When is Deliberative Democracy Possible?
It is widely accepted that conventional electoral democracy lacks much of the essence of 'genuine' democratic governance. Citizens hand over decision-making power to a handful of elected representatives, and are rarely engaged in debating and understanding the choices that those representatives make.
There is no shortage of normative models of more engaged, participatory governance. The key question has always been: What alternative models can actually work outside unusual circumstances of very small, local groups?
This Special Number of the journal Politics and Society represents an important advance in our understanding. The editorial introduction ('Deepening Democracy: Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance', by Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright, pp.5-42) provides an excellent summary of the ideas and hypotheses that emerge from a series of case studies and ends with sets of critical comments about (a) whether they have correctly interpreted their own case studies and (b) the empirical limitations to and problems of what they term empowered deliberative democracy (EDD). In other words, the editors and authors are helpfully self-critical.
The case studies are diverse. They are from Brazil, India, South Africa and the United States; and cover participatory municipal budgeting, schools, policing, environmental planning and democratic decentralisation. The editors suggest that these cases ('experiments') share:
Three political principles:
Three design characteristics:
One primary background condition:
The editors also list six critical concerns about the empirical experience of EDD:
Issue: Deliberative Democracy', edited by Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright,
Politics and Society, Volume 29, Number 1, March 2001, pp. 1-163.
Keywords: participation; deliberative democracy.
Commentator: Mick Moore, IDS (November 2001).
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