Building a Democratic Epistemology: a dialogue between agonism and deliberative democracy

Auteur Maria Carolina Jimenez
Directeur /trice Annabelle Lever
Co-directeur(s) /trice(s)
Résumé de la thèse This project situates itself within the now decades-long debate between deliberative democrats and their agonist critics, also known as radical pluralists.Deliberative democracy is commonly conceived as a way of making collective decisions through consensus-promoting discussions. It requires that decisions be the product of the free, uncoerced public reasoning of equals, in which arguments are justified not with reference to individual, private preferences, but oriented toward the common good (e.g. Benhabib 1996, Cohen 1997). In response to the growing number of scholars espousing a deliberative theory of democracy, agonistic democrats have insisted that a rational consensus is not only a potentially oppressive idea, ready to be used by those in power to brand outsiders as “irrational” or “unreasonable,” but also a conceptual impossibility (Pineda 2013, 3). The idea that agonism offers an alternative to deliberative democracy has been rejected by deliberative democrats, who often argue that agonism ultimately collapses into some variant of deliberative democracy (e.g. Knops 2007). The agonist’s response to these claims has been to reaffirm the ontological divide between the deliberative and agonistic worldviews, stressing the conceptual impossibility of consensus, the conflictual nature of politics and the irreducibility of pluralism in modern democracy (e.g. Mouffe 2000, 2005). At present the literature on deliberative democracy and the literature around agonist democracy do not really intersect. Moreover, we appear to be at an impasse in which the dynamics of the debate are engendering a certain caricaturing of each side (e.g. Pineda 2013). Specifically, this project constitutes a contribution to this debate through a combined study of these two theories of democracy. The project proposes a model of theoretical enquire that embraces exchange across difference. It seeks to overcome stereotypical images of deliberative and agonist models and to clarify the conceptual commonalities and divergences between them in order to highlight places for complementarity. In doing so, we will identify the work of specific scholars and interpretations that would be particularly useful for building bridges amongst these theories. The project will argue that although there is an important space for cross-fertilization between the two perspectives, there are fundamental conceptual disagreements that do not permit a complete accommodation of agonist democracy within the deliberative model and vice versa (Gursozlu 2009). In addition, through a dialogue between the deliberative and agonist models, the project will contribute to recent debates in the field of epistemic democracy. The project will acknowledge the important contributions of deliberative scholars in understanding the epistemic virtues of democracy, and why and how truth matters to democracy (Schwartzberg 2015, Landemore 2017, Cohen 1986, 2012). Nevertheless, the project points out that agonists scholars have been completely absent from current debates in epistemic democracy and while they usually develop their arguments in ontological terms, their work include epistemic elements that are particularly relevant for these debates. In this vein, the project will investigate the possibilities that agonistic conceptions of democracy give us a better chance of developing an episteme suitable for democratic politics and morality than the deliberative model. We believe that an agonist approach can contribute to develop a democratic epistemology that is better in acknowledging the irreducibility of pluralism and the effects of power in the collective search for truth, while protecting the democratic principles of freedom and equality. This research project lies at the intersection of several philosophical disciplines such as moral and political philosophy, epistemology and philosophy of science. The methods used in this project are philosophical: the clarification of concepts, the interpretation of texts and philosophical claims, and the assessment of the coherence, plausibility and persuasiveness of arguments. In the following years, I will need to strengthen my philosophical knowledge to analyze the ontological and epistemological approaches underlying deliberative democracy and agonism to fully understand how they influence the ways in which each model of democracy justifies democratic forms of government and addresses questions around legitimacy, rationality and truth in the framework of democratic politics.
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