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Beyond Deliberative Systems

Pluralizing the Debate

Hans Asenbaum

Normative democratic theory with a focus on civic engagement is increasingly interested in how participatory instances connect into democratic systems (Dean, Rinne, et al. 2019; Elstub et al. 2018). The deliberative perspective has pioneered this debate and proposes a systemic view that observes how everyday talk and media discourses connect deliberative forums including parliaments, mini-publics, and protest formations (Mansbridge 1999; Mansbridge et al. 2012). While various approaches within the deliberative systems debate can be differentiated (Owen and Smith 2015), they commonly understand deliberative qualities as distributed within a broader system and focus on scaling up democratic deliberation through the transmission from the public to state institutions (Chambers 2012; Dryzek 2009).

Free access

Democratic Self-transformations

Identity, Performance, and the Politics of Becoming

Hans Asenbaum and Taina Meriluoto

Our selves are characterized by inner multiplicity (Elster 1986). Our raced, classed, gendered, and sexed identities are intersectional (Crenshaw 1991; Wojciechowska 2019). Depending on the context and our state of mind, we are parents, employees, dancers, slackers, victims, perpetrators, players, hosts, explorers, altruists, or egoists. We are all these things at once and consecutively. We change and grow. Our identities are never permanent but always in motion, being transformed through our performative engagements (Lloyd 2005). We are constantly becoming.

Open access

The Politics of Presence Revisited

Anne Phillips and Hans Asenbaum


Almost three decades after its first publication, Anne Phillips reflects on the Politics of Presence in the context of contemporary developments from #MeToo to Black Lives Matter. Granting the importance of a contingent and intersectional understanding of presence, she reemphasizes the necessity of descriptive representation. Phillips reflects on questions of anonymity, essentialism, the multiple self, unconditional equality, and the current role of feminist research in democratic theory. She also opens perspectives toward mending the divide between a politics of recognition and a politics of distribution.

Free access

What Is Democratic Theory?

Rikki Dean, Jean-Paul Gagnon, and Hans Asenbaum

What is democratic theory? The question is surprisingly infrequently posed. Indeed, the last time this precise question appears in the academic archive was exactly forty years ago, in James Alfred Pennock's (1979) book Democratic Political Theory. This is an odd discursive silence not observable in other closely aligned fields of thought such as political theory, political science, social theory, philosophy, economic theory, and public policy/administration – each of which have asked the “what is” question of themselves on regular occasion. The premise of this special issue is, therefore, to pose the question anew and break this forty-year silence.

Open access

Book Symposium

The Politics of Becoming: Anonymity and Democracy in the Digital Age

Taina Meriluoto, Anastasia Kavada, Andrea Cornwall, Oliver Escobar, and Hans Asenbaum

Hans Asenbaum's open-access book The Politics of Becoming: Anonymity and Democracy in the Digital Age takes on some of the biggest questions in feminist and radical democratic theory. It asks, how we should understand who we are, and what implications our answer to that question has for democracy.

Open access

The Marginalized Democracies of the World

Jean-Paul Gagnon, Hans Asenbaum, Dannica Fleuss, Sonia Bussu, Petra Guasti, Rikki Dean, Pierrick Chalaye, Nardine Alnemr, Friedel Marquardt, and Alexander Weiss


This introductory article to Democratic Theory's special issue on the marginalized democracies of the world begins by presenting the lexical method for understanding democracy. It is argued that the lexical method is better than the normative and analytical methods at finding democracies in the world. The argument then turns to demonstrating, mainly through computational research conducted within the Google Books catalog, that an empirically demonstrable imbalance exists between the democracies mentioned in the literature. The remainder of the argument is given to explaining the value of working to correct this imbalance, which comes in at least three guises: (1) studying marginalized democracies can increase our options for alternative democratic actions and democratic innovations; (2) it leads to a conservation and public outreach project, which is epitomized in an “encyclopedia of the democracies”; and (3) it advocates for a decolonization of democracies’ definitions and practices and decentering academic democratic theory.

Open access

A Democratic Theory of Life

Living Democracy with Black Lives Matter

Hans Asenbaum, Reece Chenault, Christopher Harris, Akram Hassan, Curtis Hierro, Stephen Houldsworth, Brandon Mack, Shauntrice Martin, Chivona Newsome, Kayla Reed, Tony Rice, Shevone Torres, and Terry J. Wilson II


In response to its current crisis, scholars call for the revitalisation of democracy through democratic innovations. While they make ample use of life metaphors describing democracy as a living organism, no comprehensive understanding of ‘life’ has been established within democratic theory. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement articulates the urgency of refocusing on life and its meaning through radical democratic practice. This article employs a grounded theory approach, enriched with participatory methods, to develop a radical democratic concept of life in conversation with BLM. It conceptualises life as the existence of a perspective that constantly transforms through its fundamental interconnectedness. Building on this concept, the article outlines four principles of a living democracy that go beyond the revitalisation discourse. A living democracy (1) safeguards the existence of all humans and nonhumans, (2) nurtures a diversity of perspectives, (3) fosters social and planetary connectivity, and (4) enables self- and collective transformation.