One Thousand Theories of Democracy

Stream: Panel 79 - Comparative Politics: Theorising and Measuring Democracy 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 11.00 am – 12.30 pm


This paper presents findings from an ongoing research program supported by the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis and the Sydney Democracy Network. It begins with the recognition that there are many theories of democracy in the substantive world, a claim democratic theorists have long made (e.g. Dahl, Mayo, Sartori). It then explains the main approaches taken in democratic theory to make sense of this pluralism. Yet, as influential and important as each approach is, they all begin without a full understanding of just how many theories of democracy are out there. By their own admission, Dahl (1956) made no attempt at cataloging the theories of democracy and Mayo (1960) tried but gave up. These approaches to telling what democracy is, or what democracy should be, therefore only include a small number of theories which problematises their claims. That said, the 'semi-arbitrary' method used by Dahl and others to make sense of the theories of democracy is entirely understandable as it would have taken decades - if not longer - to manually catalog them. But with the arrival of vast, digitally searchable, databases it became possible to take up this eschewed labor. I have, as a result, compiled a list of over one thousand theories of democracy and will present the findings from my introductory research on this list and the new ontology emanating from it.


Jean-Paul Gagnon (Presenter), University of Canberra
Jean-Paul Gagnon is assistant professor in political science at the University of Canberra. He is the author of "Evolutionary Basic Democracy" (Palgrave, 2013) and "Democratic Theorists in Conversation" (Palgrave, 2014). One of his more recent publications was a three part essay, published by The Conversation, which establishes the theory of "non-human democracy". He co-edits Democratic Theory (Berghahn, Oxford/New York) with Associate Professor Mark Chou (ACU, Melbourne).