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The Discourse on Democracy: Descriptive Words or Action Words

Open Panel

Abstract

The triumph of democracy marked by the end of the Cold War established it as a hegemonic norm in international politics. Today, a powerful democracy discourse exists, created, maintained and promoted by a community of like-minded, Western liberal states (Hobson, 2008; Sen, 1999; Clark, 2005). This narrative both defines contemporary democracy – by outlining its norms – as well as endorses the universality of democracy as a “world value” (Faul, 2004; Sen, 1999). One such norm featured prominently in existing democracy discourse is ‘democracy as an emancipatory process’ – for both states and individuals. This particular norm narrative asserts that states are emancipated in the process of changing from restrictive authoritarian regimes to liberated democracies. Individuals are liberated as they gain increased political and personal rights under democratic rule. While the democracy’s emancipatory effects is often promoted in democracy discourse, these effects are often not realised in reality under current democratisation policies and practices. Thus this research paper asserts that a gap exists in the production and subsequent transfer of democracy norms to policy and finally to practice. This analytical cycle is based on Foucault’s notion of production of knowledge (Foucault in Gordon, 1980). This paper focuses on American democratisation discourse pertaining to Iraq and in particular the ‘democracy as an emancipatory process’ norm. It analyses the presence of this norm in American democratisation discourse and traces its limited representation in American policies and programmes implemented in Iraq. This paper highlights how American democratisation policies and their outcomes do not match the emancipatory discourse readily cited. This disconnect knowledge, policy, practice cycle of American democracy norms calls into question the role of democracy norms and discourses if not to shape policy and practice. In addition this paper questions how these norms and the larger democracy discourse work to conceal global structures of domination and hierarchy.