🦋 For a more critical study of democracy

The ‘Science of Democracy’ in an increasingly authoritarian world

Jean-Paul Gagnon recently argued that the meanings of democracy can and should be studied more methodologically. There is a lot of value in Gagnon’s approach. His database of published meanings of democracy introduces to the academic and public debate several thousand original and broadly unknown meanings of democracy.

On the side of the winners

As the saying goes, history is written from the perspective of the winners. We could say the same about democracy. Its written meanings, historically, have been constructed and written by those who are considerably privileged. True, thanks to the development of printing and digital technologies, the published word is accessible to many. But that does not mean it no longer relies on privilege. The ability to publish involves issues of power.

What’s missing

Some might argue that not all meanings of democracy are worth the effort. Could it be that the acted or unconceptualised meanings will not provide us with much relevant information anyway? I think there is a value in many other meanings of democracy, beyond those published. However, my main concern is about issues of power. Something that is potentially replicating uncritically the power dynamics and patterns of privilege is an imperfect tool in an increasingly authoritarian world.

The need to be more self-reflective

The remedy to this problem does not lie in the method. The database could, as Hans Asenbaum and Friedel Marquardt argue, incorporate other meanings: for example spoken meanings as well as meanings produced by those marginalised by democratic theorising. However, a method incorporating a broader range of democratic meanings does not necessarily expose the power and influence most dominant notions of democracy wield.



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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”