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2,234 Descriptions of Democracy

An Update to Democracy’s Ontological Pluralism

Jean-Paul Gagnon

In 2010 Milja Kurki explained that although scholars recognize that democracy is described in a variety of ways, they do not typically engage with its many and diverse descriptions. My aim in this agenda-setting research note is to tackle this quandary by first providing a minimum empirical account of democracy’s descriptions (i.e., a catalogue of 2,234 adjectives that have been used to describe democracy) and secondly by suggesting what democracy studies may gain by compiling this information. I argue that the catalogue of descriptors be applied in four ways: (1) drilling down into the meaning of each description, (2) making taxonomies, (3) rethinking the phenomenology of democracy, and (4) visualizing democracy’s big data. Each of the four applications and their significance is explained in turn. This research note ends by looking back on the catalogue and its four applications.

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Online Supplement A

Jean-Paul Gagnon

SUPPLEMENT A

2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update to Democracy’s Ontological Pluralism

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Online Supplement B

Jean-Paul Gagnon

SUPPLEMENT B

2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update to Democracy’s Ontological Pluralism

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Online Supplement C

Jean-Paul Gagnon

SUPPLEMENT C

2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update to Democracy’s Ontological Pluralism

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Editorial

Jean-Paul Gagnon

Open access

Editorial

Emily Beausoleil and Jean-Paul Gagnon

This 16th issue of Democratic Theory features three articles, a trialogue (our first), two review essays, and two book reviews.

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Democracies in the Ethnosphere

An Anthropologist's Lived Experiences of Indigenous Democratic Cultures

Wade Davis and Jean-Paul Gagnon

Abstract

Anthropology meets democratic theory in this conversation that explores indigeneity, diversity, and the potentialities of democratic practices as exist in the non-Western world. Wade Davis draws readers into the ethnosphere—the sum total of human knowledge and experience—to highlight the extinction events that are wiping out some half of human ethnic diversity. Gagnon worries over what is lost to how we can understand and practice democracy in this unprecedented, globally occurring, ethnocide.

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Editorial

Jean-Paul Gagnon and Emily Beausoleil

This seventeenth issue of Democratic Theory marks a major shift for the journal: this will be its last general issue until further notice. We have received many excellent special issue proposals and have also developed various special issues internally in order to speak to unfolding events and current scholarly developments. Given the journal has two issues per year, this has meant Democratic Theory no longer has space in the years to come for unsolicited, single-article submissions. We are excited about the direction this takes us, opening as it does far more opportunity for concerted dialogue and collective inquiry on timely themes, particularly given platforms for special issues can be rare in the discipline. We welcome future proposals for special issues and look forward to those already in development contributing to the broader conversations in contemporary democratic theory.

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Why Democratic Theory?

Jean-Paul Gagnon and Mark Chou

The post-1945 world is well documented for its surge in the study of and struggles over “democracy”. The Eurocentric and then Pacific wars were—and continue to be—in part understood as a fight over ideology. Ideas of fascism, nazism, and empire as well as the totality of the state came face to face with ideas like democracy. Considered the panacea to all the world’s political ills, democracy was employed by the West as both stick and carrot. For a system of governance that simply connoted a state restrained by periodic and competitive elections, democracy’s value soon became much more significant. Through the rule of law, statespeople and scholars started equating democracy with the protection of the individual’s civil, political, economic, social, and cultural freedoms. Some also began aligning democracy with sacred principles relating to no harm, nonviolence, antiweaponry, anticolonialism, anticommunism, and antiauthoritarianism—especially during the postwar international meetings of states and, later, the cultural revolutions of the circa 1960s.

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Representing Nature and Contemporary Democracy

Robyn Eckersley and Jean-Paul Gagnon

Modern environmentalism, whose genesis tracks mainly from the 1960s and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), has forced the anthropocentric emphasis of democracy to account. Nonhuman actors like trees, ecological systems, and the climate have increasingly become anthropomorphized by humans representing these actors in politics. Aside from challenges to the anthropocentric concepts of citizenship, political representation, agency, and boundaries in democratic theory, environmentalism has warned of apocalyptic crises. This drives a different kind of challenge to mainly liberal democracies. Scientists and activists are becoming increasingly fed up with the seeming incompetence, slowness, and idiocy of politicians, interest groups, and electors. Eyes start to wander to that clean, well-kempt, and fast-acting gentleman called authoritarianism. The perfect shallowness of his appearance mesmerizes like a medusa those that would usually avoid him. Serfdom increasingly looks like a palpable trade-off to keep the “green” apocalypses at bay. Democracy’s only answer to this challenge is to evolve into a cleverer version of itself.