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Democracy in the Pacific Islands

Comparable Practices, Contested Meanings

Jack Corbett

Ian Shapiro identifies three traditions of democratic thought: aggregative, deliberative, and minimalist. All three are apparent in the Pacific Islands despite most commentators and donors assuming that the meaning of democracy is fixed. The focus in development studies on institutions and their capacity to deliver pro-poor growth has generated a fourth tradition that revolves around the now pervasive governance concept. Rather than focusing on the general will of a sovereign people, this perspective is predominately concerned with the legitimate use of violence as a precursor to any development-orientated democratic state. Having reviewed the literature on democracy in the Pacific to parse out these four meanings, this article concludes that paying greater attention to this ideational equivocality would extend discussions about the suitability and transferability of this type of regime.

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Jack Corbett and Tezcan Gumus

David Runciman, The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013), xxiii+408 pp., ISBN: 9780691148687

Todd Landman, Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Ideals (New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 192 pp., ISBN: 9781849663458