An Idea in Decline?

Special Report: Critique of Participation and Governmentality
Evaluating the New Critique of Public Deliberation
By Luigi Pellizzoni, Laurent Vannini

Deliberative democracy spread rapidly regardless of differences in political and administrative traditions. An equally fast-evolving debate has addressed both its virtues and drawbacks, gradually shifting from theory to practice and from a focus on deliberative arenas to a concern for their policy and institutional context but without questioning the fundamentally benign nature and implications of public deliberation. However, we may be approaching a turning point. A growing literature is developing a different, more corrosive type of critique, the underlying theme of which is not the revitalization of democracy and the role of deliberative forums in governance but the neoliberalization of society and the integration of deliberative democracy in the rationality of government at work as part of this process. As a consequence, well-known problems are read or ranked differently and new questions gain salience for being closely related to politics and the political realm. This paper discusses the basic arguments developed in this literature, in which weaknesses and drawbacks do not look incidental and redeemable but largely purposeful and responsible for the very success of deliberation itself. However, this critique points to a renewed research agenda rather than to the ill-fated character of deliberative democracy.


  • participation
  • deliberative democracy
  • governance
  • governmentality
  • neoliberalism
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