Citizens’ assemblies, a new form of democratic representation?

By Hélène Landemore, Jean-Michel Fourniau

The introduction to this dossier examines a question central to all the constituent articles: can citizens’ assemblies drawn by lot democratically legislate on behalf of the people, and do so with legitimacy? The question of the democratic possibility of non-elected representation is salient in the field of political theory today. In the enlarged deliberative systems that our complex mass societies require, it invites consideration of the legitimacy of new forms of political representation. The use of deliberative processes specifically questions the possibility for a randomly drawn assembly to make decisions on behalf of the whole population, as would elected representatives. This introduction discusses the place of “citizen representatives” in contemporary political theory debates. Though not claiming to provide definitive answers, the introduction explores some of the questions raised by the Citizens’ Convention on Climate in France through an analysis of the various articles in the dossier. It clarifies what citizens’ assemblies are, and sheds light on the process through which citizens chosen by lot construct their role as political representatives, i.e., “become representative” in a way that exceeds their initial mandate (which is generally limited to reducing the gap between the population and elected officials). The findings of this dossier open the perspective of institutionalizing citizens’ assemblies in the law-making process.

  • Citizen Assembly
  • Drawing of lots
  • Citizen representatives
  • Political representation
  • Citizen’s Climate Convention.
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