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From Mini-Publics to a Systemic Democratization of Democracy?

Democracy
Normative Theory
Political Regime
Yves Sintomer
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Yves Sintomer
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
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Abstract

Mini-publics are representative samples (or at least fair cross sections) of the people. More than self-government, they usually implied a counterfactual logic when they were created: “what the public would think, had it a better opportunity to consider the questions at issue.” However, two waves of experiments should be differentiated. The first one has been composed by deliberative pools, citizen juries, and consensus conferences. These experiments have been mostly top-down, and only consultative. They have complemented representative democracy with deliberative democracy, and the later have been differentiated from, or opposed to, radical democracy and social movements. These devices have been sort of what Europeans call “protected designations of origin (PDO)”: carefully designed, closely monitored and often patented by their inventors. The second wave of experiments have been much more inventive. From citizen assemblies in Canada, Iceland or Ireland to Oregon citizens’ initiative, from the Students’ Association of Lausanne University to the Left-wing party Morena in Mexico, from the use of sortition by social movements such as the Syntagma place in Greece, 15.M in Spain or Nuit Debout in France, to the institutionalization of deliberative pools in Mongolia, the devices have been hybridized and inventive, offering spaces for creative imagination to both practitioners and theoreticians. Most of them have been directly linked to some real decision making. They have been coupled to representative government, but also to direct democracy through referendums at large, and to the grassroots democracy of the Occupy movements. Therefore, they have often articulated deliberative democracy with radical democracy. Could this new wave of experiments be the avant-garde of a democratization of democracy and the birth of a systemic deliberative democracy? The paper will claim that the respond to this question is more nuanced: when one has a precise and coherent definition of deliberative democracy and when one seriously takes into account the power relations that characterize contemporary governance, the path from the present situation to a systemic deliberative democracy seems long and difficult. A “real democratic utopia” could not be reduced to deliberative mini-publics.