🦋 The archive and the demos

Democracy in pieces

‘The study of democracy is in a shambles,’ avers Jean-Paul Gagnon in a bracing post on The Loop. By his reckoning, the study of democracy writ large has been problematically reduced to the study of specific democratic projects and the theories which animate them.

Abandoning the demos

At the level of the state, structures of representative government, always deeply vexed, lie in ruins. Modern capitalist democracies were built on a dual commitment to upholding a public interest (the interest of the demos) and protecting private property (the interest of a class or bloc). Yet they have now resolved this grounding contradiction by abandoning the demos altogether. This is the situation we usually describe as neoliberal: the narrow dedication of the state to corporate elites, and particularly, of course, to the finance sector.

The empirical method

Gagnon’s method is unapologetically empiricist. The biologist sets out to catalogue all known butterfly species. Gagnon aspires to catalogue the genus and species of democracy.

In search of the demos

For where exactly is the demos? In Asenbaum’s post, the avatar of the demos would appear to be the activists and organisers themselves. But surely a demos is something that lives at a rather different scale: not just people, but a people or the people, a mass political agency.

Mining the data mountain

One recent experiment along these lines was Occupy Wall Street (OWS). ‘We are the 99%’ was surely an effort to array a mass political actor under the sign of the ‘non-elite,’ even if (at the same time) the movement’s insistence on radically participatory democratic practice meant that the demos was always only the people in the room when any particular assembly convened.



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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”