Real Democracy Now! a podcast

Latest Posts

Welcome to episode 9 in season 2 of Real Democracy Now! A podcast.

In today’s episode, I’m talking to Associate Professor Sofia Näsström from the Department of Government, at the Uppsala University in Sweden. Sofia works in the field of political theory, with a particular focus on issues related to democracy, constituent power, the people, the right to have rights, representation, freedom and precarity. She is currently working on a monograph entitled The Spirit of Democracy: Thinking Democracy beyond the Nation-State.

Sofia is a democratic theorist and I talk with her about who is being represented in representative democracies, the difference between democratic and non-democratic representation and her work identifying the spirit of democracy.

Sofia will also be part of a later episode considering the relationship between democracy and capitalism. In next week’s episode, I will be move from considering theory by taking an ‘empirical turn’ with Professor John Keane talking his work on monitory democracy. I hope you’ll join me then.

Today I’m speaking with Professor Archon Fung. Professor Fung is the Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

His research explores policies, practices, and institutional designs that deepen the quality of democratic governance. He focuses upon public participation, deliberation, and transparency. He co-directs the Transparency Policy Project and leads democratic governance programs of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Kennedy School.

I talk to Professor Fung about the concept of ‘pragmatic democracy’ which he describes as being focused on outcomes and then looking at different approaches to democracy to determine which ones will get us closer to those outcomes. In some ways, this approach is similar to the problem-based approach described by Professor Warren in the last episode. He also expands on his article Our desperate need to save US democracy from ourselves from December 2016.

We’ll be hearing from Professor Fung later in this season when I pull together different perspectives on democracy and capitalism, as well as in Season 4 Between Election Democracy where his work on empowered participation is particularly relevant.
In next week’s episode, I speak with Associate Professor Sofia Näsström about her theoretical work developing the concept of ‘the spirit of democracy’. I hope you’ll join me then.

Check out this episode!

Today I’m speaking with Professor Mark Warren. Mark is the Harold and Dorrie Merilees Chair in the Study of Democracy in the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia where he established the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

His current research interests fall within the field of democratic theory. He is especially interested in new forms of citizen participation, new forms of democratic representation, the relationship between civil society and democratic governance, and the corruption of democratic relationships. I’m talking with Mark about, amongst other things, his latest paper entitled A Problem-Based Approach to Democratic Theory.
In this paper, Mark proposes that we focus on a democratic system which delivers three functions:
  1. empowered inclusion
  2. collective will formation and
  3. the ability to make collective decisions.

He notes that different democratic practices are better at delivering some of these than others and so we should be looking a mix of practices to complement each other and deliver all three functions. He proposes supplementing and layering innovations on top of electoral democracy to create stronger democracies.

Thank you for joining me today. In next week’s episode, I will be talking to Professor Archon Fung about pragmatic democracy and how we might save democracy from ourselves. I hope you’ll join me then.

Check out this episode!

Today I’m talking with  Assistant Professor Jean-Paul Gagnon from the University of Canberra. Jean-Paul is a philosopher of democracy specialising in democratic theory.
Jean-Paul’s research into democracy has three areas of focus. The first, which I am talking with him about today, is an ongoing empirical effort to catalogue democracy’s adjectives and to inquire about what knowing these adjectives may come to mean or be used for. The second is to continue contributing to the theory of non-human democracy by trying to draw lessons for human democracies from the practices of non-human others. The third is to contribute to globalising the history of democracy from a democratic theory perspective.
In later seasons of the podcast, I’ll be looking more closely at different adjectives and democracy, in particular, those adjectives which aim to describe or prescribe what might be considered better or improved forms of democracy.
In the meantime Season 2 is focused on representative democracy and next week I speak to Professor Mark Warren about his work developing an alternative to different models of democracy. Mark has developed a concept of ‘problem-based democracy’ where his focus is on the basic functions a democracy needs to fulfil. He sees this approach as a way to ‘expand our democratic imagination.’ I hope you’ll join me then.

Check out this episode!

I ask all of my guests two questions:

  1. what for them is the essence of a real democracy? and
  2. if they could change one thing about our system of democracy what would it be?
In episode 1.9 we heard from a number of the guests I interviewed in Season 1 (about deliberative mini-publics) on their view of the essence of a real democracy. Today we hear from guests from Season 1 and 2 on the one change they would make to our system of democracy.
I’ve found the answers people have given to this question fascinating. Sometimes people want changes that directly relate to their area of interest and other things they identify an important change in a completely different part of our democratic system.
In this episode, we hear from
  • Adam Cronkright from Democracy in Practice. I interviewed Adam in episode 1.12 about the work of Democracy in Practice in schools in Bolivia.
  • Associate Professor Caroline Lee. Caroline was part of episode 1.19 where we considered different critiques of deliberative mini-publics.
  • Associate Professor Daniel Pemstein was part of episode 2.3 about his work on the Varieties of Democracy Project and the Unified Democracy Scores.
  • Professor Carson was my first guest in episode 1.1 where she explained the basics about deliberative mini-publics.
  • Professor Graham Smith who has been part of a couple of episodes now – episode 1.8 where he talked about the UK Citizens’ Assemblies and episode1.18 where he outlined his approach to evaluating deliberative mini-publics.
  • Professor Cristina La Font was also part of episode 1.19 where she explained her critique about some uses of deliberative mini-publics.
  • Professor Paul Cartledge was our first guest in Season 2 where he took us through a potted history of Ancient Greek democracy. and
  • Associate Professor Genevieve Fuji Johnson was one of the guests on episode 1.19 critiquing deliberative mini-publics.
In next week’s episode, I speak with Jean-Paul Gagnon about his work on ‘democracy with adjectives’. So far Jean-Paul has identified over 1400 adjectives used to describe democracy. He also tells us about a virtual ‘city of democracy’ he is developing based on this work. I hope you’ll join me then.

