Deliberative Democracy in Transnational Governance: Problems of Legitimacy, Agency, and Representation

46 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2013 Last revised: 23 Apr 2014

See all articles by Johan Karlsson Schaffer

Johan Karlsson Schaffer

University of Gothenburg - School of Global Studies; University of Oslo - Faculty of Law

Date Written: August 14, 2012


Is deliberative democracy a feasible model for democratizing transnational governance institutions? Recent literature presents deliberative democratic theory as viable notion of democratic legitimation for global governance, as it focuses on engaging existing agents in processes of public reasoning, rather than extrapolating democratic procedures from the nation-state.

This paper challenges that idea. The claims that a deliberative model of democracy is more practicable, out of the box, for democratizing global governance, leave undertheorized the mechanisms by which deliberators at the transnational level represent or are accountable to democratic constituencies.

In order to address those issues, I construct, in what follows, three different approaches to sustain the claim that existing global governance institutions and processes could increase their democratic legitimacy by engaging in more deliberative modes of decision-making, and then explore whether each approach coheres with deliberative democratic theory.

On the first approach, deliberation may produce legitimate results irrespective of the agents’ internal democratic legitimacy, but this fails to explain how insufficiently legitimated representatives can produce legitimate results through deliberation. The second approach holds that social integrates are collective persons capable of rational deliberation. While consistent with deliberative theory, this version raises the bar for legitimate deliberation and challenges normative individualism. The third approach may seem most obvious: democratic representation. However, I shall argue that deliberative democracy needs to substantially adjust two core assumptions in order to accommodate a theory of representation: the insistence on actual deliberation among all and the rejection of sanctions from the concept of democratic accountability.

Keywords: deliberative democracy, global governance, agency, representation, accountability, legitimacy

Suggested Citation

Karlsson Schaffer, Johan, Deliberative Democracy in Transnational Governance: Problems of Legitimacy, Agency, and Representation (August 14, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Johan Karlsson Schaffer (Contact Author)

University of Gothenburg - School of Global Studies ( email )

POB 700
Gothenburg, SE 40530

University of Oslo - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 6706 St Olavsplass
Oslo, 0130

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics