Concepts and Practices of (Counter-)Democracy in the 2010s Movements

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Geoffrey PLEYERS , Université de Louvain(UCL), Belgium
This paper proposes a cross-analysis of democracy as demand and practices as defined and implemented by young activists in recent social movements. It draws on first hand empirical material from three qualitative research: democratization movements in Mexico (12 interviews, 2012-2013), Moscow (23 interviews, 2013) and Rio de Janeiro (32 interviews, 2013); progressive activists in Europe (7 countries, 37 interviews and a focus group, 2012); and ecological transition activists in Brooklyn (22 interviews, 2010-11) and Belgium (34 interviews and 2 sociological interventions, 2012-13), as well as 7 interviews with Occupy Wall Street activists.

Text analysis (NVivo) and consolidated methods of discourse analysis suggest that four main forms of counter-democracy can be isolated in young activist’s discourses: direct democracy, responsible democracy, argumentative democracy and protest democracy.Direct democracy at the local level is notably connected to experimentation in horizontal and participatory deliberation processes as well as neighbourhood assemblies. Responsible democracy leads to stress citizens’ responsibility, whether in their consumption practices (the local transition movements) or in monitoring elected representative and civil servants (often mentioned in Russia and in Brazil). Argumentative democracy is mobilized by committed experts, who trust in the impact of rational and well-developed arguments and popular education. Finally, many activists insist on protests, popular movements and mass demonstrations able to influence policies.

The paper will briefly analyze each of these forms of (counter-)democracy, the cultures of activism it refers to, their subjective dimensions and their relation to institutional/representative democracy. It will underline the heuristic potential of cross-fertilizations among these forms of counter-democracy and representative democracy. Taken together, they offer concrete ways forward for a multi-dimensional approach to deal with structural limits of representative democracy and to explore paths towards more democratic societies.