The Journal of Political Philosophy: Volume 20, Number 1, 2012, pp.
Staging Deliberation: The Role of Representative Institutions in the Deliberative Democratic Process*
Political Theory, Radboud University Nijmegen
I. THE FORUM, THE STAGE OR THE NETWORK? HE proper institutionalization of the ideal of deliberative democracy remains a contested issue. Whereas discourse theory conjures up the ideal of democracy as based on face-to-face interactions—modeled for instance in terms of an ideal speech situation which is inclusive, symmetrical and free from power—it is clear that this ideal cannot be realized in any straightforward manner in the complex, large-scale and increasingly globalized societies of today. Consequently, alternative ways of realizing in practice the promise of a more radical and deliberative democracy have to be devised. In this context, I propose to make an analytic distinction between three different modes of institutionalization that have been discussed in the literature. First, the forum refers to deliberative theories that promote the use of mini-publics such as citizen’s juries, participatory budgeting or deliberative opinion polls as essential elements of democratic decision-making.1 These mini-publics are actual but small fora of face-to-face deliberation that should ideally reconstruct the will of the general public concerning speciﬁc issues. How these fora connect to larger audiences and the extent to which they actually determine the ﬁnal decision remains to be further speciﬁed.2 Second, the stage refers to theories that retain the idea that traditional representative institutions, the members of which are chosen on the basis of general elections, play a crucial role in any adequate institutionalization of deliberative democracy. Here, Jürgen Habermas’s two-track model serves as an example.3 Inclusive deliberation is
*The research for this paper was conducted partly at the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Leuven and was completed at the Institute for Management Research of the Radboud University Nijmegen. I would like to thank Ronald Tinnevelt for providing me with an opportunity to present an earlier version of this paper at his VIDI-workshop on cosmopolitanism at the Faculty of Law of the Radboud University Nijmegen. I am very grateful to Roland Pierik and Bert van den Brink for providing extensive comments on earlier drafts as well as to Soﬁa Näsström, Eva Erman, Bertjan Wolthuis and three anonymous referees of this journal for providing many helpful remarks. 1 For a brief survey and further references on mini-publics, see Goodin and Dryzek 2006, pp. 221–4. 2 Goodin and Dryzek 2006. Hendriks 2006. Brown 2006. 3 Habermas 1996; 2008. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
thereby essentially restricted to the informal public sphere in which arguments are generated and transformed by individuals and civil society organizations. The deliberative quality of the democratic process as a whole is guaranteed to the extent that these informal deliberations actually inﬂuence deliberations in the formal public sphere constituted by the traditional representative institutions of parliament and government. The network, ﬁnally, refers to deliberative theories that assume that democratic deliberation should take place in a dispersed set of deliberative sites. In these sites face-to-face deliberation takes place on limited aspects of certain issues and/or between more local stakeholders. In order to cover all aspects of an issue and in order to include all people affected it is important that the different deliberative sites are connected and linked together in a network.4 As emphasized, the distinction between these three modes of institutionalization is an analytic distinction. This means that they are not mutually exclusive and that deliberative theories of democratic government can and often do combine different modes. For example, nodes of governance networks can and often do have some or most of the characteristics of fora or stages. Also, fora and networks are not always advocated as substitutes for parliamentary decisions but rather as providing additional inputs to the parliamentary process. As these examples illustrate, the intricate question of the proper institutionalization of deliberative democracy does not amount to an exclusive choice between modes of institutionalization but consists rather in a search for that speciﬁc conﬁguration of fora, representative institutions and networks which maximizes the deliberative quality of the democratic process as a whole on the local, the national or the transnational level. This reformulation of the problem of institutionalization dovetails with a recent ‘systemic turn’ in deliberative theory signaled by several authors. Academic debate increasingly focuses on the ways in which different deliberative actors and sites are connected and form an encompassing democratic system.5 The analysis of such a system is markedly different from an analysis of clearly delineated face-to-face micro-deliberations. Whereas, for instance, on the level of micro-analysis, deliberative actors in face-to-face situations are supposed to behave communicatively and strive for agreement, several authors recognize that, from a macro-perspective, the inclusiveness of the larger public debate can be strengthened if at least some actors behave strategically at least some of the time. We can think here, for instance, of the need for repeated and stubborn civil society action required to put new issues on the public agenda or the need for politicians to present their own ideas in a rhetorically persuasive manner to a more general audience.6 Examples such as these illustrate that a macro-analysis
Young 2006. Cohen and Sabel 1997. Bohman 2007. Dryzek 2010a, pp. 7–17. Mansbridge 1999. Goodin 2005. Parkinson 2006. Hendriks 2006. Warren 2007. 6 Mansbridge 1999. Young 2001. Mansbridge et al. 2010. Chambers 2009. Dryzek 2010b.
Bohman 2007. Habermas 2008.8 The problem with these approaches is that they fail to accept that something would still be missing even if existing governance structures could be fully democratized in the ways suggested. In this article.STAGING DELIBERATION
cannot simply retain the normative requirements on individual actors and interactions as analyzed. 9 Gerstenberg and Sabel 2002. here. rather. I show. My central claim is. a more systemic approach requires a new normative measure for the macro-deliberative quality of the democratic process as a whole and an analysis of how the operations and combinations of different deliberative sites. Instead. pp. Bohman 2005. It aims. Think. the present analysis of representative politics does not aim to discredit the use of fora or networks as such.
