Book review: Can Deliberative Democracy Scale Up?



Review of 'Deliberative Systems: Deliberative Democracy at the Large Scale'
Critical Policy Studies
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Summary of book review:

Griffith University's John Parkinson and Harvard University's Jane Mansbridge have brought together the latest thinking on the theory and practice of how to scale deliberative democracy beyond narrow and focused applications and into an integrated system that can address real-world political conflict and problem solving.

The editors have attempted to integrate the theory of deliberative democracy with the increasing body of empirical research on the subject. They have brought together a 'number of highly influential deliberative democratic theorists from different backgrounds' and the book provides 'an ideal starting point for any scholar or student interested in the notion of deliberative democracy and how contemporary political theory conceptualizes its relationship to the political world'.

Each contributing author looks at a different aspect of deliberative democracy including:

  • The relationship between experts and citizens and their respective roles in deliberation
  • The usefulness of 'raw opinion' gathered through social science surveys
  • Going beyond electoral and interest-based representation to incorporate innovative forms of citizen bodies and assemblies
  • The use of 'mini-publics' to represent the broader citizenry
  • How best to utilise both traditional deliberative bodies such as legislatures and more citizen-oriented ones.

In the book's conclusion, Parkinson notes that current measures of deliberative quality are 'ill-suited to the richly contextualized assessments needed to understand democratic deliberation at a systemic level'.


Thumbnail image: Marc Wathieu/Flickr

John Boswell

University of Southampton

Published Date
July 1, 2013