Deliberation, against all odds? : The critical prospects of mini-publics
Abstract: In recent decades, the theory of deliberative democracy has encountered multiple challenges. In this thesis, I explore the prospects of a particular type of deliberative democratic institution – deliberative mini-publics – in three essays. In the first essay, I discuss the challenge of combining mini-publics with institutions for preference aggregation, such as elections. I address the concern that citizens of a society dominated by aggregative institutions could be discouraged from the collective and cooperative form of participation required by mini-publics. Studying the effect of the right to vote on citizenship norms, I find no support for this concern. On the contrary, I show that elections boost support for non-electoral forms of political participation. In the second essay, I focus on the concept of descriptive representation in mini-publics to investigate previous studies’ tendency to introduce aggregative elements to deliberative institutions. I find that current conceptualizations of descriptive representation in the mini-publics literature tend to primarily address concerns about the democratic legitimacy of a political institution consisting of unelected representatives. I argue that mini-publics can be considered legitimate if the notion of legitimacy is detached from elections. After showing that mini-publics do not necessarily suffer from a lack of legitimacy, I suggest an argument for descriptive representation that better serves the mini-publics' aim of facilitating high-quality deliberation. The third essay is motivated by a call from theorists to treat social differences as a resource that can enhance deliberative processes, rather than an obstacle. I test whether emphasizing social differences in mini-publics makes humble communication and reflexivity – elements that constitute normative conditions of deliberation – less likely. Analysing the effect of increased social group salience on expectations of deliberation, I find that emphasizing group differences raises expectations of observing and acknowledging differences without lowering the prospects of humble communication and reflexivity.
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE WHOLE DISSERTATION. (in PDF format)