Democratizing deliberative systems

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Parkinson, John
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John Parkison and Jane Mansbridge

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Deliberation occurs in many different kinds of social system; but not all deliberative systems are democratic. Deliberation might occur in enclaves that are cut off from formal decision-makers; it might occur within a limited elite; and the inputs into elite deliberation might be technical-legal ones rather than the reflective preferences of those affected. As Papadopoulos emphasizes in the Chapter 6, deliberation is just one value among several that drive modern governance. Even if the formal institutions of government are reasonably democratic, there are other systems of power that can pull in different directions and that are resistant to democratic control: the judicial system, the administrative system, the economic system, and so on. Furthermore, there may be features of the systemic account of deliberation that weaken its democratic credentials – that weaken the ability of the demos to fight back against economic, technical, or juridical power. For example, if Chambers (Chapter 3) is right, and social science surveys can count as valid inputs in a deliberative system, then how do real, flesh and blood people get their voices heard? If the processes by which a system gives voice to its citizens becomes yet another preserve of technical experts, then public debates can become battles over who possesses the right technology rather than the substantive merits of cases made in less technically sophisticated ways (Mort et al. 1996; Parkinson 2004). In such settings, public participation can easily become passive rather than active, the result of a random selection process or a privilege bestowed by the powerful, not a right that one can claim against the powerful (cf. Cooke and Kothari 2001; Gaventa 2006).

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Deliberative Systems: Deliberative Democracy at the Large Scale

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Comparative Government and Politics

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