PSR Symposia and New Ideas

PSR is a forum for publishing results from symposia. These can be early versions of what may become more extensive articles, exploring and fleshing out new ideas and directions for study. 

Papers in the Symposia and New Ideas section are limited to 3000 words inclusive of all notes and references. 

PSR SYMPOSIA

Issue 3/2022: fake news, sexual assault and political behaviour, conservative values, protests and more.

The whole issue 3/2022 can be found here.

CONTENTS

Articles

STATE OF ART

EARLY RESULTS

THE NULL HYPOTHESIS

RELATED CONTENT

PSR INTERVIEWS #14: Democratic Innovations: A Look through the Kaleidoscope of Democratic Theory – Hans Asenbaum (PART 2)

“Democratic innovations always struggle with their neoliberal and capitalist context. Capitalism has produced a particular kind of democracy. We refer to it as liberal or representative democracy. Calling it capitalist democracy would actually be more fitting. What we call democracy today is a hybrid between the democratic logic of the self-rule of the people and the capitalist logic of competition and hierarchy” – says Dr Hans Asenbaum. This interview is the second and final part of our conversation with this researcher and a PSR author, who covers new forms of democratic engagement and radical democratic politics. You can learn more about democratic innovations in his PSR article: Rethinking Democratic Innovations: A Look through the Kaleidoscope of Democratic Theory – Hans Asenbaum, 2021 (sagepub.com).

Political Studies Review: You discuss a participatory approach, in which the major axis of the critique comes from the dehumanising properties of institutions. What are the most effective ways to apply participatory innovations to public institutions? Have any experiments been done in this area?

Dr Hans Asenbaum: The dehumanising effect of institutions stems from their functions to govern us. They structure interactions and decision-making procedures, leaving little leeway for creativity, playfulness, or serendipity. What is surprising, however, is that participatory democracy happens within such institutions despite their rigidity. The participatory spirit creeps in and claims space when teachers decide their curriculum in a participatory and inclusive manner together with students or when a community reparation board invites victims and perpetrators into a dialogue.

Of course, state institutions are not always open to this participatory spirit, and its realisation to a large extent depends on the goodwill of individuals in power positions. This is why social movements are crucial in challenging these institutions. The Black Lives Matter movement is a case in point. Their actions constitute democratic innovation by interrupting the racist structures that govern societies around the world. This interruption is not only realised through a negative moment of protest but also through a positive moment of building a peer-help network.

Political Studies Review: In terms of the agonistic approach, you write that it’…has long remained vague about institutional manifestations of its ideal and has mostly referred to the contentious politics of social movement.’ The transformative perspective is also linked with social movements in your article. Have you been able to spot any of the features of these approaches in any of the significant social movements in recent years, such as Occupy Wall Street, Indignados, Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, or any others?

Dr Hans Asenbaum: Movements such as Extinction Rebellion (XR), Black Lives Matter (BLM) and their predecessors have played a crucial role in inspiring theories of agonistic and transformative democracy. Hence, these theories are not only useful for analysing these movements but the movements also serve as the theories’ empirical sources. Now, this is the wonderful thing about democratic theories – and normative political theories more generally –; they each shed new and different light on the same phenomenon. This means we do not have to choose whether XR or BLM are either agonistic or transformative movements; they both harbour aspects of agonistic and transformative democracy.

State institutions are not always open to this participatory spirit, and its realisation to a large extent depends on the goodwill of individuals in power positions. This is why social movements are crucial in challenging these institutions.

The profound revolution XR calls for in the face of the dramatic climate crisis and the shattering of racist ideology and practice BLM advocates resonate with the transformative democratic perspective. Far beyond reform, it needs profound cultural and economic change to tackle the climate crisis and racism. Despite this revolutionary outlook, from an agonistic angle, we can see how both movements do not understand their opponents as enemies to be destroyed but as adversaries who are receptive to dialogue. Their views need to be challenged, and their practices disrupted. Such agonistic approaches are reflected in street protest and social media contestation of the respective movements.  

Black Lives Matter protest, London, June 2020, phot. E. Kania

Which of the developed solutions can be utilised in modern, democratic institutions most effectively?

The focus on social movements in the agonistic and transformative accounts doesn’t mean that the type of democratic innovations I’m suggesting cannot be realised within state institutions. Indeed, state actors are enablers of democratic bottom-up participation. This is what the participatory perspective highlights in particular. Participatory budgeting is a great example of how democratic innovations can be realised from a participatory democratic (rather than a deliberative) angel. The history of participatory budgeting also illustrates that whether democratic innovations emerge bottom-up or top-down is not necessarily a mutually exclusive question but that there actually can be a fruitful interface between the state and social movements.

