Varieties of Constitutionalism

Michael Riegner is Principal Investigator at the DFG project „Varieties of constitutionalism: Contestations of liberalism in comparative constitutional law” (together with Prof. Philipp Dann/HU Berlin and Prof. Conrado Hübner Mendes/Universidade São Paulo).

Liberal constitutionalism is under pressure. The wave of transitions to constitutional democracy and market economy in the 1990s marked the end of the cold war but not the end of history. Today, economic crises, increasing inequalities, the rise of non-liberal powers and the resurgence of populism and nationalism pose challenges to liberal constitutionalism. Our German-Brazilian project proposes to investigate these challenges from the perspective of comparative constitutional law. We seek to map contemporary varieties of constitutionalism and to assess contestations of, and alternatives to, liberal constitutionalism in Germany, Brazil and the respective regional contexts. The project thus intervenes in global debates in the field of comparative constitutional law and contributes a legal perspective to broader discussions about contestations of liberalism. 

The project is funded by DFG and its Brazilian equivalent CAPES. It is led by principal investigators Dr. Michael Riegner and Prof. Philipp Dann at Humboldt University Berlin and Prof. Conrado Hübner Mendes at Universidade de São Paulo. It brings together a total of 26 researchers from 16 institutions in Germany and Brazil. The collaboration includes three plenary meetings, smaller workshops, research stays and joint conference panels. 
The project pursues three main objectives: The first is to contribute to the research on varieties of constitutionalism by developing a comparative typology that enables us to categorize constitutional orders along several dimensions, to identify different types of constitutionalism, and to capture variation within the liberal type. In particular, we seek to clarify whether transformative constitutionalism – a concept often used to characterize the Brazilian constitutional order – should be conceptualized as an alternative to liberal constitutionalism, or whether the two are variants of the same constitutional type. The second objective is to assess selected contestations of liberal constitutionalism in Brazil and Germany in their regional contexts. We will compare what normative alternatives are advanced and whether past and present contestations result(ed) in an alternative regime, or in the adaptation and transformation of liberal constitutionalism. The third objective is to theorize the role that paradigmatic actors, or “protagonists”, play in varieties of constitutionalism and contestations of liberalism. If the individual is the protagonist of liberal constitutionalism, are there alternative actors that compete for the main role in the varieties of constitutionalism, namely collective actors like social movements or corporations? 

Thematically, our research will concentrate on three areas: democratic, economic and open constitutionalism. These three areas will be connected in a cross-cutting thematic study on the role of the corporation in the varieties of constitutionalism. This study will assess whether the corporation plays a paradigmatic role in economic, democratic and/or open constitutionalism in Brazil and Germany, situate the corporation in the typology of the varieties of constitutionalism, and evaluate the role it plays in contemporary contestations of liberal constitutionalism.


  • Kick-off event, 5.7.2021, online.
  • Mundo online conference, 9.7.2021, Conference panel “The Global South and Varieties of constitutionalism” (Michael Riegner, Philipp Dann, Conrado Hübner Mendes et al.).
  • Conference presentation “Varieties of Constitutionalism in North-South perspective”, Law and Development Research Network Annual Conference, Nelson Mandela University Port Elizabeth/South Africa, 26. November 2021 (Prof. Michael Riegner). 
  • Varieties of Constitutionalism, Lecture in the framework of the university focus area "Religion - Society - World Relationship, Universität Erfurt, 8.12.2021 (Prof. Michael Riegner).

  • Lecture „Canonizing the Corporation“ Prof. Michael Riegner at Max Planck Institut für Rechtsgeschichte und Rechtstheorie Frankfurt, 28.2.2022.
  • Hate Speech in Comparative Constitutional Law, Gastvortrag INSPER Sao Paulo, 3.3.2022 (Prof. Michael Riegner).

  • First plenary workshop “Varieties of constitutionalism and constitutional democracy in Brazil and Germany”, 7.-8.3.2022, hybrid event Berlin/São Paulo The first workshop addresses basic concepts underlying our joint project: Firstly, what do we mean by “varieties” of constitutionalism, and how can constitutional typologies help us understand and compare the Brazilian and German constitutional orders? Secondly, how is constitutional democracy conceptualized and institutionalized in Germany and Brazil? In discussing these questions, our aim is to begin to develop a shared vocabulary and understanding of our respective constitutional traditions. On this basis, we will then analyze contestations of liberal democracy, economic liberalism, and liberal internationalism in subsequent workshops.
  • Varieties of corporate constitutionalism, Guest lecture INSPER Sao Paulo, 10.3.2022 (Prof. Michael Riegner).

  • Varieties of Constitutionalism, presentation at workshop “Towards Illiberal Constitutionalism in East Central Europe”, Erfurt 5.5.2022 (Prof. Michael Riegner).

  • Second plenary workshop, Humboldt University Berlin, 27./28.6.2022. The second plenary workshop of the VACON project brought together 20 German and Brazilian researchers at Humboldt University Berlin on 27-28 June 2022. The group discussed contemporary contestations of liberal constitutionalism with reference to key research and current developments regarding authoritarian constitutionalism, transitional justice and memory, as well as the constitutional role of the military. The main objective of the Workshop was to establish possible fields of legal comparison between Germany and Brazil, considering their constitutional history and current constitutional challenges.
  • Symposium “Bolsonarism at the Ballot Box” on Verfassungsblog in September 2022: Members of the VACON project team discuss the upcoming Brazilian elections from the perspective of comparative constitutional law. The posts can be accessed here.
  • Sustainability and participation in the law of multilateral development banks, conference presentation, 10th Brazil Germany Symposium for Sustainable Development, Niteroi/Rio de Janeiro, Brasilien, 19.9.2022 (Prof. Michael Riegner).

  • VACON project workshop in São Paulo: As part of the DFG-funded project "Varieties of Constitutionalism", Prof. Michael Riegner and colleagues from the project team organized a hybrid workshop at the Universidade de São Paulo on March 27/28, 2023, in which participants from Germany discussed comparative law issues related to fake news, dealing with the past, climate change lawsuits, and the transnationalization of illiberal legal ideas.

VACON-Workshop in Berlin:

VACON-Projektworkshop in São Paulo: