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One - Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 April 2023

Nicole Curato
Affiliation:
University of Canberra
David Farrell
Affiliation:
University College Dublin
Brigitte Geissel
Affiliation:
Goethe-Universität Frankfurt Am Main
Kimmo Grönlund
Affiliation:
Åbo Akademi University, Finland
Patricia Mockler
Affiliation:
Queen's University, Ontario
Jean-Benoit Pilet
Affiliation:
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Alan Renwick
Affiliation:
University College London
Jonathan Rose
Affiliation:
Queen's University, Ontario
Maija Setälä
Affiliation:
University of Turku, Finland
Jane Suiter
Affiliation:
Dublin City University
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Summary

A decade ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that a caregiver, a bus driver and a rail worker, together with 147 other ordinary citizens, could shape France's policy on climate change. Ordinary citizens have long been disparaged for their political apathy. They could not be bothered to vote or join a political party. They trust experts less, share fake news and fall for the dark charisma of populist demagogues. Why would anyone think that citizens can deliberate on the most challenging issues of our time?

And yet they did. Over six months, ordinary French citizens deliberated the nuts and bolts of climate change policies. They listened to experts, read scientific literature and formed thematic groups on agriculture, housing, transport, employment and lifestyle. They reached a consensus on making ecocide a crime, among other proposals, which are to be subject to a national referendum. Even the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop these citizens from deliberating, first online and then in socially distanced deliberations. The process was far from perfect, but it was groundbreaking.

If there is one important lesson that scholars of democratic deliberation could impart to political theory and practice, it is that the context of participation matters to the quality of participation. When citizens are given the opportunity to learn, engage with a diverse group of people and be in a space where changing one's mind is a virtue and not a vice, they are given the chance to reach a considered judgement. Decades of research on deliberative democracy demonstrate that citizens ‘are good problem solvers even if we are poor solitary truth seekers’ (Chambers, 2018: 36). The challenge, therefore, is to create a landscape of communication where people can make better decisions together.

Creating a context conducive for democratic deliberation is not an easy task. These democratic exercises require carefully designed spaces for participation, where norms of respect, inclusiveness, mutual justification and open-mindedness are fostered. In the academic literature, these democratic innovations are called ‘deliberative mini-publics’ or DMPs.

DMPs are a nebulous concept, sitting in between the catchall term ‘democratic innovations’ and more precise practices like citizens’ assemblies and deliberative polls. We therefore begin our introductory chapter by laying down our definition of DMPs and situating it within the broader political project of building a deliberative democracy. We then provide an overview of their core design features grounded in normative theory and informed by political practice.

Type
Chapter
Information
Deliberative Mini-Publics
Core Design Features
, pp. 1 - 16
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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