations (5.5.2022, Open Access here.)
  • Abstract: How can we conceptualize sovereignty in digital democracies? In an age in which algorithmic systems mediate identities and structure political possibilities how can citizens govern themselves democratically and exercise power? While the sovereignty of the demos in contemporary democratic thought has so far been anchored in ideas of recognition, the article makes a counter proposal. Drawing from the fields of critical algorithm study, radical democratic thought, and queer and decolonial theories it reveals how a framework of ‘disidentification’ can advance our understanding of sovereignty well beyond the recognition of data subjects. The main contribution is to show that democratic self-determination requires not only adequate mechanisms of recognition but also the capacity for non-identity—for anonymity, at times. I further discuss how my account of ‘disidentificatory sovereignty' contributes to a political theory of digital democracy.





Experimental Democracy: A Theory of Political Action

The purpose of my research on “Experimental Democracy” is to develop a theory of political action. I engage with two key questions: 1) how have ideas about political action changed throughout the history of political thought, and are they still equipped to respond to current social challenges; and 2) how might political action shape possibilities for democratic renewal. I demonstrate how our understanding of political action can be advanced by reworking democratic thought within an experimental framework. With the notion of the experiment as a critical practice of conflict provocation, I point towards new lines of inquiry for contemporary democratic theory. Drawing on poststructuralism, critical theory, and American pragmatism, I develop an argument for why democracy is not primarily a practice of problem-resolution but of problematisation.



Publications (selection)


  • Book chapter: “Theorie und Praxis”.  In: Comtesse, Flügel-Martinsen, Martinsen, Nonhoff (eds.) (2019):  Handbuch radikale Demokratietheorie. Suhrkamp.
  • Paper: "Horizontal experimentalism: Rethinking democratic resistance." In: Philosophy & Social Criticism (Online first, 3. 8. 2021. Open Access here).
  • Abstract: Major debates on democratic renewal suggest two ways of eliciting social change: either by strengthening vertical practices of representation or by expanding horizontal forms of participation. The article develops an argument for why there is a need to rethink democratic resistance beyond the vertical–horizontal divide. If contemporary forms of resistance encompass a strategic interplay between vertical and horizontal practices, then an alternative framework is required to capture this logic. Filling this gap, the article introduces the concept of ‘horizontal experimentalism’. Such an idea comprehends an understanding of political means and ends as a continuum and as adjusting each other in an ongoing process of experimental inquiry.





The Politics of Provocation

The liberal view of democracy understands social conflict primarily as disagreement rather than as conflict over power and interests. What is distinct about such a framework is that democratic institutions are understood as capable of making “objective” and “neutral” decisions, while embodying fair procedures for resolving disagreements. The politics of provocation presents us with a different possibility. It emphasises that the impulse for greater democracy lies not merely in new inclusive and participatory institutional designs but in the possibility to provoke conflict and organise collective power in different domains of social life.



Publications (selection)






Kollektive Handlungsfähigkeit

Die Arbeit mit dem Begriff der „kollektiven Handlungsfähigkeit“ hat einen praktischen, nicht nur theoretischen Sinn: Es geht nicht nur um die Präzisierung und Problematisierung eines Begriffs, sondern um die Verwirklichung einer Möglichkeit zu handeln; darum, diejenigen Potenziale auszumachen, durch die es kollektiven Akteur*innen möglich ist, Brüche und Diskontinuitäten im Common Sense herbeizuführen. Es ist das Begreifen, das mit einem kritisch-subversiven Eingreifen in die Verhältnisse einhergeht. Die Frage, warum trotz der anhaltenden Krisen keine Transformationsprojekte wirkungsmächtig werden, wird auf die Frage „kritischer“ und „subversiver“ politischer Handlungsfähigkeit projiziert. Wie kann diese im Spannungsfeld von Herrschaft und Widerstand genauer begriffen werden? Insbesondere der Begriff einer kollektiven Handlungsfähigkeit wird meist unklar verwendet und bedarf der Präzisierung. Dazu werden drei einschlägige Theorien (Gramsci, Holzkamp und Laclau/Mouffe) befragt



Publications (selection)


  • Book: "Kollektive Handlungsfähigkeit. Gramsci – Holzkamp – Laclau/Mouffe". Vorwort von Oliver Marchart. Turia + Kant, Wien, 2. Auflage 2016. PDF here.
  • Edited Book: Mark, Heissenberger, Schramm, Sniesko, Süß (ed.), "Uni brennt: Grundsätzliches – Kritisches – Atmosphärisches". Zweite erweiterte Auflage. Turia + Kant, Wien 2010.
  • Book chapter: “Hegemonie und kollektive Handlungsfähigkeit in der Vielfalt gesellschaftlicher Widersprüche. Über die Schwierigkeit eines linken Mosaikprojekts”. In: Hawel, Kalmring (eds.) (2016): Wie lernt das linke Mosaik? Die plurale Linke in Bewegung. VSA.
  • Book chapter: “Denken Hilft”. In: Heissenberger, Mark, Schramm, Sniesko, Süß (eds.) (2016): Uni brennt – Grundsätzliches, Kritisches, Atmosphärisches. Turia + Kant.





 © 2022 Rahel Süß