. Dryzek 2006. Josh Cohen and Charles Sabel’s model for a directly-deliberative polyarchy or James Bohman’s order of dêmoi. Parkinson 2006. that representative politics provides the democratic debate with a kind of visibility which allows representative institutions to play an ineliminable role in the connection of political power to public reason as well as in the generation of the epistemic resources and the sources of solidarity required to support ongoing and open-ended democratic deliberation (sections III and IV). 8 The speciﬁc ways in which discursive networks should ﬁt with governance networks and democratize them can differ signiﬁcantly in the different models proposed. for instance. to provide a critical rejoinder to theorists who focus one-sidedly on fora and networks and downplay the role of representative institutions in their deliberative designs or dispense with them altogether. The European Union provides a case in point. 112–5. pp. of John Dryzek’s work on global civil society. They argue that the decentralized and deterritorialized nature of deliberative networks implies that these could somehow ‘mirror’ existing governance networks. in the idea of an ideal speech situation. For instance. Cohen and Sabel 1997.9 this assessment contrasts sharply with the general perception of European citizens who continue to experience a
7 Parkinson and Bavister-Gould 2009. more speciﬁcally. Cohen and Sabel 2004. theorists working on the democratization of transnational levels of politics are often keen to embrace the possibilities offered by the network structure of transnational processes of governance. that representative politics based on a general electoral mechanism (the stage) has certain characteristics which make it well suited to meet these normative requirements.7 It is not my purpose to deal with this formidable task in any general manner and my focus will be much more limited. Mansbridge 1999. 147–51. ‘hook onto them’ at the nodes and democratize them from the bottom up. Whereas several discourse theorists have hailed current European governance practices as a promising example of deliberative democracy. As indicated. additionally. institutions and actors contribute to sustain and improve this macro-deliberative quality. I present three related normative requirements which I argue should be part of a more encompassing measure of macro-deliberative quality and which are based on the need to sustain deliberation as an open-ended and ongoing process (section II).
Näsström 2006. Fung 2003. that the open-ended nature of fallible deliberation serves human freedom and. researchers dealing with the design of deliberative mini-publics also have to face the problem of the ‘representativeness’ of their mini-publics.10 For instance. of course. Ankersmit 2002. Although many authors recognize that the outcomes of actual processes of deliberation are necessarily fallible and.26
serious democratic deﬁcit in the workings of the EU. I focus on representation as a relation between citizens and elected representatives. it is worthwhile to brieﬂy expand on the signiﬁcance and normative implications of this fallibility. I accept.
Urbinati and Warren 2008. ﬁrst.14 Although I share the central belief that representative mechanisms are an ineliminable part of a genuinely democratic process. In this section I argue. Second. two more remarks are in order. Instead. the analysis presented here is much indebted to the growing literature on the fundamental connection between democracy and representation.
. debate has also started about the possibility or desirability of ‘representing discourses’. 14 Lefort 1988. they are currently not my direct concern. I will brieﬂy argue that this perception is not misguided and that the limited visibility of European politics indeed generates a serious democratic deﬁcit that needs to be dealt with (section V). 13 Dryzek and Niemeyer 2008. Brown 2006. First. Urbinati 2006. THE NORMATIVE CHALLENGE OF OPEN-ENDED DELIBERATION The crucial importance of representative institutions for deliberative democracy derives from the necessarily open-ended character of democratic deliberation. the present article differs from this literature in the sense that it strongly emphasizes the relation between representation and reason.13 Although all of these issues are part and parcel of the wider debate on the proper design of an overall deliberative system. that the notion of representation can be used in a much larger sense. Plotke 1997. Before proceeding. as already indicated. II. 12 Saward 2009. It focuses on the cognitive nature of the democratic process by arguing that representative institutions play a crucial part in maintaining democratic deliberation as an open-ended and ongoing epistemic endeavor aimed at decisions which serve the pursuit of a more just society.12 Recently. always subject to possible future revisions.11 Also. the notion of representative politics (the stage) as used here refers to politics centered around one or more representative institutions with ﬁnal decision-making powers the members of which are chosen on the basis of general elections. Hendriks 2009. much attention is devoted nowadays to civil society actors as ‘non-elected representatives’ in the absence of electoral mechanisms. In the ﬁnal section of this article. second. therefore. whereby the precise nature of this relationship will be further explained below.
I do not believe that the ontological nature of the gap between actual and ideal deliberation requires us to abandon the deliberative paradigm in favor of an agonistic model. their preferences and values cannot be assumed to be ﬁxed once and for all. their outcomes are also always marred by unjustiﬁable partialities. Now. concrete beings. 20 Benhabib 1992. and allows. if individuals should be respected as autonomous. concrete individuals also explains the need for actual processes of deliberation in which these citizens can participate. for instance. 48. in turn. 17 For a fuller elaboration. pp. Rummens 2009. thus. inclusive deliberation serves a twofold epistemic role in the sense that it allows to track the speciﬁc concerns and needs of citizens. Human freedom is a historical and necessarily open-ended endeavor. 2008. the fallibility of actual deliberation derives from the fact that the ideal conditions of reasonable deliberation—in whichever way you specify them—can never be fully realized in the real world.STAGING DELIBERATION
that the preservation of open-ended deliberation poses a threefold normative challenge for the institutionalization of democracy.17 it should be pointed out that the argument essentially relies on the fact that democratic deliberation serves the realization of the autonomy of all citizens in an equal and impartial manner. 88. for the transformation of these concerns and convictions in view of the legitimate concerns and convictions of other participants. economic.15 First. 19 Habermas 2003. Habermas 1996. 18 Gilabert 2005.