The agonistic perspective further adds insights into how the state can facilitate democratic innovations beyond the deliberative paradigm. Mary Paxton suggests a Contestation Day, which is modelled after Ackerman and Fishkin’s Deliberation Day. Before general elections, citizens would meet for small group debates in the agonistic manner Paxton suggests. The new understanding of democratic innovations, I suggest, allows us to think even further. What if the state would provide social movements and civic initiatives the funds to set up their own democratic innovations? Democratic innovations, then, could be state-sponsored but social movement-run. I have made this suggestion together with Frederic Hanusch. We argue that instead of focusing on reasoned deliberation through the verbal expression of arguments, new democratic spaces could focus on non-verbal deliberation through artistic expression and play. This could be realised in democratic playgrounds and democratic ateliers as new democratic innovations that allow participants to prototype solutions to political problems.

What major challenges for applying democratic innovations would you highlight?

Democratic innovations always struggle with their neoliberal and capitalist context. Capitalism has produced a particular kind of democracy. We refer to it as liberal or representative democracy. Calling it capitalist democracy would actually be more fitting. What we call democracy today is a hybrid between the democratic logic of the self-rule of the people and the capitalist logic of competition and hierarchy. Capitalist democracy translates self-rule to the representation of the people by the elite. The power the people hold in this process is reduced to choosing among elite actors in staged party competition. Election campaigns follow market principles of product promotion and profit maximisation. The Schumpeterian ideal has become reality. This has been convincingly argued by Ellen Meiksins Wood.

Capitalism has produced a particular kind of democracy. We refer to it as liberal or representative democracy. Calling it capitalist democracy would actually be more fitting.

Democratic innovations, as I understand them, break with this capitalist logic and in doing so recapture democracy’s egalitarian spirit. Instead of delegating decision-making power to the elite, people deliberate and decide for themselves. Instead of competing with one another, they aim at mutual understanding – here the deliberative perspective is helpful. Democratic innovations interrupt capitalist hierarchy by demonstrating that self-rule is possible. Of course, there are convincing arguments that democratic innovations themselves are co-opted by neoliberal logic. They may only pretend to realise democracy while actually functioning as a governing tool of the powerful. We have to be aware and mindful of this problem. This is why bottom-up co-creation of democratic innovations is so important.

What are the key contributions your paper brings to the field?

The kaleidoscope of democratic theory my paper introduces reaffirms the value of theory triangulation. Triangulation is highly valued in empirical research, but it is hardly used in the field of theory and, in particular, in normative theory. Normative theories are commonly seen as mutually exclusive because each theory proposes its own ontology and its own complete worldview. By employing the kaleidoscope of democratic theory, we don’t compromise the internal integrity of each perspective. But we are still able to draw on a diversity of theories. I think this approach is particularly fitting for democratic theory because the value of pluralism is at the very heart of democracy.

The kaleidoscope approach also prioritises deep normative commitments. Discussions in democratic theory lately have moved away from normativity. Instead of focusing on normative models such as deliberative, participatory, agonistic or transformative democracy, democratic theorists suggest pragmatist approaches that are more problem-oriented. While I acknowledge the value of this argument, I worry about losing democratic theory’s firm normative grounding. Instead, I encourage exploring new ways of diversifying and creatively engaging with normative models.

In which direction normative democratic theory will develop is an intriguing question. How will deliberative democracy develop, and what may come after deliberative democracy? We are all part of this debate, and I’m looking forward to participating in it.

ABOUT

Hans Asenbaum is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra. His work focuses on new forms of democratic engagement and radical democratic politics.

Questions and production

Dr Eliza Kania, Brunel University London

MORE

SUGGESTED CONTENT

PSR INTERVIEWS #14: Democratic Innovations: A Look through the Kaleidoscope of Democratic Theory – Hans Asenbaum (PART 1)

The wealth and diversity of democratic theory are incredible. What is fascinating about the participatory, agnostic, and transformative perspectives is that each of them offers an entire world we can dive into, immerse ourselves in, and relish in the democratic vision it generates” – says Dr Hans Asenbaum. This interview is the first part of our conversation with this researcher and a PSR author, who covers new forms of democratic engagement and radical democratic politics. You can learn more about democratic innovations in his PSR article: Rethinking Democratic Innovations: A Look through the Kaleidoscope of Democratic Theory – Hans Asenbaum, 2021 (sagepub.com).

Political Studies Review: You suggest that we need to rethink democratic innovations. Why is such a “re-innovation of democratic innovations” needed, and how do we best go about this?

