🦋 A night at the museum of democracy

‘Genetic’ understandings rather than just words

It is not clear what democracy scholars can learn from the collection of democracy’s words. A collection of butterflies can tell observers something about their evolution, transformation or resilience. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward or objective interpretation of a collection of words of democracy.

Democracy as a blended drink

By focusing on democracy with adjectives, such as deliberative democracy, Gagnon’s collection also collides with a problem-based approach to democracy. Such an approach posits that there is no democracy with adjectives. This is because the adjectives refer to practices potentially inherent to any democratic system. On this account, democracy does not come in the form of ‘models’ (with adjectives) but as ‘a blended drink [that] contains two or more different types of the same product’… for instance a blended whisky’.

A modern museum of democracy

So, in light of these challenges, what do we do with Gagnon’s impressive collection? My suggestion is to turn it into a new ‘exhibition’ in a modern museum of democracy. Such an exhibition would not need to make democratic objects come alive (as in A Night at the Museum) to familiarise visitors directly with various ways of ‘doing democracy’. Instead, it would apply a genetic perspective, by embedding words of democracy in current (and recurrent) narratives on democracy, such as the crisis or resilience narrative. It would also explore what they mean (and don’t mean) in contemporary times.


This blog piece is written in memory of my father, who worked for almost thirty years as a curator of the Bern Historical Museum (Switzerland). He campaigned vigorously for everyday objects, especially those of working-class people, to be displayed alongside the traditional collection of treasures



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The Science of Democracy

The Science of Democracy

Republished essays, in chronological order, from The Loop’s short essay series on the “science of democracy”