🦋 Democracy is an essentially contested concept

‘The only game in town’ is arbitrary and limited

Initiated by Jean-Paul Gagnon, this series addresses the long overdue question: What does democracy mean in a global context? The question has given rise to a highly exciting and relevant debate. Most authors taking part agree that democracy is indeed an essentially contested concept.

Opening Pandora’s Box

Today, democracy is facing numerous challenges. Many say it is our duty as democratic scholars to defend democracy in its present form, not to question it. They argue that our search for a more comprehensive concept of democracy opens up a Pandora’s Box. It thus also puts the core norms of democracy up for discussion, which risks undermining democracy, or hollowing out its value.

Three battlegrounds

There are many challenges to democracy, but we identify three main battle areas. Firstly, the prevailing understanding of democracy did not develop in a political vacuum. Power imbalances strongly affect what people consider relevant in our understanding of democracy. Knowledge production follows a Eurocentric hegemony; it spills over into the classical canon of democracy theory. Thus, it also influences the conceptualisation and operationalisation of democracy in empirical studies on the understanding of democracy, on support for democracy, and on the quality of democracy. As Fleuß argues, the inclusion of a postcolonial perspective in the question of what constitutes democracy is long overdue.

Miners and discoverers

We should embark on the adventure Gagnon proposes, and join him in the global search for a new core of democracy. To gain a globally applicable core concept of democracy (the fabric of democracy), we need two kinds of scholars: miners and discoverers, who collect the total texture of democracy and bring it into relation with each other.

Methodological pluralism, intra- and interdisciplinarity

How can we reach this? Certainly not as a one-man- or one-woman-show, as Petra Guasti also wrote here. And certainly also not with short-term publication outcomes. We need to collect sufficient data to gain knowledge about the total texture of democracy, and generate fabrics of democracy from this data. And this requires the cooperation of a wide range of disciplines and sub-disciplines with different methodological competencies. As Michael Saward pointed out, we need ‘a new, interdisciplinary way of thinking about democracy’. This also means tearing down constructed oppositions between qualitative and quantitative, as well as between theory and empiricism.



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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”