Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Ghosts of the Past and the Spirit of a New Nation

Dr Ursula van Beek.

The move from autocracy to democracy is about radical change. It is about new rules of the game, a new regime, new institutions and new party systems. But neither those who wanted the changes to happen nor those who did not, are able to switch off their memories of what was and march into the new future with a new mindset. The ghosts of the past will not let them. The question is, how to exorcise them?

Taking two such vastly different new democracies as South Africa and Poland as its focal point, this paper explores their journey to democracy as a process in the minds of their people. Looking at collective identity it tries to establish what it takes to move from an exclusive mode that tends to keep different groups apart often in mutual hostility, to a mode that includes despite differences. The main contention being that democratisation can be conceptualised as a mental dynamic change from cultural objectivity to political normative subjectivity, in other words, from pre-determination to choice, and that it is that change that forges the new democratic nation.


Dr Ursula van Beek  (South Africa)
Project Leader: Transformation Research Initiative (TRI)
Information Science Department
University of Stellenbosch

Polish by origin, Ursula van Beek obtained her doctorate in history from the University of South Africa. She currently heads an international research project focused on democratic consolidation. She is the author of a book on the transformation of science systems in several East-Central European countries, and has edited a book on the transition to democracy in South Africa and Poland. She has published elsewhere on the subject of democratic transformation and historical consciousness.

  • Historical Memory
  • Identity
  • Democracy

(Virtual Presentation, English)