Dr Hans Asenbaum: Democratic innovations are commonly understood as participatory institutions created by governments. Examples are the now very popular citizens’ assemblies which flourish across the UK and Ireland and participatory budgets which emerged in Brazil. The way the scholarly community conceptualises these instantiations of lived democracy is limiting. This established understanding draws our attention to top-down initiated governmental institutions that are meticulously designed. Design pre-structures what participants in these settings can do and what they can express. Problems range from time constraints to a too narrow focus on rational arguments and go on to include co-option by the organisers. In other words, democratic innovations often produce the decision their organisers intended them to produce, which, of course, defeats their democratic purpose.

What can we do to challenge or at least mitigate these problems? One reason why we perceive and conceptualise democratic innovations in such a narrow manner is because of the incredible success of theories of deliberative democracy, which have dominated the field in the last few decades. This success is due to the persuasiveness and the merits of deliberative democratic theory. Indeed, the scholarly and practitioner community that aims to study and realise public engagement has benefitted immensely from the vibrant field of deliberative democracy research. Deliberative democracy in theory and practice has taught us about the values of inclusion, listening, empathy, humility, learning and respect. These are values I personally cherish.

Indeed, the scholarly and practitioner community that aims to study and realise public engagement has benefitted immensely from the vibrant field of deliberative democracy research.

The problem, then, is not with the deliberative ideal – it is with the exclusivity of one ideal only, whatever it may be. There are evident problems with dogmatism that prevent learning and development. So what I’m suggesting is not to replace the deliberative ideal with another, which would entail the same exclusivity. Rather, I suggest complimenting the deliberative ideal with compatible yet diverse other ideals. Rather than understanding democratic innovations exclusively as deliberative spaces, I propose looking through the kaleidoscope of democratic theory and making use of the wide variety of existing democratic theories. In this way, we can rethink democratic innovations from agonistic, participatory, and transformative angles. This lets us see democratic innovation in a new light. It helps us both to identify aspects of existing democratic processes we haven’t been able to see before, and it also helps us to identify instantiations of democracy that we previously hadn’t identified as democratic innovations.

What, then, is the result of applying the kaleidoscope of democratic theory? What does a novel understanding of democratic innovations look like?

So far, we know what democratic innovations look like from a deliberative angle. Following their Habermasian roots, deliberative democratic innovations have been particularly concerned with creating the “ideal speech situation” – they are staged as egalitarian islands amidst a world dominated by hierarchies and exclusions. This has led to an extreme focus, if not an obsession, with design. The idea here is that we can structure participants’ interactions – not the contents they express but the way they express these contents. This has had beneficial effects, particularly for marginalised groups in society participating in democratic innovations. Nevertheless, the undemocratic aspects of this approach are evident. Design means limiting and pre-determining participants’ behaviour.

If we supplement the deliberative with agonistic, participatory, and transformative lenses,  democratic innovations take on a new meaning. Rather than top-down initiated design, democratic innovation may emerge organically from grassroots mobilising and everyday interaction. Agonistic, participatory, and transformative democratic theory teaches us that democracy may occur anywhere – not just in official democratic processes such as election campaigns, referendums, or citizens’ assemblies, but wherever people meet and exchange ideas and opinions about how society should be governed. Rather than formal, state-run institutions, in the reading I propose, democratic innovation may include informal institutions such as social movement spaces, everyday conversations, societal conventions, and even language and thinking patterns.

Could you give us a concrete example?

Take language as an informal institutional arrangement as an example. Here, let’s zoom in on the debate about personal pronouns. Many advocate explicitly identifying oneself with pronouns including she/her, he/him, or they/them. The mere act of such a declaration constitutes a democratic innovation. Previously it was assumed that we could visually deduce each other’s gender. Making a conscious gender declaration breaks with these established patterns. It democratises gendering as now the control over gender identification lies with the individual democratic subject. The option of self-identifying as they/them allows for a rejection of the established gender binary and identifying otherwise. Democratic innovation, then, can happen in every type of institutional setting that governs us – be it formal or informal.

This does not mean that formal institutions such as deliberative mini-publics are excluded from this understanding of democratic innovation. But the novel understanding presents them in a new light. It draws attention to the inherently interruptive nature of democratic innovations. Where formerly decisions were made by the political elite, mini-publics and other formal democratic innovations interrupt this mode of governance and demonstrate that democracy can be practised otherwise.

What are the major differences between participatory, agnostic and transformative perspectives?