.16 Although a full development of this idea is beyond present purposes. the gap is ‘ontological’ in the sense that the ineliminability of the gap is inherent in the ideal of reasonable deliberation itself. The historical nature of our human condition implies that we are constantly faced with changing social. never entirely inclusive nor entirely free from power asymmetries.18 The impartiality of democratic outcomes is thereby not determined from an objective third person perspective but conceived rather in terms of an inclusive we-perspective. implies that the
15 Throughout the section. This. 158–70. This assumption does not detract from the generality of the conclusions because less consensualistic approaches accept even more readily the point that the fallibility of actual discourse should be recognized and dealt with.19 This means that citizens are not regarded as abstract and essentially identical persons but rather as ‘concrete others’ with speciﬁc values and needs which can and should be taken into account and which will. 16 This distinction between an empirical and an ontological gap is found in Mouffe 2000. however. moreover. the gap between actual and ideal discourse is not a superﬁcial ‘empirical’ gap that arises for lack of time or resources. see Rummens 2006. Unlike Mouffe. Instead. Indeed. cultural and natural circumstances and that we are constantly challenged and able to shape and reshape our preferences. 98. have an impact on the speciﬁc content of actual legislation and policies. to which only they themselves have privileged epistemic access. pp. 2007. Because actual deliberations are. of course. 137. values and convictions accordingly. Importantly.20 The desire to take citizens seriously as historically situated. I assume that ideal deliberative theory is highly consensualistic.
It should. non-discursive power which is genuinely coercive for at least some of the citizens (power). This ineliminable partiality implies. in a never-ending process. Every democratic decision. As a consequence. the autonomy of all citizens subjected to them remains fully intact. in turn. provide the means to expose the partiality inherent in all political decisions. In terms of reason. Rummens 2008. at the same time. that all actual political decisions contain a ‘volitional moment’21 and. the previous decision.28
process of deliberation can never come to any ﬁnal closure. The ineliminable gap between actual and ideal deliberation now gives rise to three related normative challenges in the sense that the gap implies that the three normative claims mentioned are also counterfactual in an ineliminable sense. no genuine coercive power is exercised in the imposition of political decisions and. The macro-deliberative quality of a deliberative system partly depends on the extent to which it is able to meet these challenges. again. pp. the outcomes of actual deliberations are not fully impartial but always fail to do justice to the legitimate interests of at least some people affected (reason). In terms of solidarity. A discursive change of preferences leads to a situation in which all citizens endorse political decisions precisely because they understand that they are impartial and. thus. it should provide mechanisms which are able to check the
Habermas 1996. the presence of an ineliminable gap between actual and ideal deliberation poses three connected normative challenges for any attempt to institutionalize deliberative democracy.
. As a result. an ineliminable remainder of real. Second. Hence. ideal theory assumes that deliberation is a transformative process not only on the cognitive but also on the motivational level. there will always be at least some citizens who disapprove of the decisions taken and who have good reasons for their disagreement (solidarity). Meeting the challenges posed by the gap between actual and ideal deliberation requires that an adequate institutional design of a democratic system should not only try to devise and implement sites and moments of actual deliberation. 155–7. ideal theory requires that all political decisions should be based on an agreement between all people concerned. The dynamics of this ongoing process explain why the idea of autonomy is an idea which contains the impossibility of its own full realization and why every attempt at a premature closure of deliberation poses a threat to the ongoing realization of human freedom. ideal theory stipulates that the outcomes of democratic deliberation should be impartial in the sense of giving equal concern to the interests and values of all people affected by them. creates itself a new historical reality which elicits new reactions and new preferences which can be used to question. just and legitimate. In terms of power. even if it takes all existing preferences into account. therefore. thus. The three normative challenges I have in mind can be derived from three closely connected normative claims central to deliberative democracy as an ideal theory.
dispersed and highly mediatized political public sphere. but that it also refers to the performances of political actors in a much wider. The presence of a vibrant informal public sphere ensures that the debates in the formal institutions are inﬂuenced by the concerns and interests of the citizens at large. This assumption would be dangerous because it would lead to the premature closure of deliberation and. 2008. Similarly. responsive and transformative process. civil society organizations play a crucial role in feeding and structuring the informal debates. 306–8. To the extent that these actors give voice to the concerns of at least some groups in society they are part of the wider process of representation which is thus centered on but not limited to electoral forms of formalized representation. In the absence of such mechanisms. In this article I subscribe. to the two-track model of the representative system. III. power and solidarity actual decisions necessarily engender. Although elected representatives and political parties are key players in the core of the system and therefore key actors on the political stage. The presence of an elected assembly at the formal core thereby ensures that the representative system is characterized by a dynamic interplay between majorities and minorities in an organized struggle for access to power. pp. that representation is a constructive.22 Such a system consists of a core of formal representative institutions (paradigmatically parliament). second. and it should be able to deal with the ineliminable dissent of some citizens. Although there is much truth in Hanna Pitkin’s inﬂuential conception of the relation of representation as one in which the
Habermas 1996. to the premature legitimization of the forms of exclusion in terms of reason. 352–9. Thereby. It should be clear that the two-track model implies a wide conception of the political stage.STAGING DELIBERATION
ineliminable remainder of real power. I assume. the wide conception implies that the political stage should not merely or even primarily be located in the general assembly of parliament. THE VISIBILITY OF REPRESENTATIVE POLITICS Before explaining how representative politics is able to deal with the normative challenge of open-ended deliberation. ﬁrst. the stage is much wider and also refers to the political actions of groups and individuals in the wider informal public sphere. thus. deliberative democracy runs the risk of simply assuming that the outcomes of actual deliberations instantiate a ‘sufﬁciently close’ approximation of ideal deliberation. it is important to further clarify some of the main characteristics of representation as I wish to understand it here. which is surrounded by an informal public sphere constituted by civil society actors aiming to inﬂuence decision-making in the center of the system.
. whereas political parties play a crucial role in connecting the informal public sphere with the debates and decisions in the formal decision-making forums.
