🦋 I classify, therefore I know?

Knowing butterflies, knowing democracy

The first assumption is the conflation of two different forms of ‘knowledge’. Democracy and butterflies are two very different objects of analysis. I have concerns about the possibilities of ‘knowing’ the former with the same methods used for ‘knowing’ the latter.

Democratic theorising and arbitrariness

Such an endeavour is inevitably partial, contested, contestable. But does this make it ‘arbitrary’? Gagnon claims that it does, and here lies the second problematic assumption in his project. He argues that arbitrariness will affect democratic theory until we have a full picture of democracy’s types. Therefore, he suggests that we systematise the ways of practicing and defining democracy.

Transforming arbitrariness?

But if the lack of a database of democracy makes such inquiries arbitrary, how does this database’s existence make them non-arbitrary? How does the magic work? How would the availability of a database methodologically transform the job of constructing democracy (either theoretically or practically)?

Are ‘democracy’s words’ always democratic?

My third doubt concerns the foundations of Gagnon’s proposal. The project is based on the ways the word ‘democracy’ has been used in different times and places. This focus on words is suspicious; it judges the book by its cover. If we do not check credentials, many practices and ideas that share little with democracy will infiltrate the database. This criterion seems much more arbitrary than the practice of theorising democracy based on ‘partial’ assumptions and categories.



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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”