A systemic approach to deliberative democracy

Jane Mansbridge, James Bohman, Simone Chambers, Thomas Christiano, Archon Fung, John Parkinson, Dennis F. Thompson, Mark E. Warren

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

559 Scopus citations


The last several decades have seen growing agreement among political theorists and empirical political scientists that the legitimacy of a democracy depends in part on the quality of deliberation that informs citizens and their representatives. Until recently, those who wanted to study and improve the quality of deliberation in democracies began with, basically, two strategies. One concentrated on deliberation in legislative bodies of all sorts and the campaigns that produce their members. The other strategy, not necessarily at odds with the first, addressed the design, promulgation, and empowerment of small deliberative initiatives in which citizens could deliberate under relatively favourable conditions. Both of these strategies, however, focused only on individual sites and not on the interdependence of sites within a larger system. Typically, the ideal has been cast in the image of the best possible single deliberative forum. Most empirical research on deliberative democracy, accordingly, has concentrated ‘either on a single episode of deliberation, as in one-time group discussions, or on a continuing series with the same group or in the same type of institution’ (Thompson 2008a: 213). Yet no single forum, however ideally constituted, could possess deliberative capacity sufficient to legitimate most of the decisions and policies that democracies adopt. To understand the larger goal of deliberation, we suggest that it is necessary to go beyond the study of individual institutions and processes to examine their interaction in the system as a whole. We recognize that most democracies are complex entities in which a wide variety of institutions, associations, and sites of contestation accomplish political work – including informal networks, the media, organized advocacy groups, schools, foundations, private and non-profit institutions, legislatures, executive agencies, and the courts. We thus advocate what may be called a systemic approach to deliberative democracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDeliberative Systems
Subtitle of host publicationDeliberative Democracy at the Large Scale
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781139178914
ISBN (Print)9781107025394
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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