Ankersmit 1996.26 Michael Saward. however. Michael Saward amongst others has rightly argued that this approach remains ﬁrmly embedded in an academic tradition which conceives of representation in terms of the representation of interests or identities which are well deﬁned prior to the process of representation itself.
. the informal public sphere and the individual or collective actors of civil society play a crucial role in the to-and-fro communication between representatives and citizens. As Saward emphasizes. pp. or even exist. 303. p. 25 Parkinson 2006. 91–132. p. 68. 29 Hajer 2009. if “audiences” acknowledge them in some way.30
representative ‘substantively acts for’ the represented.23 Instead. p.’ Thereby. 99–123. 66. 66. John Parkinson and Maarten Hajer analyze the constructive nature of representation in terms of the theatrical characteristics of current day politics. In this context. ‘representative claims only work.29 Here again. p. an analysis from a dramaturgical perspective reveals that the political process is ‘a sequence of staged events in which actors interact over the meaning of events and over how to move on. to provide an adequate image of these citizens and to legitimately speak and act on their behalf. I subscribe to an alternative and increasingly inﬂuential tradition which conceives of representation as an ongoing. that citizens are now conceived as a merely passive ‘audience’ inﬂuenced and shaped by political actors. according to Hajer. Saward 2006.27 Analyzing representation in terms of constructive performances staged for an audience should not mistakenly lead us to believe. dynamic process in which the identity and the will of the people are constantly under construction. pp. Frank Ankersmit for instance advocates an aesthetic theory of representation according to which political reality does not really exist in a meaningful way prior to the representative process itself. 28 Ibid.. setting and mise-en-scène. ﬁnally. 27 Saward 2006. pp.’28 Whereas. 325–7. analyzes the performative and constructive nature of representation in terms of the representative claims made by political actors who claim to identify citizens as members of a particular audience. 21–63. In this context.25 According to Hajer. 26 Hajer 2009. p. by readjusting its agenda and even by inserting “counter scripts”’. and are able to absorb or reject or accept them or otherwise engage with them.24 Similarly. Näsström 2006. Hajer 2009. the reception by audiences is sometimes measured ‘directly’ by means of techniques such as opinion-polling or focus groups. pp. Hajer analyzes the performance of political actors in the dramaturgical vocabulary of scripting. representatives play a crucial role in structuring and interpreting political events and processes and in providing citizens with a meaningful set of alternative political projects and propositions which allow them to understand political reality and to shape their political preferences. the audience is also active in the sense that it ‘frames and reframes [politics’] claims. Mansbridge
Pitkin 1967. Thereby. 303. 2002.
‘including political parties. the media. On the one hand. Here again. also demonstrates that representation remains a transformative process in which the beliefs and preferences of both representatives and voters can change on the basis of discursive learning-processes. 30.STAGING DELIBERATION
talks about an overall process of ‘ongoing representation’ whereby the quality of this mutual communication depends on the overall functioning of the democratic system. p. the impartiality of the we-perspective allows for the presence of particular interests as constituent parts of the common good. the communicative to-and-fro she sketches also testiﬁes of the kernel of truth in the idea that representatives are ‘substantively acting for’ the represented. the acknowledgements of these constituents themselves remain a decisive point of reference in determining whether representation is adequately responsive to the (framed) preferences which are properly theirs. 32 Mansbridge et al. interest groups. pp. identiﬁable and localizable decisions in the formal
Mansbridge 2003.32 Additionally. hearings. oriented towards what is or could be going on in the formal institutions it encircles. The fact that the informal debate is connected to actual. ﬁnally. the ineliminable gap between the particular preferences of individual citizens and the outcome of the democratic process. The public debate is not some amorphous. Importantly. testiﬁes of the non-ideal nature of this outcome as an only temporary interpretation of the common good. Even if representatives play a constitutive role in framing the beliefs and preferences of their constituents.’30 Although Mansbridge rightly emphasizes the systemic nature of representation. The metaphor of the stage not only refers to the fact that the performance of political actors helps to frame political events and choices in meaningful ways. A third and crucial feature of representative politics I wish to highlight is that it ensures the visibility of the public debate.
. in its structure and its content. decentralized conversation but is generally structured around a limited number of topics at a time as well as around a limited number of identiﬁable players and positions. Habermas’s description of the informal public sphere as an anonymous network in which arguments are circulated and transformed is not entirely adequate. Plotke 1997. 2010. the responsiveness of the representative process to the potentially changing preferences of autonomous citizens guarantees the historically open-ended character of the democratic process. Thereby. 75. it also emphasizes that representative politics generates narrative structures which make political debate accessible and understandable for a large audience of citizens. opinion surveys. the goal of this transformation is not a full harmonization of interests and preferences.31 The same to-and-fro. p. In this regard. and all other processes of communication. political challengers. the informal public debate is. 518–9. contrasting it with a too restricted focus on the dual relationship between the representative and the represented.
it is. possibly assisted by their spin-doctors.33 More relevant in the present context is the fact that media constraints are also determined by more internal factors such as the communicative logic which characterizes the practice of reporting. gives the wider public of citizens adequate access to what is at stake in the decision-making process. Nevertheless. it will already be clear that the dramaturgical nature of the stage implies that it is much more compatible with
See. e. civil society organizations and political parties publicly contest decisions. it should be clear that the workings of the media at least partly determine what can become ‘visible’ in the public sphere. and this is a distinction which is not always adequately appreciated. In order to understand which decision has been made against which alternatives and which interest groups in society promoted which solution. not sufﬁcient. politicians are not simply the victims of these mechanisms. Smart political actors. in itself.32
decision-making institutions helps to give the informal debate its focus points and its urgency. Parkinson 2005. might be a necessary prerequisite for visibility. Although I will brieﬂy return to this issue in the ﬁnal section. are able to make use of them to their own advantage. even if the workings of mini-publics or governance institutions are transparent. thus. pp. this task is beyond our present means. Hajer 2009. the media generally make use of the mechanism of narrative and story-telling. Indeed.34 Even when reporting political events. In this regard. the media obviously do not simply function as a neutral transmission channel between representatives and the larger public. Of course. As a fourth and ﬁnal point. 178–9. representative politics are played out in an increasingly mediatized political public sphere.
