🦋 Who determines the practical meanings of democracy?

Defending the definitions

The definitions of democracy capture a manifestation of it within a particular context and community. The many thousands of definitions already captured show just how widespread the concept of democracy is, and how diversely it can manifest itself. This provokes us to look beyond the contexts and countries we have assumed to be typically democratic, such as Western liberal states, and to consider other, not so obvious contexts which may be associated with democracy.

Diversity of democracies

However, just because a definition contains ‘democracy’, does not necessarily mean it is a copy-and-paste version of another democracy. Can one definition be applied to another space and format, yet manifest itself just as effectively? This is where nuance comes into play. Here, we should consider other factors, such as the people involved, values, infrastructure, norms and the like.

Discussing the meanings

Yet, to truly appreciate the multiple meanings of democracy, we must define their parameters. We cannot make judgements based on what we think a meaning is if we do not know its bounds. This is difficult when we only have definitions to work with. How can we truly know the meaning and parameters of a democracy if we only capture their names? And do the names themselves do justice to that particular practice of democracy?

Diving deeper

Capturing the many meanings of democracy is a valuable undertaking and a notable start. But if we choose to remain at definitions, we cut ourselves short. We rob ourselves of a deeper understanding of what democracy is, and hinder the empowering potential of this pursuit.



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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”