|A form of governance in which rule is by and for the people. Discussions of democracy usually assume the territorial state as the frame and opportunity for its execution and practice (cf. territoriality). What is democracy, however, is highly contested. Reinvented during the eighteenth-century European Enlightenment, it has spawned a series of debates, many of which have their origins and practices in the classical Greek city-state. Since then, three sets of debates have emerged as especially focal in the making of modern and late modern democracies.
First, who should be included within the citizenpolity (cf. citizenship)? Athenian democracy restricted this to male citizens. But it is only recently that the modern nation-state has evolved an inclusive conception: up until the 1920s, women did not have the franchise in Britain and it was only in the 1960s that the vote was extended to blacks in the United States.
Secondly, there is the nature of a participatory democracy. The Athenian city-state enabled citizens to partake in an extraordinary rich and engaged political life, in which all citizens participated in the development of laws in an open forum. Every citizen had an equal vote on each issue, and in true participatory democratic style, the topics for discussion were often introduced by the voters themselves. In modern-day liberal democracies, democratic theory tends to stress as adequate the equal rights to vote through electing representatives. Thus for Max Weber, democracy is viewed as essentially a means of selecting competent leaders. Arguments against a more Athenian-style democracy tend to focus on two points: (a) citizens were freed to participate in politics by a vast army of women, slaves and foreigners â€” the very notion of the active citizen, as feminist theory notes, presumes someone is taking care of the children and doing the necessary maintenance of everyday life. Moreover, besides individual, modern time-geographies not necessarily being compatible with direct rule, as a number of observers have noted, there are other good things in life â€” play, work, sex â€” than participating directly in politics; and (b) citizen assemblies and rotation of duties work only in the context of tiny small-scale geographic communities like the city-state in which such practices do not easily translate into the modern nation-state which counts its citizens by the millions. Referenda, however, provide one way in which direct Athenian-style rule is often maintained in modern democracies.
Thirdly, there is the question of rule by the majority. While most theorists of democracy subscribe to the view that the majority principle of citizen votes is an effective and desirable way of protecting individuals from arbitrary government, how this is to be realized will depend on how electoral systems are spatially organized and how votes are translated into parliamentary seats (see electoral geography). In late-modern democracies, much debate has focused on what is known as \'the tyranny of the majority\'. Thus while J.S. Mill, one of the founding fathers of liberal democracy, argued for a more inclusive definition of citizenship, he proposed to weight political votes of the more educated, presumably to prevent an enfranchised urban industrial working class from dominating and shaping the political agenda. Today, however, the focus of concern is on how best to protect minority interests. For one school of thought, this can best be achieved by treating toleration, entrenchment of rights as preconditions for democracy but not as constitutive of either democracy itself or by negating the principle of majority rule (cf. human rights). Others argue that difference needs to be respected, and that the only way of securing representation by minorities â€” ethnic, aboriginal, women â€” is by designing political and electoral systems to include an in-built bias. Thus both Spain and Britain have legislation which enables certain of their ethnic regions â€” Catalonia, The Basque Country, Scotland, Wales â€” to have greater representation than others. The problem, however, of ensuring that minority identities are respected, at whatever geographical scale of governance â€” has also given rise to the notion of deliberative democracy (Elster, 1998). Here it is argued that democracy is best achieved through public deliberation over policy issues in which differing voices, rationalities and positions form part of the decision-making process. By emphasizing the importance of dialogue, deliberative democracy can enable multiple voices to be heard.
In the light of important current globalizing and technological change, political theorists are calling for ways in which our democratic imagination should be reformulated and retheorized to take into account three developments in particular.
The first concerns the growth in importance of common global issues and the prominent rise of global institutions of governance (see globalization; regime theory). In particular, there is a need to ensure that such forms of governance are democratically rooted and accountable. As Archiburgi, Held and Kohler (1998) argue, one of the major projects faced is to develop a theory of cosmopolitan democracy, of ensuring that not only are global institutions accountable but also that there is greater equality between its major participants, including nation-states. Cosmopolitan democracy also raises the thorny issue of whether it is legitimate to continue to export western conceptions of democracy to the democratizing world.
Second, there has been a growing interest in the role of regions and city regions in the exercise and practice of democracy. Not only are localities becoming more assertive within the global arena and citizens reforming their Identities in relation to their locale of everyday life, but in the process regions require democratic institutions which celebrate the growing plurality of such regions and world cities (cf. pluralism). As Hirst (1994) argues, one way of realizing this is by working towards a model of associational democracy, in which power and authority is delegated to localities, but which ensures that the local institutions combine citizen choice with public welfare provision (see welfare state).
Finally, while the relationship between geographic scale and democracy needs to be reimagined, so too do the consequences of the impact of the communications revolution on our understanding of democracy. The opportunities opened up by electronic communication have not only changed the way in which politics is conducted and practised, but also raise questions of whether cyberspace is empowering or limiting citizen freedoms (cf. communications, geography of). Most certainly, parallels can be drawn between the new politics mediated by cyberspace and Athenian democracy. On the one hand, while cyberspace has changed the nature of political interaction in which democracy no longer occurs in particular places (the Greek agora, nineteenth-century municipal town hall or public square), but is exchanged amongst non-territorial communities, it can facilitate citizen participation, interaction and even the prospects of mass citizen voting. On the other hand, like the Greek city-state, it is exclusionary, restricted to a political community of technocratic and educated elites, in which there exists large parts of the world that have not been spatially included in this cosmopolitan community of citizens: the inner-city poor, the Third World, and those living under authoritarian regimes.Â (GES)
References and Suggested Reading Archiburgi, D., Held, D. and Kohler, M., eds, 1998: Re-imagining political community: studies in cosmopolitan democracy. Oxford: Polity Press.Â Castells, M. 1997: The power of identity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Â Elster, J. 1998: Deliberative democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Â Hirst, P. 1994: Associative democracy. Oxford: Polity Press.Â Linz, J. and Stepan, A. 1996: Problems of democratic transition and consolidation. Southern Europe, South America and Post-Communist Europe. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Â Painter, J. 1999: New geographies of democracy in contemporary Europe. In A. Williams and R. Hudson, eds, Divided Europe: society and territory. London: Sage.Â Przeworski, A. 1996: Sustainable democracy. Oxford: Polity Press.Â Smith, G. 1994: Political theory and human geography. In D. Gregory, R. Martin and Smith, G., eds, Human geography: society, space and social science. London: Macmillan, 54-77.Â Sorensen, G. 1993: Democracy and democratization. Boulder: Westview.Â Touraine, A. 1996: What is democracy? Oxford: Polity Press.