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When is Deliberation Democratic?

The 14-page article, When is Deliberation Democratic?, was written by David Moscrop and Mark Warren, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 12: Iss. 2. In the article, the authors theorize on how deliberative democracy operates in relation to equality and equity. They lift up two features that are of particular importance to pre-deliberative democracy: popular participation and agenda-setting, that must be paid attention to by theorist and practitioners. Deliberative democratic processes shape and are shaped by these two features, popular participation- how people show up and express their voice, and agenda-setting- how concerns are shaped into issues. The authors offer suggestions on responding to the challenges of equality and equity to democratic deliberation.

Read an excerpt of the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the article…

“Deliberative democracy” is a compound term. In both theory and practice, it connects deliberative influence through reason-giving, reciprocity, and publicity to a family of political systems that broadly enable popular control of the state and government through empowerments such as voting, petitioning, and contesting, as well as the electoral and judicial systems that enable them. These empowerments are democratic when they are distributed to, and usable by, those affected by collective decisions in ways that are both equal and equitable.

While deliberative influence is best protected and incentivized by democratic political systems, not all deliberation is democratic, and not all approaches to democracy are deliberative. We should distinguish and relate these terms: we need to differentiate the practice of deliberation from the contexts of democratic enablements and empowerments in which it occurs. We can then focus on the pre-deliberative conditions that will enable or limit the extent to which deliberation is democratic. Two pre-deliberative democratic features stand out as particularly important in this context: popular participation—how individuals come to have standing and voice as participants, and agenda setting—how concerns come to be defined as issues. We further argue that since deliberation typically occurs downstream from agenda-setting, and since popular participation both shapes and is shaped by this practice, theorists and practitioners of deliberative democracy should pay close attention to each feature well before deliberation begins.

To make this case, we first theorize the democratic dimensions of deliberative democracy through the concepts of equity and equality. Second, we focus on agenda-setting and popular participation as important, though not exclusive, pre-deliberative determinants of equality and equity during deliberation. Finally, we offer suggestions about how theorists and practitioners of deliberative democracy might think about responding to the challenges generated by the tension between equality and equity prior to democratic deliberation.

Equality, Equity, and Deliberative Democracy
Deliberation can be separated from democracy conceptually and practically. There can be deliberation that is not democratic and democratic practices that are not deliberative. For instance, Rawls (2001) considered the United States Supreme Court to be a pre-eminent deliberative body. But the Supreme Court has an agenda that is limited by judicial process and—though an important part of a democratic system—is remote from democratic control. There are also democratic practices that are not deliberative. These include practices such as aggregate voting and purely strategic uses of words and images in political campaigns.

At a high level of abstraction, we can conceive of the “democratic” part of deliberative democracy as comprised of equality in opportunities for participation, and equity in processes and outcomes. Within the context of democratic theory, equality almost always refers constitutionally to rights and empowerments that attach to citizenship—equal rights to vote, equal protections for speech and association, equal standing before the law, and equal supports for social precursors of participation, such as education. These equal rights and empowerments are justified by moral equality; each person is morally worthy and possessed of equal moral dignity, and assumed to be capable of self-government (Dahl, 1999). In a democracy, these rights, empowerments, and moral assumptions attach to each individual equally, simply by virtue of their citizenship. They do so regardless of actual social and economic inequalities, or inequalities of capacity. They belong to individuals whether or not they are able to make use of them. Finally, these kinds of rights and empowerments are relative to the political units through which they are organized; their effectiveness is conditioned by the control governments exercise over an issue, and by the ways political systems enable citizens to participate in the kinds of control a government might exercise, including (for example) electoral system design.

Equity is a different matter. While equality operates through distributions of rights and empowerments that attach to citizenship, equity requires that each person is given his or her due according to circumstance. Equity considerations draw attention to the highly variable ways in which individuals are situated within social relationships, and to the duties and obligations that individuals have to one another as co-dependents within collectivities. That is, equity reflects considerations of social justice (Pettit, 2012; Rawls, 2001). Thus, while equality may be said to operate on a simple principle—equal provision of formal empowerments and protections—equity is more demanding and less amenable to formalization, as it requires attentiveness to the circumstances of each individual. Ideally, equality enables equity: equal distribution of empowerments such as votes, rights, and opportunities for voice should enable citizens to press for equity, to place equity claims on the agenda, and to deliberate about what equity requires in the many different kinds of locations that comprise collectivities of interdependent equals. Equality, properly understood, ought to move a society toward equity: when equal empowerments underwrite voice, then deliberative mechanisms should enable finer-grained attentiveness to historical injustices, persistent prejudices, and highly variable starting places in life. But because these kinds of circumstances affect the ways in which citizens are able to use their equalities, questions of equity may also be pre-deliberative; precisely those who are relatively disadvantaged may need additional support, organization, or representation in order to have their voices included in deliberative processes.

Who Gets to Deliberate and about What?
When we convert these ideals into more substantive questions of deliberative democracy, two questions stand out: How are issues placed on deliberative agendas? And who gets to deliberate?

Download the full article from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public Deliberation
Journal of Public DeliberationSpearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol12/iss2/art4/

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