The wealth and diversity of democratic theory are incredible. What is fascinating about the participatory, agnostic, and transformative perspectives is that each of them offers an entire world we can dive into, immerse ourselves in, and relish in the democratic vision it generates. The participatory perspective draws attention to bottom-up participation in unlikely places like workplaces, schools, public administration, and even prisons. Albert Dzur’s Democracy Inside is truly insightful. He sheds light on democratic innovations such as Inside-Out courses, in which free college students and inmates meet weekly to learn about criminal justice or community conferences in which perpetrators, victims, and witnesses meet and reflect on incidents of perceived wrongdoing from different angles. Participatory democratic innovations appear not as top-down designed political institutions but as organically emerging democratic spaces that are organised by civil society actors or public servants.

The agonistic view adds new insight to this approach. Agonistic democracy does not focus on formal political institutions but on language as an informal institutional arrangement that affords and governs how we express ourselves and what we think. In addition to the focus on language, agonistic democracy is concerned with emotion, passion, and affect. At its core, agonistic democracy is about venting suppressed conflict but at the same time preventing conflict from becoming destructive. Hence, creating a safe space is important. Mary Paxton’s Agonistic Democracy opens our eyes to a range of democratic innovations that are mostly outside the realm of the deliberative view. She suggests various seating arrangements, speech tokens, personal testimony instead of expert facts, and controversial topics for debate. More than anything, agonistic democracy does not prescribe one ideal setting but opens our view to the many forms democratic innovations can take on.

I suggest maintaining the internal integrity of each of these perspectives, including the deliberative one, and allowing ourselves to switch between them. It’s like cycling through various different landscapes, immersing ourselves, and learning something new in each of them.

While the agonistic and participatory perspectives suggest reform of a flawed democratic system, the transformative perspective proposes a profound systemic change that breaks with capitalist logic. Such deep transformation has been advocated in the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. But what transformative democracy means for democratic innovations has hardly been explored. Alexandros Kioupkioulis’ The Common and Counter-Hegemonic Politics does a magnificent job at breaking things down by focusing on one concept: the commons. Common-pool resources such as land, water, and knowledge are not simply property that is collectively owned. They constitute a democratic practice – a radical democratic innovation. Wikipedia, the Ancient Greek polis, and occupied public squares all illustrate that transparent and open collective decision-making is possible.

We can see how diverse these three perspectives are. My suggestion is not to combine and hybridise them in some sort. Rather, I suggest maintaining the internal integrity of each of these perspectives, including the deliberative one, and allowing ourselves to switch between them. It’s like cycling through various different landscapes, immersing ourselves, and learning something new in each of them.

ABOUT

Hans Asenbaum is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra. His work focuses on new forms of democratic engagement and radical democratic politics.

Questions and production

Dr Eliza Kania, Brunel University London

MORE

SUGGESTED CONTENT

Podcast #19: Activist Parties and Hybrid Party Behaviours: A Typological Reassessment of Partisan Mobilisation – Dr Alejandro M. Peña

There is a certain inconsistency between theoretical expectations about the behaviour of political parties under democracy, and recent developments concerning the rise of protest politics, the appeal of populist parties and the overall crisis of liberal democratic institutions” – says dr Alejandro M. Peña.

The author points to current resources reducing the organisational trade-offs previously assumed to restrict the combination of electoral appeal with partisan militancy. The podcast is based on dr Peña’s PSR article: Activist Parties and Hybrid Party Behaviours: A Typological Reassessment of Partisan Mobilisation.

MORE

Article: Peña A. M. (2021), Activist Parties and Hybrid Party Behaviours: A Typological Reassessment of Partisan Mobilisation, Political Studies Review 4/2021

Alejandro M. Peña is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of York. He is the author of Transnational Governance and South American Politics: The Political Economy of Norms (2016, with Palgrave) and publishes on issues of state-society relations and contentious politics, Latin American political economy, transnational governance, and the sociology of international relations.

PSR increases its impact factor again!

We are happy to announce that this year Political Studies Review, a journal edited and managed by a team based at Brunel University London, has increased its impact factor again. PSR is now ranked 42/187 in the Political Science category for 2021 (47 for 2020), and our impact factor increased to 3.248.

Last year PSR tripled its impact factor from 1.053 to 3.241 and was ranked 47/182 in the Political Science category. We are happy to and we continue to rise up the rankings.

It’s a great success as well as an excellent validation of the team’s commitment and an innovative approach to research dissemination.

Political Studies Review provides a unique intellectual space for rigorous high-quality peer-reviewed original research across political science and the study of politics in related fields that aims at stimulating wide-ranging debate and cutting-edge discussion of current disputes and issues in the discipline within the UK and internationally.

