The negotiated boundaries of citizen assemblies. The case of the Citizens’ Convention on Climate (2019–2020)

By Maxime Gaborit, Laurent Jeanpierre, Romane Rozencwajg

Like other mini-publics, the Citizens’ Convention on Climate, held in France in 2019 and 2020, had to deal with a double bind: for its conclusions to be considered valid from the point of view of deliberation, it had to appear to be impervious to external influences, but for its conclusions to have weight, the members of the assembly were encouraged to develop alliances with other social and political actors, and thus to extend the debate beyond the confines of the assembly. This tension between openness and closure, deliberation and participation, mini-public and general public, increasingly problematized in theories of deliberative democracy, was resolved through some of the organizational and logistical features of the process, such as the long intersessions during which the assembly members were invited to throw themselves into their roles, which was a decisive element in increasing public awareness of the debates. The article, which is based on an ethnographic investigation conducted throughout the process, shows how the boundaries of the Convention were constructed and then renegotiated by citizens and other actors. We highlight a double movement of importation of external actors and exportation toward the general public as well as phenomena of progressive separation between the “we” of the citizens’ assembly and the “they” of the rest of the national population. We suggest that all of these mechanisms play a major role in the fate of the measures and that they should be analyzed more systematically in other mini-publics and citizens’ assemblies.

  • Citizens’ assemblies
  • climate
  • climate assemblies
  • deliberation
  • mini-public
  • participation
  • France
  • French Citizens’ Convention on Climate
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