Erica De Bruin.
Associate Professor of Government Erica De Bruin recently published an article as part of a scholarly forum on the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The forum, titled “A Coup At the Capitol? Conceptualizing Coups and Other Antidemocratic Actions,” is part of the current issue of the journal International Studies Review.

Co-organized by De Bruin and Jonathan Powell of the University of Central Florida, the forum brought together scholars of coups to reflect on how to distinguish coups from other types of anti-democratic actions, and how to understand the January 6 insurrection.

De Bruin said the term “coup” has been used to describe a diverse range of events. Though recent decades have seen the academic study of coups focus on an increasingly narrow type of military intervention in politics, contributors to the forum emphasize that the general public, governments, and international organizations frequently apply the coup label to a broader set of anti-democratic actions.

This was dramatically illustrated after the overrunning of the U.S. Capitol building when discussions of the event led to debates about whether or not it constituted a coup. Contributors to the forum emphasized that more than a mere matter of semantics, describing an event as a coup can have analytical, normative, and practical implications.

De Bruin’s contribution to the forum reflected on the stakes of the debate over what to call former President Trump’s efforts to remain in power, and identified ways in which scholars can productively contribute to public debates around contentious events.

She argues that scholars “have an obligation to convey nuance and uncertainty where it exists and to recognize the normative connotations associated with the terms we use.” At the same time, however, De Bruin emphasizes that “drawing appropriate lessons from the existing scholarship requires us to be precise about how we are defining and categorizing events—and not to stretch terms about which there is a broad scholarly consensus to fit the news of the day.”

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