Participation and Deliberative Democracy: Analysing the relationship between participation and deliberation in deliberative democratic theory
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Western liberal democracies are experiencing a crisis of political participation. Important indicators, including voter turnout, trade union membership rates and political party membership rates, have been in decline for decades. Furthermore, participation in the political process is becoming increasingly dominated by the rich and powerful. These trends pose a threat to the legitimacy of democratic governance as many justifications for the legitimacy of aggregative models of democracy require both high levels of citizen participation and participation across all sections of society. Embracing models of deliberative democracy is often cited as a potential way of increasing civic engagement and stimulating higher levels of participation. However, it is widely understood that a tension exists between mass participation and quality deliberation. Therefore, there is significant debate in democratic theory surrounding whether deliberative democracy would stimulate higher levels of participation or entrench existing inequalities of participation. Consequently, this paper addresses the following research question; to what extent have deliberative democratic theorists been able to incorporate mass participation and quality deliberation into a feasible model for democratic reform? The focus and aims of theorists in the field have evolved considerably over time. This evolution is popularly categorized through three different waves or turns of scholarship; the initial wave, the empirical turn and the systemic turn. To answer the research question, this paper examines how these three waves of theory address the values of mass participation and quality deliberation. Furthermore, it analyses how the relationship between quality deliberation and mass participation in deliberative democratic theory changed between each wave from a historical perspective. This is an interdisciplinary approach, combining insights from the disciplines of philosophy and history. It finds that deliberative democratic theorists have been unable to incorporate mass participation and quality deliberation into a feasible model for democratic reform. However, there are promising developments, which provide some avenues for further research.