Reforming democracy in disconnected times: A deliberative systems approach

Selen ERCAN, Carolyn M. Hendriks, John Boswell

Research output: Contribution to conference (non-published works)Paper


The capacity of participatory reforms to ‘save representative democracy’ depends in large part on how we define the challenges facing contemporary democratic institutions. In this paper we argue that at the heart of the current democratic malaise lie a series of dysfunctional ‘democratic disconnections’. Drawing on recent systems thinking in the field of deliberative democracy we diagnose three key disconnections facing representative democracy: i) disconnections between citizens and their elected representatives, ii) disconnections between multiple publics of in the public sphere, iii) disconnections between democratic will and policy action. These disconnections produce subtle forms of exclusion and coercion that scholars of democratic innovation currently overlook or elide. We argue that deliberative systems approach can help to address these disconnects, if it focuses on forging connections not only between participatory forums and democratic institutions, but also between citizens and elites, between citizens themselves in the public sphere, and between citizens and the processes that govern them. We use various case studies to illustrate different types of disconnections and to substantiate our argument about the need for greater connectivity in contemporary democracies. Developing practical means to foster greater connectivity opens up a much broader range of possibilities for thinking about democratic intervention in disconnected times.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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