Check out this episode!

Welcome to episode 4 of Season 2 of Real Democracy Now! A podcast. Today’s episode is about non-Western democracy. I’d like to thank David Schecter for bringing this area of democratic thinking and practice to my attention and for introducing me to my two guests: Associate Professor Benjamin Isakhan and PhD scholar Zelalem Sirna from Ethiopia. Both guests highlight the Eurocentric nature of much of the discourse on democracy and introduce us to some non-western examples of democratic practice.

Benjamin Isakhan is Associate Professor of Politics and Policy Studies and Founding Director of POLIS, a research network for Politics and International Relations in the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization at Deakin University, Australia. He is also Adjunct Senior Research Associate, in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa and an Associate of the Sydney Democracy Network at the University of Sydney, Australia. Ben is the author of Democracy in Iraq: History, Politics, Discourse (Routledge, 2012 HB, 2016 PB) and the editor of 6 books including The Secret History of Democracy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011 HB, 2012 PB – translated into Japanese 2012, and Arabic 2014), and The Edinburgh Companion to the History of Democracy: From Pre-History to Future Possibilities (Edinburgh University Press & Oxford University Press, 2012 HB, 2015 PB). He is a leading expert and regular commentator on Middle Eastern Politics, Democracy and Democratization across the Middle East, and Heritage Destruction in the Middle East.

Zelalem Sirna is a PhD scholar at the University of Coimbra in Portugal in the programme of Democracy in 21sy Century. He earned his LL.B degree in law from the Haramaya University Ethiopia and his MPhil in Indigenous Studies from University of Tromso, Norway. For his Masters, he undertook a comparative study of Gadaa, the traditional system of governance in Ethiopia and liberal democracy. For his Ph, he is looking at deliberative democracy, deliberative systems and the Gadaa system. As a sociology-legal researcher, is main works are focused on normative pluralism and the challenges it poses in 21st century.

The next episode will consider what my guests think is the one change they would like to see in our system of democracy. I ask all of my guests the same two questions:

1. what for you is the essence of a real democracy and
2. if you could change one thing about our current system of democracy what would it be.

I’d love to hear your answers to these two questions and include your perspectives in future episodes. You can send your perspectives to me by email to essence@realdemocracynow.com.au or via Twitter or Facebook.

Thank you for joining me in the third episode of Season 2 of Real Democracy Now! A podcast. Season 2 is looking at representative democracy and today I am talking with three academics who take different approaches to evaluating representative democracy. These three approaches are by no means the only ones, in fact, there are many indexes and evaluation frameworks in existence. Which is why Dan Pemstein with his colleagues Stephen Meserve and James Melton created the United Democracy Scores to integrate a number of these into one measure.

First up, I speak to Professor Leonardo Morlino who is a professor of political science and director of the Research Center on Democracies and Democratizations at LUISS, Rome. Prof. Morlino is a leading specialist in comparative politics with expertise on Southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece), Eastern Europe, and the phenomenon of democratization. He is the author of several books and more than 200 journal essays and book chapters published in English, French, German, Spanish, Hungarian, Chinese, Mongolian, and Japanese. In 2015 -16 he has been conducting research on how the economic crisis affected South European democracies and on the economic and fiscal choices of democracies in the same area within an EU Horizon 2020 grant.
Professor Morlino talks to us about the analytical tool he has developed to allow comparison of democracies.

Next, I talk with Professor Wolfgang Merkel who is the Director of the Research Unit: Democracy and Democratization at the WZB Social Science Research Centre Berlin, as well as heading up the Centre for Global Constitutionalism and a number of other projects. He has written widely on democracy, democratisation, social democracy and democracy & capitalism to name but a few in academic and non-academic publications. Professor Merkel is a co-project leader of the Democracy Barometer. This project developed an instrument to assess the quality of democracy in 30 established democracies and is the focus of my discussion with Professor Merkel today.

Finally, I spoke with Daniel Pemstein. Dan is an assistant professor of political science at North Dakota State University. He is a methodologist who specialises in measurement and builds statistical tools to answer substantive questions in comparative legislative studies and political economy. He is involved in a number of statistical projects, including two I’ll be talking to him about today: the Varieties of Democracy Project and the Unified Democracy Scores.

