Book Club Week 6: De-centering Deliberative Democracy by Iris Marion Young
Hello everyone, my name is Monique Pierel. I live in southern New Hampshire. I work as a community and workplace mediator and an online group facilitator. I have participated as a volunteer in public forums. Participating in this book club is one means for me to be a cog in the wheel of great changes occurring in our nationwide public venues!
For this week’s NCDD book club discussion, I offer you a brief synopsis of the late Iris Marion Young’s chapter – De-centering Deliberative Democracy. I hope my overview of her writing will inspire you to add your thoughts and comments on this fascinating topic.
In this chapter, author Iris Marion Young looks beyond the common view of deliberative democracy as “citizen dialogue in face-to-face groups,” stating that limiting our concept of deliberative democracy in this way actually “blunts its theoretical insight and critical force.” Building on Jurgen Habermas’ work, Young argues that deliberative democracy should be conceived primarily as de-centered, involving “multiple forums and sites connected to one another over broad spans of space and time” (113).
Young recognizes that a broader and more de-centered view of deliberative democracy brings with it challenges in evaluating the quality of public discussion and decision making, and spends much of her chapter looking at criteria for evaluating de-centering processes. She proposes a new criterion she calls “linkage” — which would look for “evidence that various mediated sites and occasions for discussion across diverse social spaces and over an extended time are connected to one another” (122).
Young begins with a critique of Jurgen Habermas’ book Between Facts and Norms that speaks to democratic processes inclusive of the ‘de-centered’ approach that she regards as an important stepping stone to her theory. Her thoughts on this are best described in “The Critique of a Centered Concept of Deliberation” section found on page 114 – an important read that expresses pertinent foundational details to her approach.
One aspect that she pulls from Habermas’ book is the common method of political and civic leaders presenting alternative responses to social problems, which are discussed then legislatively processed and enforced. These public policy transitions take place within a ‘space and time’ spectrum offering ‘outcomes that can be questioned and improved’ (119).
Young leads readers to the four criteria she considers necessary for a good democratic process: political equality, reasonableness, publicity and inclusion (119). She cites Joan Scott’s French discussion of ‘parite’ (122) as an example on how her suggested theory might apply. Within the context of this example, she adds her fifth criterion, ‘linkage’ (120). A general explanation to this term is in part provided when she writes, “Thus in order to assess the quality of a de-centered deliberative process across mass democracy – whether and how sites and occasions that are part of the process appear to influence or refer to one another” (123).
I feel a bit frustrated with the broadness of her approach and the appearance of no specific solution to grasp hold of. Because collaboration is an important factor in the work that I do, I can understand Young’s theory on ‘linkage’ and the need for agencies to work together. Yet I feel stumped at the magnitude of the tasks necessary to put her theory into practice and would appreciate your comments on how we can work together on creating the type of ‘linkages’ she suggests.
Questions for Discussion…
- My brief chapter review highlights factors I found interesting in Young’s chapter. I am curious to know what factors you found most interesting during your read?
- Do you lean toward a ‘centered’ or ‘de-centered’ methodology?
- What are the implications of a ‘de-centered’ view of deliberative democracy for our field, and the way we talk about, practice, and promote deliberation?
- What do you think of the implementation of her theory for democratic improvements and changes?
- What methods of compiling public data could be provided in fulfilling her criteria termed as ‘linkages’?
- If Young was sitting before you, what questions would you ask of her? What clarifications would be helpful?
- How might her criteria be used in your community or work?