Disabling Democracy: How Disability Reconfigures Deliberative Democratic Norms

34 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 25 Aug 2009

Date Written: 2009


Deliberative democrats often encounter the tension between inclusion and intelligibility. To fulfill conditions of justice, deliberation requires full inclusion, but the need for intelligible communication excludes members from participating, particularly due to age or disability. In this scenario, inclusion is sacrificed for intelligibility. This paper argues that no sacrifice is necessary. Instead, by analyzing the experiences of people with disabilities, it shows how speechless populations offer an alternative account of embodied participation wherein deliberative democracy is expanded from a verbal exchange to a bodily process. Embodied participation suggests that deliberants are bound not by norms of communicative reciprocity, but are rather enmeshed in reciprocal dependence that binds members of communities together. Habermas offers an ideal site to pursue this analysis because he recognizes the theoretical tension between inclusion and intelligibility and because his personal testimony reveals important insight into the lived experience of disability.

Keywords: Habermas, deliberative democracy, disability, publicity, reciprocity

Suggested Citation

Clifford Simplican, Stacy, Disabling Democracy: How Disability Reconfigures Deliberative Democratic Norms (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1451092

Stacy Clifford Simplican (Contact Author)

Michigan State University ( email )

Agriculture Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824-1122
United States

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