Summer 2017

Inequality is Always in the Room: Language & Power in Deliberative Democracy

Authors
Arthur Lupia and Anne Norton
Abstract

Deliberative democracy has the potential to legitimize collective decisions. Deliberation's legitimating potential, however, depends on whether those who deliberate truly enter as equals, whether they are able to express on equal terms their visions of the common good, and whether the forms and practices that govern deliberative assemblies advance or undermine their goals. Here, we examine these sources of deliberation's legitimating potential. We contend that even in situations of apparent procedural equality, deliberation's legitimating potential is limited by its potential to increase normatively focal power asymmetries. We conclude by describing how deliberative contexts can be modified to reduce certain types of power asymmetries, such as those often associated with gender, race, or class. In so doing, we hope to help readers consider a broader range of factors that influence the outcomes of attempts to restructure power relationships through communicative forums.

ARTHUR LUPIA, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2007, is the Hal R. Varian Professor of Political Science and Research Professor in the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Uninformed: Why People Know So Little about Politics and What We Can Do about It (2016) and The Democratic Dilemma: Can Citizens Learn What They Need to Know? (with Mathew D. McCubbins, 1998) and editor of The Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science (with James N. Druckman, Donald P. Green, and James H. Kuklinski, 2011).

ANNE NORTON is Professor of Political Science and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of On the Muslim Question (2013), Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire (2004), 95 Theses on Politics, Culture, and Method (2004), Republic of Signs: Liberal Theory and American Popular Culture (1993), Reflections on Political Identity (1988), and Alternative Americas: A Reading of Antebellum Political Culture (1986).

Deliberative democracy seems to offer democracy not only in our time, but in our neighborhoods. People meet as equals and reason together to find their way to a common good. We are not surprised, therefore, that deliberation is an idea with many advocates. Where people meet as equals, democracy is advanced. Where people reason together, democracy is advanced.

Deliberative democracy has the potential to legitimize collective decisions. Deliberation’s legitimating potential, however, depends on whether those who deliberate truly enter as equals, whether they are able to express on equal terms their visions of the common good, and whether the forms and practices that govern deliberative assemblies advance or undermine their goals. In this essay, we examine these sources of deliberation’s legitimating potential.

Beneath and throughout the evaluation of deliberative democracy are questions about whether and . . .

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