The central aims of this article are, first, to theoretically explore the relationship between social quality (in particular, the conditional factor of social empowerment) and participatory democracy. This uses the democratic dialectic (Bernard 1999) as a normative guide to assess democratic values. Second, the article describes how this theoretical discussion of the social quality of participatory democracy can be operationalized in critical qualitative sociological research. This offers a new direction for social quality research, which has thus far involved theoretical development and the establishment and use of statistical indicators (Beck et al. 1998, 2001; van der Maesen and Walker 2012). The findings of two empirical case studies are called in as evidence that, to different extents, participatory democratic settings can be socially empowering. This research suggests implications for the full realization of social quality in existing liberal and social democratic societies.