. Whereas transparency. visibility thus differs from the notion of transparency which is currently en vogue as a deﬁning feature of the democratic legitimacy of governance institutions.. it is not sufﬁcient to check through the internet the minutes of some committee meeting somewhere. Habermas 2008. Although an analysis of the impact of market imperatives as external constraints on the functioning of highly commercialized media networks is crucial for a fuller assessment of the macro-deliberative quality of present day politics. as the ability of citizens to gain access to the proceedings of decision-making processes. to a signiﬁcant extent also the content and form of what counts as ‘political reality’. the media function according to their own proper constraints which shape to a large extent the content and form of the news that is being reported and. in which interests groups. Importantly. Thereby. pp. Instead. They thereby tend to focus on conﬂict rather than agreement. they prefer colorful phrases and quick sound-bites over extensive argument and they are keen to personalize politics.g. both Parkinson and Hajer emphasize that the media have a strong preference for dramaturgical modes of communication. the structure and content of the decision-making process can remain very hard or even impossible to read for citizens. 38–40. Only the visibility of the political stage.
therefore. representative politics thereby not only reveals that all actual decisions are necessarily partly partial and exclusionary. By pointing out the alternative policy options which have not been chosen. Instead. every actual political decision will necessarily remain partial towards the present or future preferences and values of at least some citizens. 40–2. FACING THE CHALLENGE The previous sketch of some general characteristics of representative politics allows us to explain how representative institutions play an important role in meeting the challenges posed by the gap between actual and ideal deliberation. The fact that there is a discrete set of civil society organizations and political parties which develop and express their own views on debated issues implies that the story never collapses into one single point. Importantly. There is no privileged narrator. 176–81. in the future. The fact that representation allows us to reveal the epistemic structure of actual decisions is due to the narrative nature of representative politics which structures political debate both in the spatial and the temporal dimension. affect and mobilize larger audiences when compared to other modes of institutionalized deliberation. an ideal. pp. Epistemically. no privileged point of view and the story necessarily remains multi-facetted and fragmented. the opposition gives voice
. I submit that the oppositional dynamics of representative politics play a crucial role because the disagreement of the minority with the majority decision precisely signiﬁes and represents the reservations that we should always have towards actual decisions. In the spatial dimension. are able to situate these decisions in a space of public political reasons. representative politics have a unique capacity to reach. by challenging majority decisions. A. the deliberative system should be able to recognize the gap between the actual and the ideal and should strive to make this gap as tractable as possible. it also provide us with clues as to what these partialities and exclusions are and which alternatives might. perhaps. this means that opposition parties or organizations. Hajer 2009. REASON: WHAT’s YOUR STORY? As argued. lead to better and more just results.35 As a result. IV. Dealing with the ineliminable presence of this epistemic gap between actual and ideal deliberation requires that we resist the urge to insist on reaching actual agreements in the real world because this might lead to the premature closure of deliberation.STAGING DELIBERATION
the dramaturgical logic of the media than the forum or the network. Here. impartial consensus can never be fully realized through deliberation and. political players on stage each provide a different perspective on the political story that is being told.
also constant renewal. after the decision-making process is over. In the absence of organized groups which function as the memory and the potential future of the public debate precisely because they refuse to subscribe to the consensus. have not been sufﬁciently taken into account and enables. 30. Landwehr 2010.36 In the temporal dimension. more inclusive and less partial future society. possibly. pp. Present discussions are not merely about making future-oriented choices. Again.34
to the preferences and values which. the excluded alternatives are no longer visible. In this regard. Although there is. Urbinati 2006. This differs markedly from more consensus-oriented modes of institutionalized deliberation where. Because the consensus leaves no traces and collapses the contestatory epistemic process into a single outcome. political decisions in more direct forms of democracy appear as singular. By keeping these arguments and interests on stage. Here. p. provides politics with a memory as well as an orientation to the future. however. importantly. this moment of power is to be checked by reason. the opposition plays a crucial role in maintaining the dynamics of the democratic process as an ongoing search for a better. it remains at the same time possible to use them in the design of policy alternatives. The role of the plenary session is different and much more theatrical. no trace is left of the routes that have not been chosen by the policy-makers. the discussions are themselves couched in a common history. political parties and civil society organizations usually also carry with them a past and are able to refer to the reasons lying behind past decisions or point out how certain current issues are the result of concerns neglected in the past. even today when the public debate seems so ﬂeeting. oppositional parties and organizations function as epistemic reservoirs in a twofold sense. If. They represent and keep alive the memory of interests and values which have been excluded by majority decisions. Since all participants are supposed to endorse the consensus reached. consensus-based approaches typically lack this kind of temporal continuity. not simply in terms of who has decided what. 112–3. 115. Representative politics. the epistemic partiality and thus the volitional moment of power contained in the outcome are obscured. the narrative structure of representative politics provides temporal continuity to the public debate and allows to maintain the debate as an ongoing epistemic process. Ankersmit 2002.37
Goodin 2005. it should be made visible. p. but also in terms of the epistemic location of the decision made. By opposing the majority in the hope of a possible future access to power. different parties expose to the larger public their perspective on a certain issue and thus ‘take stock’ of the epistemic location of the decision made by the majority. In this regard. it is not surprising that empirical analysis reveals that plenary sessions in parliament have a limited ‘discursive’ quality in the sense that no real transformative discussion takes place.
