🦋 Why the concept of democracy, and data collection, matter

Gagnon’s challenge

Jean-Paul Gagnon’s original blog on The Loop, about collecting data on democracy, is a provocative work. Pointing out the partiality of previous democratic theories, he observes that the conventional understanding of democracy, no matter how comprehensive and universal it may seem, is based ultimately on ‘modern, Europeanesque political iterations’ and has ‘narrow Western-imperialist’ tendencies.

Its significance

The merit of Gagnon’s argument is easy to recognise. A broad, truly unbiased collection of democracy data can help us see how narrow was our previous understanding of democracy. In fact, some recent works seem to support Gagnon’s argument. John Keane’s The Life and Death of Democracy alters our idea of ancient Greece as the birthplace of democracy. In his book, the author looks at examples of democracy from the ancient world outside the West.

Still the concept of democracy matters

Nonetheless, I would like to insist that we still need the concept of democracy. A concept is the lens through which we see phenomena. In order to see a creature as a ‘butterfly’ — the metaphor Gagnon uses — we need the concept of a butterfly. Otherwise, we would not be able to find a ‘butterfly’ in the world, no matter how much we searched.

Democracy in the private sphere

As for democracy in unlikely places, I have advocated democracy in the private sphere, including in the family. Democracy in the private sphere can include what its members see as ‘democracy’. Therefore, identifying it may require a great deal of data collection through fieldwork in various private spaces and relationships.

Polishing the fogged lenses

Despite the importance of the role of the concept of democracy, it is still important to collect data from as wide a range of sources as possible. The existing lenses through which we view democracy are often fogged, and may obscure what needs to be seen.



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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”