🦋 Making sense of democracy — not without the demos!

Relishing democratic diversity

Democracy is popular. It is popular in two ways. First, democracy constitutes the people’s rule — the rule of the Latin populus or the Greek demos. Second, it is the favoured mode of governance by most people around the world.

Positivist research for normative theory

The daring database project uses natural science techniques to generate political theory. While I am a firm believer in the natural sciences and appreciate positivist research, I worry that a positivist approach may stand in the way of the emancipatory impetus of the project.

The mirage of a ‘total texture’ of democracy

The problem is not positivism. A positivist ontology is well suited to making sense of the universe, what keeps our bodies working, what may prevent a pandemic. But what can positivism contribute to normative political theory? There is nothing objective about normative theory. Gagnon argues that the model wars between different schools of democracy — deliberative, participatory, agonistic, etc — should make way for a singular theory for democracy that could explain its total texture. But does a total texture of democracy exist?

The demos as democratic theorist

While my critique may be loud, it certainly has good intentions. The emancipatory potential of Gagnon’s database is immense. But mere description threatens to objectify and naturalise normative concepts. Worse even, it tends to commodify a data mountain… that we can… openly call our own, one that we can offer to the public, to governments, to businesses’.

Step back, and reflect

In theorising democracy, we researchers need to take a step back and reflect on our own privilege. Democratic theorising needs to be driven by humility, respect, and genuine curiosity. Our role is not primarily to lecture, but to learn. Our task is to question more than it is to answer.



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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”