Systematizing Democratic Systems Approaches

Seven Conceptual Building Blocks

in Democratic Theory
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  • 1 Goethe-University Frankfurt dean@soz.uni-frankfurt.de
  • 2 Goethe-University Frankfurt j@rinne.co
  • 3 Goethe-University Frankfurt geissel@soz.uni-frankfurt.de
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Abstract

The notion that democracy is a system is ever present in democratic theory. However, what it means to think systemically about democracy (as opposed to what it means for a political system to be democratic) is under-elaborated. This article sets out a meta-level framework for thinking systemically about democracy, built upon seven conceptual building blocks, which we term (1) functions, (2) norms, (3) practices, (4) actors, (5) arenas, (6) levels, and (7) interactions. This enables us to systematically structure the debate on democratic systems, highlighting the commonalities and differences between systems approaches, their omissions, and the key questions that remain to be answered. It also enables us to push the debate forward both by demonstrating how a full consideration of all seven building blocks would address issues with existing approaches and by introducing new conceptual clarifications within those building blocks.

Contributor Notes

Rikki Dean is a postdoctoral fellow in the Democratic Innovations Research Unit, Goethe-University Frankfurt. His research interests encompass democratic theory, public administration theory, participatory policy-making, process preferences and social exclusion. E-mail: dean@soz.uni-frankfurt.de ORCID: 0000-0001-5381-4532

Jonathan Rinne is a doctoral candidate at the Democratic Innovations Research Unit and a research and teaching fellow at the Department of Social Sciences, Goethe-University Frankfurt. His research interests are democratic theory, participatory procedures, and experimental research. E-mail: j@rinne.co ORCID: 0000-0001-5115-3523

Brigitte Geissel is professor of political science and political sociology and head of the Democratic Innovations Research Unit at Goethe-University Frankfurt. Her research interests include democratic innovations, new forms of governance, and political actors (new social movements, associations, civil society, parties, political elites, citizens). E-mail: geissel@soz.uni-frankfurt.de ORCID: 0000-0002-1310-949X

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