Ten Issues for a Deliberative System

35 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2013

See all articles by Stephen Elstub

Stephen Elstub

University of the West of Scotland; University of the West of Scotland

Peter McLaverty

Robert Gordon University

Date Written: 2013


As the focus on institutionalising deliberative democracy is moving to a focus on achieving deliberative political systems (Chambers 2009; Thompson 2008; Dryzek 2010; Parkinson & Mansbridge 2012), this paper addresses ten crucial issues (Elstub and McLaverty 2014) that plague its study, and are hindering the further development of deliberative democracy and its ability to progress to a systemic level. A number of these issues perennially affect democracy per se, not just the deliberative variant. However, the unique focus on public debate that is found in deliberative theory accentuates many of these problems, and, or provides distinct interpretations of the issues. Moreover, the welcome and necessary attention given to a systemic analysis of deliberative democracy further creates distinct interpretations of these ten problems, but also generates new potential solutions. The paper will therefore describe the ten issues, locating them within a deliberative system demonstrating that with some of the issues it makes it easier for deliberative democracy to overcome them, or at least changes the nature of the problem. In particular, we address five pathologies that inhibit political institutional arrangements in reaching the deliberative ideal in the system as a whole: tight-coupling, de-coupling, institutional domination, social domination, and entrenched partisanship and analyse how they relate to each of the ten issues and lacunae identified. In brief the ten issues are:

1. Scale and Deliberative Democracy: Can deliberative democracy be scaled up to achieve a deliberative system? 2. Conflict and Deliberation: would a deliberative system emasculate politics? Does deliberative democracy viewed as a system make it more amenable to dealing with, and incorporating conflict? 3. Inequality and Deliberative Democracy: Does social inequality make a deliberative system unattainable? Does deliberative democracy conceived as a system make the problems of socio-economic inequalities less acute? 4. Expertise and Deliberative Democracy: Is expert knowledge compatible with deliberation among the public in a deliberative system? Within a deliberative system what role should epistemic communities play and how can they be interconnected appropriately with other parts of the system? 5. Pluralism and Deliberative Democracy: Given the diversity of identities, cultures, interests and opinions that exist in societies today, is a deliberative system possible? Does a systemic analysis render pluralism less of a threat to achieving deliberative democracy in practice? 6. Interests and Deliberative Democracy: Is a deliberative system more conducive to the inclusion of self-interest? What does this mean for the role of interest groups in a deliberative system? 7. Psychological Attributes: To what extent is the idea of a deliberative system rendered un- achievable if citizens do not have the necessary psychological attributes for effective deliberation? 8. The Public Sphere: Can the public sphere be the site of widespread political deliberation among the public? Can deliberation in the public sphere be sufficiently connected to other elements of a political system? 9. Deliberative Participation and Representation: Does the unwillingness of people to deliberate in public settings make a deliberative system impossible and is deliberation among the public compatible with political representation? How can and should citizen participation and representation be combined in a deliberative system? 10. Mini-publics: If mini-publics are part of a deliberative system does this mean that their notable deficiencies become more or less problematic?

We argue that avoiding the pathologies in relation to these issues is determined by how the parts of the system are interconnected, and that the focus on the deliberative system potentially represents a new generation in the advancement of deliberative democracy in theory and practice.

Keywords: Deliberative democracy, Deliberative system, pathologies

JEL Classification: D7, L3

Suggested Citation

Elstub, Stephen and McLaverty, Peter, Ten Issues for a Deliberative System (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper; American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2303026

Stephen Elstub (Contact Author)

University of the West of Scotland ( email )

Paisley High Street
No Address Available

University of the West of Scotland ( email )

Paisley High Street
No Address Available

Peter McLaverty

Robert Gordon University ( email )

No Address Available

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