Thanks for joining me today. We’ll be hearing from Professors Morlino and Merkel again later in Season 2 when we look at the challenges facing democracy and the relationship between democracy and capitalism. Next week’s episode covers a topic mentioned today, that is ‘non-Western democracy’. I’ll be speaking to Associate Professor Benjamin Isakhan about democracy in the Middle East and Zelalem Sirna about Ethiopian democracy. I hope you’ll join me then.

In today’s episode, I’m talking with Dr Roslyn Fuller and Professor Nadia Urbinati.

Dr Roslyn Fuller (dipl. jur./erstes Staatsexamen, Goettingen; PhD, Trinity College Dublin) is a Canadian-Irish academic and columnist, specializing in public international law, and the impact of technological innovation on democracy. Her latest book Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed Its Meaning and Lost Its Purpose explores the flaws of representative democracy and how they could be addressed through the application of ancient Athenian principles of demokratia (people power). Her work has appeared, among others, in OpenDemocracyThe NationThe Toronto StarSalon and The Irish Timesas well as in many scholarly journalsShe is currently a Research Associate at Waterford Institute of Technology and founding member of the Solonian Democracy Institute.

Like Professor Cartledge in episode 1 Roslyn is interested in what we can learn from the democracy of ancient Athens and like him, she sees technology as providing a way to scale up direct democracy.

Nadia Urbinati is a Professor of Political Theory and Hellenic Studies at Columbia University. She is a political theorist who specializes in modern and contemporary political thought and the democratic and anti-democratic traditions.  Nadia has written extensively on democracy including two books: Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy, Democracy Disfigured , and Mill on Democracy: From the Athenian Polis to Representative Government

Nadia takes us through a potted history of representative democracy and explains four key elements of representative democracy and why they are crucial for an operating representative democracy:
  1. Sovereignty of people expressed in electoral appointment of their representatives
  2. Free mandate for representatives
  3. Electoral mechanisms to ensure responsiveness by representatives
  4. Universal franchise.
Nadia identifies the dual authorities of citizens – our vote and our judgement – which while distinct and different are equally important.
If you would like to hear more from Roslyn and Nadia visit my YouTube channel where I have included videos of other presentations and interviews by these guests.
In next week’s episode, we will hear about a couple of the many different approaches to evaluating representative democracy: the Varieties of Democracy project, the Democracy Barometer, the Unified Democracy Scores and the work done by the Research Centre on Democracies and Democratizations in Rome. I hope you’ll join me then.

Check out this episode!

Welcome back to Real Democracy Now! a podcast.This is episode one of Season Two. Season Two is about representative democracy

Season Two is about representative democracy: its origins, components, how it can be evaluated, different approaches to democracy, the democratic deficit and the relationship between democracy and capitalism.

In Episode 1 of Season 2, I’m talking to Professor Paul Cartledge. Professor Cartledge was the inaugural A G Levants Professor of Greek Culture

Professor Cartledge was the inaugural A G Levants Professor of Greek Culture in the University of Cambridge and President of Clare College, Cambridge. Between 2006 – 2010 he was Hellenic Parliament Global Distinguished Professor in History and Theory of Democracy at New York University. Over the course of his career, he has written and edited numerous books on the ancient Greek world, most recently Democracy: a Life. He has served as historical consultant for the BBC television series The Greeks, and for four Channel 4 documentaries, including The Spartans.

If you would like to hear more from Professor Cartledge I’ve added some videos to the Real Democracy Now! YouTube Channel.

Some other material you may find interesting:

How student activism informed Paul Cartledge’s new history of democracy

Ancient Greeks would not recognise our democracy

G1000 in Cambridge

In the next episode, I’ll be talking with Professor Nadia Urbinati and Roslyn Fuller about the history of democracy and design. I hope you’ll join me then.

Check out this episode!

In this episode I speak to three academics who each take a critical perspective on the operation of deliberative mini-publics. Each of them takes issue with a different aspect of the impact or influence that the recommendations coming from deliberative mini-publics have on public policy.

For Associate Professor Genevieve Fuji Johnson the failure of the democratic innovations she studied (which includes deliberative mini-publics and deliberative polling) was that they didn’t have any real impact on policy and decision-making.
 
Professor Cristina La Font takes basically the opposite view. For her deliberative mini-publics should not have any impact on policy decisions, rather they should be used to support the broader engagement of citizens.
 
Associate Professor Caroline Lee’s critique is that many democratic innovations, including deliberative mini-publics, appear to allow for influence or impact but the issues they are asked to consider are often heavily circumscribed, and deliberative mini-publics are explicitly denied the opportunity to address the challenges underlying the difficult issues they are faced with.

And Roslyn Fuller provides another perspective suggesting that citizens may change how they approach decision-making within a deliberative mini-public depending on whether they believe their recommendations will be implemented or not.

This is the final episode of Season 1 looking at deliberative mini-publics. If you haven’t already listened to episodes 1 – 18 I’d suggest you go back and listen to them all, starting with Professor Carson explaining what deliberative mini-publics are in episode 1.1.

Season 2 will look at the history of democracy, the dominant model of representative democracy, as well as what is working and what isn’t.

Season 2 will commence in mid-March. I hope you’ll join me then.
Check out this episode!

Scroll to top