No issue, no public: democratic deficits after the displacement of politics

“In its straightforward formulation, this diagnosis proposes that when politics is displaced, it moves beyond the reach of established democratic arrangements, i.e. those of national representative democracy. As a consequence, these politics are no longer effectively constrained by mechanisms to ensure the legitimacy of decisions and the accountability of the entities making them. While this diagnosis provides a particularly clear problem definition, taken by itself, it is only of limited use. This is because it defines the democratic deficit that follows in the wake of the displacement of politics by applying a standard that precisely cannot be applied in these circumstances: that of a politics that is contained in democratic arrangements. How do we define the democratic deficit after the displacement of politics, that is, once we have acknowledged the multiplicity of sites and framings of (democratic) politics? That is the question I want to explore in this chapter. In the context of the displacement of politics, I will argue, our understanding of what counts as a democratic deficit, and how such a deficit is to be addressed, become unsettled. Democratic deficits can be seen to proliferate when politics is displaced among locations, as each time it evades the mechanisms of democratic legitimacy and accountability that may be in place in a given site. But at the same time, robust definitions of the democratic deficit come under pressure in this context. One reason is that when politics is displaced, the question what counts as the pertinent subject, form and site of (democratic) politics is opened up. For each issue, there are multiple candidates for the set of actors to be taken into account, the form of political democracy to be enacted, and the site where this is to be done. Considering this relative optionality of the who, how and where of democracy, as it becomes apparent in the context of the displacement of politics, I want to argue, we do well to direct our attention to the “what” of democracy. In the face of so many displacements of politics, an often forgotten protagonist of politics enters the picture: the issues at stake in controversies. Issues may not only serve as guides to the appropriate sites, subjects, and forms of (democratic) politics at a given moment. An appreciation of the role of issues in the enactment of democratic politics is indispensable, I will argue here, if we are to develop a definition of the democratic deficit that takes into account the constraints on democracy in the context of the displacement of politics.”

-Noortje Suzanne Marres

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About dmf

alienist @ large, mostly on foot
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