Stellenbosch University | Political Science


Historical Profile

The Transformation Research Unit (TRU) was the successor to the Transformation Research Initiative (TRI), an informal research group established in 2000 at the Department of Political Science at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. 

TRU was launched at an inaugural conference on 16 April 2015. You may read the keynote address here and the group’s brochure here.

Paper presenters at opening conference. From left: Yilmaz Esmer, Cindy Steenekamp, Stan du Plessis, Ursula van Beek, Christer Jönsson, Ursula Hofmann-Lange, Dirk Berg-Schlosser, Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Hennie Kotzé.

TRU’s mission was to investigate the state of democracy globally. The research was conducted by a team comprising scholars from a wide range of countries and academic disciplines. The cross-cultural studies included a theoretical and data-based research approaches.

TRU’s research examined democracies located in vastly different historical and cultural contexts. The cases studies included South Africa, South Korea, Chile, Poland, Turkey, Germany, and Sweden. By investigating the political institutions, economy, civil society, culture, values, and ethics present in each of these seven democracies, TRU’s research helped to illuminate the difficulties associated with democratic transformation and consolidation of democracy in the countries of interest, as well as highlight the difficulties democracies the world over encountered as they tried to cope with the global financial crisis and its consequences. 

Over the years TRI and TRU have been generously supported  National Research Foundation, Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, Daimler Foundation, Daimler-Chrysler Foundation, Anglo-American Chairman’s Trust, Eskom Development Fund, Billiton Development Trust, and the National Business Initiative.

In 2022, TRU was reorganised into a fully institutionalised research centre, the Centre for Research on Democracy (CREDO)

Core Research Team

Director: Prof Ursula van Beek

Research Interests:

Historical memory and identity 
Comparative historical analyses 
Cultural values and democracy


Prof Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Germany

Research Interests:

Political systems 
The quality of the democratic process 
Parties and party systems 
Electoral behaviour 
Political science as an academic discipline 


Prof Ursula Hoffmann-Lange, Germany

Research Interests: 

Political culture 
Comparative politics 
Political parties 


Prof Yilmaz Esmer, Turkey

Research Interests: 

Comparative values
Culture and cultural change 
Survey research methodology 


Prof Pierre du Toit, South Africa 

Research Interests: 

Comparative politics 
State building and ethnic conflict 
Peace processes 
Social capital 


Prof Dirk Berg-Schlosser, Germany

Research Interests:

Comparative politics 
Democratization studies 
Political culture research 
Comparative methodology 
Development and African studies 


Prof Christer Jönsson, Sweden

Research Interests:

International negotiations
Diplomacy and the role of transnational networks in international cooperation


Prof Laurence Whitehead, United Kingdom

Research Interests: 

Comparative politics in Latin America
International political economy 


Dr Krige Siebrits, South Africa

Research Interests:

Fiscal policy
Economic policymaking
Institutional economics


Dr Cindy Lee Steenekamp, South Africa

Research Interests:

Political behaviour
Political culture
Social capital
Survey research


Prof Vello Pettai, Estonia

Research interests: 

Post-communist political development
Transitional justice 
Ethnic politics
Varieties of Democracy dataset



Africa-focused TRU workshop: 2-3 November 2015.

Southern Africa Research Team

Dr Nicola de Jager

Prof Henning Melber

Prof David Sebudubudu

Prof Lloyd Sachiknoye

Research Associates

Dr Peng LU

Dr Catherine Musuva

Student Associates

Lovelyn Nwadeyi

Barend Lutz

Helen Kroes

Terushka Naidoo


Special Edition of the Taiwan Journal of Democracy, Volume 11, No. 1, July 2015 

Democracy Compared: Complexities and Values (Ursula van Beek). The Global Crisis and Democracy: Danger or Opportunity? (Stan du Plessis, Andreas Freytag, and Willem Boshoff). The Impact of the Great Recession on Regime Change: Economic and Political Interactions (Dirk Berg-Schlosser). The Impact of the Great Recession on Support for Democracy (Ursula Hoffmann-Lange). Market Economy or Social Welfare Policy? The Programmatic Responses of Political Parties to the Global Recession (Hans-Dieter Klingemann). Social Norms in the Wake of the Global Financial Crisis (Cindy Steenekamp, Pierre du Toit, and Hennie Kotzé). Economic crisis and Political Polarization: A Challenge to Civic Culture? (Yilmaz Esmer). Global Change? (Christer Jönsson).

Global democracy: Political Institutions and Cultural Contexts (Project 2015 – 2017) 

Sponsored by the National Research Foundation (NRF) as part of its Human and Social Dynamics in Development theme. Initial findings were published in a special issue of the Taiwan Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13, No. 1 July 2017. Final results were reported in a book entitled Democracy under Threat: A Crisis of Legitimacy (2019) published by Palgrave MacMillan as part of the Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century book series.  

Democracy Under Threat: A Crisis in Legitimacy

Democracy Under Threat: A Crises of Legitimacy?

This book addresses some of the most pressing questions of our time: Is democracy threatened by globalisation? Is there a legitimacy crisis in contemporary democracies? Is the welfare state in individual countries under pressure from global trends? What are the implications of high-level migration and rising populism for democracy? Does authoritarianism pose a challenge?

The volume builds on a cross-cultural study of democracy conducted over nearly twenty years. Three of the countries studied – South Africa, Turkey and Poland – receive individual attention as their respective democracies appear to be the most vulnerable at present. Germany, Sweden, Chile, South Korea, and Taiwan are assessed in their regional contexts. Further insights are gained by examining the impact on democracy of TV and the Internet and by pointing out the lessons democracy should learn from diplomacy.

Edited by Prof Ursula van Beek. Published in 2019 with Palgrave Macmillan. 

Book promotion, Johannesburg. From left: Prof Y. Esmer, Bahcesehir University, Istanbul (Turkey); Prof U. Hoffmann-Lange, Bamberg University (Germany); Prof P. du Toit (SU); Prof D. Berg-Schlosser, Marburg University (Germany); Prof U van Beek (SU); Dr K. Siebrits (SU); Dr N. De Jager (SU); Prof D Fuchs, Stuttgard University (Germany); Dr C Steenekamp (SU).
Book promotion, Stellenbosch. Top row from left: Prof D. Fuchs, Stuttgard University (Germany); Prof Y. Esmer, Bahcesehir University, Istanbul (Turkey); Dr K. Siebrits (SU); Prof D. Berg-Schlosser, Marburg University (Germany). Second row: Prof U. Hoffmann-Lange, Bamberg University (Germany); Dr N. De Jager (SU); Prof U van Beek (SU); German Consul General, Dr Matthias Hansen. Third row: Prof P. du Toit (SU); KAS Cape Town office Manager Ms Christina Tauchmann Front: Dr C. Steenekamp (SU).

Thorleif Pettersson
R.I.P. 11 May 2010

Professor: Sociology of Religion, Uppsala University, Sweden


Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski
R.I.P. 4 January 2015  

Co-founding TRI member
Rector: Collegium Civitas, Warsaw, Poland
President: Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw