Elstub, S and Böker, M (2015) The Possibility of Critical Mini-Publics: Realpolitik and Normative Cycles in Democratic Theory. Representation: journal of representative democracy, 51 (1). pp. 125-144. ISSN 1749-4001

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Fifty years ago, democratic theory was largely devoid of normative impulse, and was dominated by the realpolitik and positivist approaches of competitive elitism and rational and social choice theory. Whilst the rise of participatory democratic theory in the 1970s brought a halt to this dominance, it was the arrival of deliberative democracy in the 1980s and 1990s that cemented the normative revival in democratic theory. However, as deliberative theory itself increasingly emphasised practice-oriented institutional innovations such as ‘mini-publics’, realpolitik has made a resurgence, rendering deliberative democracy less normative and critical. Yet, although in practice the focus on mini-publics has sometimes resulted in less critical forms of deliberation, we argue that this need not be the case. An important task of deliberative theory today is to find ways in which deliberative democracy can be practically relevant without losing its critical and normative edge. We contend that experimentation with new forms of mini-publics can contribute to this if located within a deliberative system where their deficiencies can be corrected and supplemented by other parts of the system. We conclude by arguing that deliberative democracy has cemented itself as one of the most powerful innovations of democratic theory yet precisely because it can motivate practical innovation on the ground whilst still retaining a strong normative force and critical edge as well. This shows that there need not be an insurmountable divide between theories being either realpolitik or critical, and for democratic theory it is important that both are achieved in the right measure.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Politics, Philosophy, International Relations and Environment
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2016 14:39
Last Modified: 03 May 2019 10:12
URI: https://eprints.keele.ac.uk/id/eprint/1441

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