New democratic movements (I). Transformations of democracy. Deliberative democracy, participatory democracy, digital democracy

Notes from the Workshop on New democratic movements, civic culture and the transformations of democracy, organized by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, Spain, on June 18th and 19th, 2015. More notes on this event: new_democratic_movements.

Transformations of democracy. Deliberative democracy, participatory democracy, digital democracy
Introduced by Jane Mansbridge

Trust in government has worsened in most places, plummeting towards illegitimacy.

We need more and more of public goods, goods that are freely available for everyone once they are created: roads, a stable climate, etc. And we create them by coercion, legitimate coercion through which we force ourselves to create such public goods. And this only happens through deliberation.

And to be more deliberative you have to be more reflective. But there has not been a requirement for more deliberation.

Habermasian standards for good deliberation should be, if not challenged, at least revised.

Respect and absence of power, for instance, are very likely still unchallenged nowadays. But reasons might be. Deliberation, yes, is about reason, leaving aside emotional considerations. But this does not mean that there are no emotional reasons behind some issues.

Aim at consensus, on the other hand, may still apply. But it has usually left aside the conflicts between different interests. And clarifying interests when interests conflict may help in subsequent searches for consensus.

Equal power in the group and consensus in the group are two issues that we have been looking forward as ideals in any deliberation process. Equality, openness and consensus as main pieces to do better democracy together. But these ideals are more contextual that we often think of. Equal power, for instance, is a highly contextual and, more important even, contingent principle. Circumstances change and we have to take that into account.


Mayo Fuster: trust has left institutions and has found networks as a way to channel it. So, the decrease of trust in institutions has been corresponded by higher trust in P2P and decentralized ways of decision-making.

Mariona Ferrer: Deliberation was also about understanding the complexity of the issues at stake, and being empowered to understand them and to face them.

Jane Mansbridge: it depends on the purpose, deliberation may deliver better or not. If the purpose, the mission, is to understand, then deliberation and consensus are just great. If the goal of deliberation is to make a decision, things may be a little bit more complex.

David Karpf: participating in social movements is partly about one’s own transformation: by participating, one transforms onesef. Besides, there’s the goal of social transformation. And sometimes there is a trade-off between the personal and the social transformation.

Adolfo Estalella: local assemblies usually had their own personal, local, micro goals, very specific, and very explicit on the other hand. E.g. stopping evictions, helping migrants to integrate, etc. But most assemblies had not specific goals headed towards specific decisions, but the goal was to be itself, to be a “political topos”, to establish a political space.

Ismael Peña-López: if the goals were making decisions, yes, the goals may not have been very clear in past social movements. But if the goal was to draw a comperehensive diagnosis of the problems felt by the citizens, the goals were clear and the movements succeeded not only in the diagnosis, but in putting those problems in the pubic agenda. The problem is that governments did not answer accordingly, they did not take the gauntlet, and threw it back to the movements asking for “concrete proposals”, which the movements did not succeed at making.

Q: Why are we so much thrilled now about consensus when, in the past, we had enough with some deliberative majoritarian processes.

José Luís Martí: we should not take consensus as unanimity. Consensus is about the process, and it can lead indeed to voting, and to the rule of the majority. But the process of how things are discussed, the concurrence of actors, the comparison of different options, that is the nature of deliberation and consensus.

Jane Mansbridge: the has been a raise in the feeling of autonomy. This raise in the feeling, the need for autonomy is a powerful driver towards consensus and partly against unanimity, or the majority rule.

Marianne Maeckelbergh: a good reason for consensus beating majoritarian processes is that they take into consideration the voice of the minorities. And even if the result may not be the minority’s will, it is taken into account. With simple majoritarian voting, this is not so.

Jane Mansbridge: Many people see these movements and practices as prefigurative, as a “model for tomorrow”. But this is a mistake: this is an actual practice, a today’s practice, rooted in the nature of our times.

Ismael Peña-López: two more answers on why now we care about consensus and not the traditional majoritarian processes. First, because as the motto We are the 99% says, the problem is that most governments are not seen as representing the majority. Second, because “now we can”. Meaning: the costs of participating in democracy have lowered down dramatically due to technology. So, maybe, majoritarian processes were just good for the context given, they were optimal for the resources (time, money) given for participation. But now the citizen can be an active actor in democracy, at ridiculous costs. And the citizen is claiming that, now that they can participate, they want to.


New democratic movements (2015)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2015) “New democratic movements (I). Transformations of democracy. Deliberative democracy, participatory democracy, digital democracy” In ICTlogy, #141, June 2015. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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