The journal also operates an innovative approach to research communications. As they state: “In the era of fake news, spreading reliable information and popularizing science is a great responsibility and challenge. The editorial team of Political Studies Review is committed to presenting and visualizing research data to boost dissemination. We want to introduce research findings and articles published in PSR to a wider audience.

Podcast guidelines – updated

We have recently updated our podcasting guidelines. You can find it here: PSR podcasting guidelines – Political Studies Review: our blog (brunel.ac.uk), as well as in the summary below.

In the era of widespread and often unverified information, science can start to be considered as just another voice in the room. Given that our mission is to provide high-quality scientific analysis for a wider audience in an easy to understand manner, podcasts can be an invaluable way of getting the key findings from your article across to the broader public.

A great example of how engaging and professional talks raised a topic’s or person’s profile is professor Brene Brown’s TED talk has been viewed over 41 million times and made her a global superstar. Or writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book “We Should All Be Feminists” has become a worldwide bestseller after her talk.1

Example 1

Example 2

Our idea is much more humble. We aim to start a series of short podcasts with a duration of up to 140s (however, due to technical reasons your recording should be no longer than 135 sec). The key point is to explain the major idea of the PSR publication by its author. You can create a podcast that is a short digital audio recording of your talk, or a video podcast.

Example 3

You can also include any interesting visual content connected with your article (video, pictures, graphs, charts, etc).

Example 4

Once you decide to participate, here’s what we recommend:

#1 TRY TO INSPIRE

Get your audience interested. Show them the topic in the wider context and why it’s important in the first couple of sentences. Try to connect major points of your podcast with key political or social challenges. Don’t make your talk too abstract. Show the importance of your research and why are you so passionate about it. Be aware that some of your viewers/ listeners may need some description to help them understand why the topic matters.

#2 BE PRECISE

Try and keep your podcast brief – no more than 135 seconds or even shorter. Ensure that your talk gets straight to the point, keep things simple and tie every element in your presentation to the theme. Remember about a clear structure.

#3 AVOID USING UNNECESSARILY COMPLICATED LANGUAGE

You are probably going to communicate with people who don’t know the topic on which you are an expert. Avoid academic jargon and if it’s necessary to do so, try to explain complex terms. Using words no one understands will confuse listeners. The real challenge is to talk about complex concepts in an easy to understand way, not the other way round.

#4 SOUND LIKE YOU

What you want to say needs to be you. Although you might choose to prepare a written script, do use words you would normally use, in regular conversations.

#5 FINISH STRONGLY

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou Leave your listeners with a sparkling thought – something to be remembered by.

CHECK YOUR SCRIPT ONCE AGAIN CONSIDERING tHE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS


• Have you decided on words that express your meaning correctly?
• Could you be less abstract?
• Have you got things in the best order?
• Is your argument coherent?
• Are your facts right?
• Is the tone of voice right?

A FEW TECHNICAL TIPS

  • Choose a comfortable place.
  • Minimize distractions: choose a quiet place, and – in the case of a video recording – a calm background with good light).
  • When you start recording wait about 3s before you start speaking.
  • Similarly, when you finish speaking wait before switching off the camera.
  • Send us your script – it will help us to prepare subtitles.
  • If you prefer to speak in your native language – do so.
  • Just prepare a precise translation to be transformed into subtitles.
  • You can also attach any interesting visual content you want to use to explain your point (videos, pictures, graphs, charts, etc) – we’ll use it in your podcast.

Sources and inspirations:

(1) M. Aarons-Mele The Myth Of The TED Talk, “Forbes”, 12.01.2018

(2) K. Roman, “Writing that works”

Podcast #18: Rethinking Democratic Innovations: A Look through the Kaleidoscope of Democratic Theory- Hans Asenbaum

Democratic innovations such as citizens’ assemblies are commonly conceptualized from a deliberative democratic perspective. Here, citizens come together to deliberate political issues and jointly develop solutions. While this perspective is important, the wide range of democratic theories has much more to offer” – says dr Hans Asenbahm.

He argues that looking through just one perspective, as social scientists usually do, limits what they can see. The podcast is based on dr Asenbaum’s PSR article: Rethinking Democratic Innovations: A Look through the Kaleidoscope of Democratic Theory – Hans Asenbaum, 2021 (sagepub.com)

MORE

Article: Asenbaum H. (2021), Rethinking Democratic Innovations: A Look through the Kaleidoscope of Democratic Theory – Hans Asenbaum, 2021 (sagepub.com), Political Studies Review 2022

Hans Asenbaum is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra. His work focuses on new forms of democratic engagement and radical democratic politics.