. to disclose the more speciﬁc nature of the partialities inherent in the decisions made. thus. a-historical and disconnected moments.
Here again. discourse theory could and should refer to the traditional checks and balances familiar from contemporary constitutional arrangements as appropriate means for checking power. p. Second.
. actual political power should be maximally checked by the discursive power generated by the public debate. has a great incentive to challenge majority decisions it believes will not enjoy the approval of the wider public. representative politics can play a crucial. In a consensus-oriented approach to the institutionalization of deliberation. At this point. 172. In a representative system. the outcome of the deliberative procedure is supposed to be a jointly reached outcome. thus. Ibid. visibility is not enough. these tasks are clearly allocated. twofold role. therefore. in order to check political power it is necessary that it is exercised in a visible manner and that it is clear who has decided what. representation should be understood (ex post) in terms of the assessment of past policies made by voters at the time of election. At the same time. also always accountable. the electoral mechanism and the to-and-fro communication between representatives and citizens proves crucial in guaranteeing this responsiveness. First of all. In this context. partial and exclusionary power is being exercised. it should also emphasize that. More sophisticated accounts now talk about ‘anticipatory
Habermas 2008. On the accountability account. electoral representation should be understood (ex ante) in terms of the mandate given to parties by voters on the basis of the promises regarding future policies they make during election campaigns. many authors now agree that two traditional accounts of representation are inadequate.’38 Here. Eva Erman (forthcoming) discusses the requirement of ‘political bindingness’ as a necessary condition of democracy. Additionally. This implies. On the promissory account. that the perennial political challenge of checking power is reintroduced in the deliberative framework. In doing so. in turn. however. The minority. the fact that an ideal consensus remains necessarily counterfactual implies that all actual decisions contain a genuine volitional moment in which real. currently deprived of direct power. as already intimated. in contrast. in order to preserve the deliberative quality of the democratic process.STAGING DELIBERATION
B.39 In this context. POWER: WHODUNIT? As argued. the majority in power should have real incentives to remain susceptible to the inﬂuence of reasons generated in the informal public sphere and. the minority is able to localize the exercise of non-discursive power and to bring to light all the partial inﬂuences (by interest-groups or civil society organizations) which have contributed to the biased results. The majority gets to make the decisions but is. remain within ‘the parameters for the spectrum of possible politics which could be considered legitimate. nobody or no group of persons is singled out as accountable for the result and nobody or no group has much incentive to systematically question the outcome in terms of the bias and partiality it might embody.
If outvoted groups manage to generate enough convincing reasons to support their position. they have a big incentive to conduct their policies in a way that is receptive to the ongoing inﬂuence of the informal public debate. Here again. there will always be members of society who feel excluded and wronged by particular political decisions.
. amongst other things. or at least mitigated. for a constant interplay between elected representatives on the one hand and the opinions of the represented voters on the other. the disaffection of outvoted minorities is overcome. This means. people who fail to agree with the outcomes of supposedly consensual decision-making processes can turn against the decision-making system as a whole. that their defeat is not necessarily ﬁnal. The struggle is open-ended and issues can reappear on the political agenda. Losers are not removed from the stage. lose political legitimacy. resulting from a process of transformation of preferences which can never be completed. pp. In the absence of an ongoing oppositional presence with which to identify. SOLIDARITY: STILL PART OF THE BAND As argued. By promoting the fear of a future loss of power or the hope of a future gain of power. or their point of view. representative institutions play a crucial role in overcoming their disaffection and sustaining their ongoing commitment to the democratic project. if not necessarily with all particular decisions taken. The temporal continuity of the political struggle and the ongoing visible presence of outvoted positions on stage provide all citizens with reasons to identify with the democratic process as a whole.36
representation’40 or ‘representation as receptivity’41 and recognize the need. In representative politics. Kuper 2004. 90–6. there is no reason why their fate could not be reversed in the future. Given the ineliminable partiality of every actual outcome. the electoral mechanism enables the connection between political power and public reason. Indeed. In this regard it has been plausibly argued that the blurring of the left-right distinction by so-called third way politics has been a major contributor to the success of right-wing populist parties which present themselves as
Mansbridge 2003. their defeat does not imply that they. ﬁnds its correlate in a similar motivational gap. C. by the actions of oppositional parties and movements which guarantee the ongoing presence on the political stage of the outvoted point of view. emphasized earlier. because representatives want to be reelected and parties want to win future elections. they remain legitimate members of the political community and legitimate contributors to the democratic process. Even if some groups in society have lost the political struggle. the epistemic gap between actual and ideal decisions.
On the one hand. p. When people no longer know what is it stake. In terms of motivation and the ongoing solidarity amongst members of a democratic polity. 64–76. Føllesdal and Hix 2006. enables us to transform conﬂicts de facto into conﬂicts de iure. or of institutions which can be shown to have similar effects. thus. 6. I assume that an adequate institutionalization of deliberative democracy will have to combine elements of the forum.44 This means that representative institutions provide society with a visible image of itself and allow the groups and individuals in that society to ﬁnd means of visibly relating to each other. 549. Neunreither 1998. On the other hand. who is deciding what.
. Mair 2007. pp. 44 Lefort 1988. representation also avoids the disintegration of society into a mere collection of individuals with potentially conﬂicting values and interests. is simply presented to the public as the policy proposal the participating citizens believe to be the best solution to the problem at hand and subsequently made the
Mouffe 2005. 16–20. such as in a citizen’s jury. 439. the staging of values and interests. V. I believe that the argument presented here should make us more critical of one-sided approaches which assume that deliberative democracy should minimize the role of representative institutions. avoids the suppression of the ineliminable motivational gap between the individual preferences of citizens and the general will as temporarily interpreted by the current majority. pp. representative institutions manage to avoid two pernicious situations.STAGING DELIBERATION
anti-establishment or even anti-system parties. the representation of opposing points of view on the political stage avoids the need to conceive of the community as a harmonious unity and. it has been argued that the Euro-skeptic attitudes amongst large sections of the European citizenry are caused by the fact that the only way to contest the allegedly consensualistic outcomes of European decision-making is to turn against the European Union as such. Representation thus provides visible structure and orientation to the unity-in-diversity which characterizes democratic society as an ongoing political project. Nevertheless. if the outcome of a forum discussion.42 Similarly. p. p. For instance. DEMOCRATIC DEFICITS As indicated at the beginning of the article. As convincingly argued by Claude Lefort. the stage and the network in order to realize the promise of a more radical and inclusive democracy. there is a serious risk of political disaffection.43 Both phenomena suggest that consensualistic approaches to politics are dangerous because they undermine the visibility of the democratic process. In the absence of such institutions. what the alternative options are or who is giving voice to their own point of view. the risk of a premature closure of deliberation threatens the overall quality of the democratic process.
was provided by three one-hour television programs broadcast by Channel 4. it should not surprise us that other citizens. amorphous singular moments. such as the politicians questioned during some plenary sessions by the lay participants or the well known reporter leading the plenary debates. to blame the failure of this attempt to cover the proceedings of a deliberative forum simply on the media. Large-scale as opposed to micro-deliberation requires that the debate is visibly structured in space and time. To them. also failed to convince the larger audience of the quality of the conclusions to which the participants had come. media coverage of the event.38
topic of a nation-wide referendum. as a-historical. no easy solutions for improving the visibility of deliberative fora. took up most of the broadcasting time at the expense of the contributions of lay participants or invited experts. attempts to increase visibility by providing extensive media coverage are deeply problematic. As nicely illustrated by John Parkinson’s case study of a deliberative poll on the future of the British National Health Service held at the Manchester Metropolitan University in July 1998.45 In this case. are not always unconditionally enthusiastic about what is being proposed. thus.
. Unlike the participating citizens. however. especially for the larger audience. It would be misguided. moreover. the very logic that is needed to sustain an ongoing public debate in large-scale democratic societies. they have not been able to go through a transformative learning process and are. They have no clue of the different arguments raised. left in the dark as to possible partialities and exclusions the ﬁnal outcome might still contain. There are. based for instance on a comparison of the relative talk time of participants. As a result. A comparison of the actual event with the televised version of it. clearly demonstrates that the televised version followed the dramaturgical logic of media coverage. Signiﬁcant personalities. This means that communication to and with a large scale audience can only proceed through a limited and identiﬁable set of signiﬁcant personalities or actors who take on the tasks of organizing. This means that the television program focused on individuals making points and on moments of conﬂict rather than on processes of discussion or on instances of agreement. Consensus-oriented processes of this kind tend to collapse the political debate both in the temporal and the spatial dimension and make political decisions appear. in which lay participants spent at least twenty hours together over a span of three days. they do not know over and against which alternatives and for which reasons the ﬁnal proposal has been chosen. therefore. the forum remains to a large extent a black box process of which they can only see the outcome. developing
Parkinson 2005. The dramaturgical logic of the media is probably the only logic capable of grasping the attention of a large audience as an audience and. failed to convey the learning experience of actual participants to a larger audience and. the television coverage of the poll failed to capture most of the actual deliberating. therefore. who were left out of the discussion.
for instance. it is hard to identify actors who can take responsibility for the outcomes of decision-making processes that go on in these networks. the Open Method of Co-ordination and the more general comitological nature of European decision-making. support or. 326–33. 49 Ibid. 180–98. 558. The fact that network participants usually escape the threat of electoral sanction by citizens. the authors praise. Charles Sabel and Oliver Gerstenberg. Ankersmit 2002. The problem of limited visibility is not restricted to deliberative fora but similarly arises for deliberative networks. pp. of making decisions in localizable and accountable ways and of keeping outvoted points of views present as future possibilities. Hajer 2009. 52 Cohen and Sabel 2004. pp. in turn. Papadopoulos 2007. governance networks are characterized by a ‘dilution of responsibility’47 or an ‘imputability of actions’.
. p. 473. 550. Gerstenberg and Sabel 2002. Gerstenberg and Sabel 2002.50 As Offe.53 In this regard.. if necessary. for instance.54 On their account. endure the policy decisions imposed upon them. p. Joshua Cohen. 176. 50 Papadopoulos 2007. pp. pp.48 Because networks are decentralized and consensus-oriented and because they lack the dynamic interplay between majorities and minorities. 558–9. p. p. p. thus undermines the ability of citizens to ensure the adequate responsiveness of these actors to their own interests and raises the probability that policy outcomes are unduly and imperceptibly inﬂuenced by partial socio-economic or other interests. 48 Offe 2009. by Yannis Papadopoulos and Claus Offe. this uncoupling works both ways and implies that citizens facing the workings of these opaque governance processes increasingly fail to understand.46 As argued. argue that the EU is best understood as a directly-deliberative polyarchy in the making. 53 Cohen and Sabel 1997. such a polyarchical model allows for effective and democratic problem-solving because it empowers local agents to deal with the problems that affect them in a reﬂexive and other-regarding manner
Papadopoulos 2007.51 When applied to the debate concerning the European Union. the current rise of governance structures generally leads to an unhealthy uncoupling of backstage policy making (politique des problèmes) from the frontstage public debate (politique d’opinions).52 This means that European governance structures consist of a decentralized network with a fair amount of autonomy for more local decision-making units whereby processes of deliberation within and between these units enable mutual learning and adjustment. p. 475. 51 Offe 2009. 473. rightly emphasizes. for instance.49 According to Papadopoulos. 327–8. pp.STAGING DELIBERATION
and defending different points of view. these observations should make us wary of the claim made by some deliberative theorists that current European governance structures hold the promise of realizing the ideal of deliberative democracy beyond the nation-state. 54 Cohen and Sabel 2004. 166–9.
is that it dispenses with the need for a general public or ‘demos’ as the originating subject of democratic decision-making. that ‘problem solving politics’ in governance networks in reality tend to un-couple from the wider public debate. Although transparency is. 169–70.
. that they fail to explain how this connection could be established in view of the fact. p. . the public is simply an open group of actors . Dewey  1989. clearly lacks adequate coherence and visibility.57
The claim. who argues that there can be ‘too much public’ in the sense that a multitude of ﬂeeting publics focused on their own ﬂeeting problems fails to provide sufﬁcient integration to the democratic debate and. . In this context. instead. pp.. 59 Ibid. Sabel and Gerstenberg recognize that the democratic credentials of the EU are not fully established and that the realization of its full democratic potential depends on whether its dispersed deliberative decision-making processes can be subjected to ‘the full blast of diverse opinions and interests in society’. p. 164–5. 137. pp. . however. pp.55 One of the major advantages of this new form of network democracy. thus. 327–8. they argue. Cohen and Sabel 2004. p.. 35.58 seems highly problematic in view of the general rise of Euro-skeptic attitudes amongst European citizens and the wide-spread sense of a European democratic deﬁcit. that the practical solidarity generated by the mutual capacitation of citizens temporarily cooperating in solving speciﬁc problems sufﬁces to sustain the legitimacy of the European governance system. and politics is about addressing practical problems and not simply about principles.. is neither unitary nor personiﬁed. Of course. 60 Ibid. they believe. pp. 333–4. several conditions have to be met such as the transparency of deliberations.60 The problem is. 33–4. illustrated by Papadopoulos. a necessary condition for connecting European politics with the public debate. .61 A true connection of politics with a larger audience requires.59 In order to achieve this democratization. . A political system which consists of a decentered network of local sites of deliberation connected to ad hoc publics dealing with speciﬁc problems as they arise. however. The polity is the public formed of these publics. to democratic society. Gerstenberg and Sabel 2002. 169. In this world. 62 Magnette 2006. indeed. . 58 Ibid. . pp. 61 Magnette 2006.56
[S]overeignty . Paul Magnette aptly quotes John Dewey. and reconstitutes itself as efforts at problem-solving redeﬁne the task at hand. p. a ‘dramatization of politics’ through the ‘performance of personalized political actors’.40
while stimulating mutual conﬁdence and solidarity. Gerstenberg and Sabel 2002. 165.62
55 56 57
Cohen and Sabel 1997. much less performance or identity. fair participation and the connection of deliberative decisions with wider public discussion. Cohen. which constitutes itself as such in coming to address a common problem. it is not a sufﬁcient condition.
439. 549. Mair 2007. I have argued. next. again. thus. 437. that representative
Neunreither 1998. 67 Hix 2008. p. Indeed.
. 66 Føllesdal and Hix 2006. p. engenders many of the problems we have associated with the gap between actual and ideal deliberation and. p. 10. p. 548. which can deal with the remainder of non-discursive power generated by these partialities. CONCLUSION This article has focused on the fallibility of actual discourse and the concomitant gap between actual and ideal deliberation. 6. it is precisely the inability of citizens to sanction actual policies and to support an oppositional point of view within the European political system which strengthens the tendency of citizens to become Euro-skeptic and which turns policy-orientated opposition into systemic opposition. Smismans 2008. therefore. p. these remarks do not aim to discredit the democratic possibilities of deliberative networks as such. p.66 Although.63 Because the network structure leads to a structure of ‘shared irresponsibilities’ in which all political actors are able to distance themselves from the outcomes and blame undesired effects on others. 548. Føllesdal and Hix 2006. It implies that in order to ensure the macro-deliberative quality of the democratic system we have to provide mechanisms which can reveal the partialities and exclusions involved in these actual outcomes. Neunreither 1998. many authors have argued that the absence of the drama of oppositional politics in the EU. with a real struggle for power positions between identiﬁable political actors. 440. In the case of the European Union it seems. and which can help to guarantee the ongoing political commitment of citizens who feel. Because of the absence of oppositional politics.67 VI.64 citizens are dispossessed of the means to sanction political actors who have failed to act in sufﬁciently responsive manners. Føllesdal and Hix 2006. explains the true origin of the perceived democratic deﬁcit.STAGING DELIBERATION
Indeed. I have argued that this gap poses a threefold challenge for the institutionalization of deliberative democracy. they do aim to illustrate that network deliberation in itself is insufﬁcient to guarantee the macrodeliberative quality of the democratic process. p.65 Finally. wronged by the decisions taken. European citizens are simply presented with the outcome of network deliberations as ‘the ofﬁcial version of the truth’ but never with possible policy alternatives which have lost out or which could provide future alternatives. as already suggested. checking whether network deliberation actually serves the public interest rather than the particular interests of those with better access to the deliberative sites is very hard and several authors have expressed serious doubts about the often optimistically assumed inclusiveness of European decision-making. p. advisable to try and ﬁnd ways of strengthening the oppositional dynamics in its institutional architecture. Neunreither 1998. 65 Bellamy 2010. possibly rightly so.
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