Conflict of Interest: Inclusion and Transformation in Democratic Theory

25 Pages Posted: 5 May 2014 Last revised: 3 Jul 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: April 29, 2014


In this paper, I address a tension between two ideas about the role that interests supposedly play in democracy. On the one hand, a popular conception holds that citizens hold legitimate claims for inclusion in political decision-making to the extent that it impacts on their basic interests in some non-trivial way. On the other hand, deliberative democratic theory also emphasise that interests should not be regarded as pre-political givens: Identities, interests and preferences are formed and formulated through the practices of democratic participation and deliberation, and people cannot truly know their interests before they have engaged in democratic dialogue with others. However, if democratic interaction shapes the participants’ interests, how could interests form the basis for democratic inclusion in the first place? In this paper, I shall explore this tension and especially how it manifests itself in theories of deliberative democracy.

First, I discuss how various alternative approaches to democratic theory more or less avoid the tension. Second, I explore the role the inclusionary and transformative claims play in deliberative democratic theory. Third, I discuss three ways in which deliberative theory has dealt with the tension; yet find them to fulfil neither the inclusionary nor the transformative expectation.

Finally, I explore two alternative solutions, which push deliberative theory in the direction of either a subjectivist or objectivist conception of interest. The former preserves most of the inclusionary and transformative claims, while the latter seems more amenable to the epistemic promise of deliberative democracy.

Suggested Citation

Karlsson Schaffer, Johan, Conflict of Interest: Inclusion and Transformation in Democratic Theory (April 29, 2014). University of Oslo Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2014-09, 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 negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics