Are minorities involved in deliberative democracy

Emancipation or Reaction: How Conservative is Deliberative Democracy?


Is deliberative democracy a conservative model? Is it based on mechanisms that systematically undermine its claim to emancipation? The essay answers this question following critics of deliberative democracy in terms of three dimensions. With regard to the temporal dimension, the extent to which the deliberative model has a character that preserves the status quo is examined. In the factual dimension, a tendency towards depoliticization is discussed. For the social dimension, the essay addresses the potential exclusion of certain social groups and their perspectives from the deliberation process. In dealing with relevant approaches of deliberative democracy theory and with findings from empirical deliberation research, the article comes to a differentiated picture. Accordingly, potentially conservative tendencies can be found in deliberative democracy. At the same time, it is argued that these tendencies can be avoided if, on the one hand, the genuinely critical potential of deliberative practice compared to other elements of the model is emphasized and, on the other hand, the necessity of institutional embedding deliberative processes in procedures of representative democracy is taken into account.


Is deliberative democracy a conservative model? Is it based on mechanisms that systematically undermine its emancipatory claim? Drawing on the work of critics of deliberative democracy, this essay answers those questions by considering three distinct dimensions of the problem. First, with regard to the temporal dimension, it examines the extent to which the deliberative model tends to uphold the status quo. Then, as far as the material dimension is concerned, it considers whether deliberative democracy encourages depoliticization. Finally, the essay investigates the social dimension: Are certain social groups and their perspectives potentially excluded from the deliberation process. By examing relevant approaches taken both by theorists of deliberative democracy and empirical research on its actual implementations, the authors reach some nuanced conclusions. While it is true that potentially conservative tendencies can be identified in deliberative democracy, those tendencies can be avoided in two ways. First, the genuinely critical potential of deliberative practice must be emphasized in preference to other elements of the model. Second, we must bear in mind that deliberative processes should be embedded institutionally in the procedures of representative democracy.


The essay is devoted to a paradoxical phenomenon. The theories of deliberative democracy claim to provide a politically emancipatory model. It should help to realize the democratic promise of equal political participation and self-determination of all citizens and thereby minimize the political influence of democratically illegitimate social power structures (e.g. Habermas 1994; Benhabib 1996; Cohen 1998; Dryzek 2000). In this way, deliberative democracy theories are differentiated from aggregative models of democracy, which from their point of view predominate in the political reality of liberal representative democracies (Habermas 1996, pp. 277–283), but tend to reinforce the power relations that exist in a society (Gutmann and Thompson 2004). In the deliberative model, it is not election or voting alone that guarantees democratic legitimacy, but above all the quality of the preceding discussion and decision-making process. This should be designed in such a way that precisely the "[...] regulations resulting from it may claim legitimacy to which all those who may be affected as participants in rational discourses could agree" (Habermas 1996, pp. 299-300).

This claim aroused criticism at an early stage. It assumes the deliberative model to have anti-pluralistic and thus anti-democratic effects (Mouffe 2005, pp. 108–128). Political theory and democracy research are thus increasingly faced with a paradoxical situation with regard to the assessment of the potentials and problems of deliberative democracy. While advocates of the deliberative model of democracy consider it a reformist, if not radical (Bohmann 1998) or even revolutionary (Fung 2005) political ideal, critics claim the opposite: the deliberative ideal has conservative or anti-democratic connotations (Sanders 1997, p. 348; Mouffe 2005) that it is fatally blind to power relations and conflicts of interest in politics (Shapiro 1999, 2017). Deliberation even forms a mechanism of ideological domination of voters who, for this reason, do not make voting decisions in their best self-interest (Przeworski 1998).

The present article aims to clarify this contradiction and brings the problem to a head: Is deliberative democracy an - implicitly - conservative model? Is the model based on mechanisms that systematically bring about the opposite of what is intended and what is required? Although the critical discussion of deliberative democracy is already in its third decade, many fundamental questions have by no means been systematically clarified and are repeatedly taken up in the literature (see, most recently, Bächtiger et al. 2018; Elstub and McLaverty 2014; Flügel-Martinsen et al. 2014; Landwehr and Schmalz-Bruns 2014; Fishkin and Mansbridge 2017). The “systemic turn” (Dryzek 2010, pp. 6-8), which the deliberative theory of democracy even before the programmatic article by Mansbridge et al. (2012) and in which she reflects on the relationship between deliberative democracy and existing political institutions.

We argue in three steps. First we reconstruct the criticism of the deliberative model under the theoretical guidelines of the accusation of conservatism. The concept of conservatism helps us to systematize the possible objections to the deliberative approach and to focus on problems that run counter to its explicit (normative) expectations. We propose breaking it down into three interdependent dimensions that can be systematically related to the deliberative model. In the second step, we check the theoretical and empirical plausibility of this perspective: where does it apply and where does it not? In addition, we ask about the implications of the more recent theory development with regard to a systemic conception of deliberative democracy for the present context. In the third step, we draw the conclusions from the previous study and ask which aspects of the deliberative model need to be changed or emphasized in order to avoid the accusation of conservatism and to be able to maintain the claim to a democratic-emancipatory effect.

Dimensions of Conservatism

Conservatism is a vague term that needs a more precise definition in order to be used analytically (Vierhaus 1995). Even his perspective is unclear: while the tradition-oriented conservative wants to maintain the status quo, the reform conservative is convinced of the need for historical change; the reactionary conservative seeks to restore a bygone state. A substantial determination is hopeless. The goals and values ​​of conservatism remain ambiguous, variable and colorful (Greiffenhagen 2010). The term and the phenomenon of conservatism can best be understood in its historical genesis, namely as a response to enlightenment and revolutionary rationalism and not least to the consequences of the French Revolution (Burke 1790). In this sense, conservatism is characterized by a skeptical attitude towards theoretical-constructivist reflection, emphasizing the inarticulable value of grown institutionsFootnote 1 and particular forms of life and defends them against programmatic innovations and universalistic claims (Hamilton 2016). The two minimum conditions for the existence of conservatism would be its defensive stance against an impending upheaval or far-reaching reform of the social order including its existing privileges and the associated political method of reactive and incremental adjustment (Müller 2006, pp. 361–362).

Conservatism is to be understood primarily as a counter-tendency to emancipatory rationalism. On the other hand, the normative thrust of deliberative democracy is directed against the translation of existing economic and social power relations into political ones and demands the fundamental possibility of the rational consent of all those affected by political decisions (Habermas 1994). The deliberative considerations thus focus on a painful gap in the liberal democratic theories, which mostly only formally constitutionally demand political equality, but do not take any concrete institutional precautions against the socio-economic inequality generated in capitalism being converted into unequal opportunities for political participation and representation (Merkel 2014). So when we ask in the following how conservative deliberative democracy is, we aim to identify those building blocks in the theoretical model itself that represent a potential counter-tendency to this democratic-emancipatory claim or do not intentionally produce it.

We understand democratic emancipation to mean increasing (or at least securing) equal opportunities and the effectiveness of political self-determination for all citizens within a social community. Conservatism, on the other hand, means closing or reversing such democratic participation. We argue that this analytical concept of conservatism can be sensibly broken down into three dimensions (temporal, factual, social), which on the one hand can integrate different strands of criticism of the deliberation model and on the other hand allow a systematic review on the basis of a theoretical and empirical evaluation. If one looks at the literature critical of deliberation against this background, the accusation of conservatism can be classified accordingly. The temporal Regarding the dimension (section “Status quo orientation - utopia as conservatism”), it is criticized that the deliberative model has a character that preserves the status quo, which in view of the increase in developments endangering democracy such as growing socio-economic and political inequality (cf. Crouch 2004; Mau and Schöneck 2015; Merkel 2015) would even amount to a step backwards. In the factual Dimension (section “Depoliticization through Rationalization”), a tendency towards depoliticization is deplored; Certain decision-making matters are thus removed from the democratic process. For the social Dimension (section “Deliberative Mechanisms of Political Exclusion”), the critique finally identifies a tendency to exclude certain social groups from the deliberation process. Although the three dimensions are closely related both theoretically and practically and politically, the analytical separation facilitates their systematic examination.

The critical evaluation undertaken here against the background of the accusation of conservatism presupposes a distinction between the ideal, the model and the practice of deliberative democracy. The ideal describes in an abstract way a normatively desirable political situation without claiming that it corresponds to the actually observable or realized political practice. The model, on the other hand, translates normative claims into specifications for concrete political practice (e.g. in the form of procedural specifications). We therefore assume that the model of deliberative democracy either determines political practices, insofar as it is observed, or justifies such practices insofar as they correspond to it. However, these practices could systematically produce results that contradict the normative criteria of the ideal. While the ideal of deliberative democracy is clearly to be judged as non-conservative according to its claim, the respective concretizing model can therefore have conservative implications and come into tension with the normative ideas. The following discussion therefore focuses on the model of deliberative democracy and its relationship to concrete political practice. So it only relates indirectly to the ideal behind it.

Status quo orientation - utopia as conservatism

From a democratic model with an emancipatory claim, we would have to expect the potential to challenge, break up and transform illegitimate social and political power relations. The first accusation, however, is that the deliberative model of democracy is unable to question existing conditions. It would even help maintain the latter (Young 2001). It concerns the dimension of politics in and over time. Emancipation is a process term. Its realization requires the development of a temporal change away from a status quo that is viewed as problematic towards a preferred state. This development can either be slowed down or promoted in the political debate through appropriate institutions, strategies and practices.

An early criticism that justifies the accusation of being fixated on the status quo and explicitly claims to identify conservative tendencies of the deliberative model comes from Sanders (1997). Her main thesis is that deliberation is not problematic in itself, but in the face of the prevailing adverse circumstances it would inevitably not only not overcome existing power asymmetries and inequalities, but consolidate them. According to this, deliberation could only develop its emancipatory potential if conducive social circumstances existed. However, this is not to be expected in the present or in the foreseeable future. The expectations of the deliberative theory of democracy therefore presuppose utopian conditions, the non-existence of which turns the real effect of deliberation into the opposite of its intentions. If this accusation were correct, the deliberative model would help to transform existing social power relations into political ones preserve.

The problem is that deliberation expresses existing power relations and thus reproduces them. This is the case because the ability to participate in deliberation depends on resources such as time and education, which, analogous to economic resources, are unevenly distributed. Deliberation can therefore only tacitly confirm existing inequalities. It should indeed transcend particular interests for the common good. As a rule, however, certain interests would be tacitly served (status quo) and other underprivileged interests and perspectives would be disadvantaged.

A related accusation is that hegemonic discourses would influence the views and arguments of the participants in deliberative forums. Certain unquestioned ideas, criteria, and images that reflect existing power relations subtly steered the deliberative processes. Seen in this way, deliberation would even be in a tense relationship with forms of political activism, which is more promising for the establishment of political equality and the challenge of social injustices under the current circumstances (Young 2001, pp. 685–689).

Depoliticization through rationalization

The factual Dimension concerns the question of which contents and positions are taken into account in the deliberative process. In accordance with its democratic-emancipatory claim, the deliberative model would have to create opportunities to effectively feed all concerns and all perspectives of those affected into the political process. The critics complain, however, that the deliberative model can be seamlessly integrated into existing structures. The design of the agenda is usually not the subject of the deliberative process, which violates the democratic autonomy of the participants (Urbinati 2010, pp. 74–75). Deliberative forums therefore run the risk of becoming an instrument for the selection of political decision-making matters.

In addition, there is a risk that the deliberative model's claim to rationality will limit the range of legitimate positions and arguments in the political process too narrowly. The supposed consensus orientation of the deliberative model is presented by critics as one of the central mechanisms for excluding topics, positions and arguments. According to Mouffe (2007, p. 19), the deliberative theory of democracy ignores the basic logic of the political, which consists in the handling of antagonistic conflicts. The false assumption that a rational consensus based on fair and neutral procedures is possible in class-based societies would in reality negate the political. In fact, a so-called rational consensus can only be established by excluding other points of view that are classified as irrational. The perfidiousness of this strategy lies in the fact that this form of exclusion is not presented as a political but a moral one. Since it is justified rationally and morally, it is withdrawn from further legitimate criticism.

In addition, there is the accusation that the deliberative model would withdraw its theoretically founded discursive procedures from political debate. Tully (2004, pp. 96-98) argues that a rational consensus on standards of fair and just trial is just as unattainable as that on other political issues. For a complete democratization of decision-making, deliberative processes themselves would have to be recognized as imperfect and open to constant questioning by the actors involved. He counters the trust in the rationality-establishing power of deliberative procedures found in authors like Habermas with a skepticism that doubts the possibility of a process-independent determination of fair procedural rules. Accordingly, the democratic theory must limit itself in its claims and discuss its procedural proposals on the same level with the political actors in concrete cases of conflict.

According to Urbinati (2010, pp. 72–73), deliberative forums are currently primarily used to depoliticize conflicts by creating an impartial consensus and thus to deprive the genuinely democratic institutions of election and representation (cf. also Shapiro 2017). This rationalization of democracy (theory) at the expense of democratic participation (Buchstein and Jörke 2003) and in favor of the creation of supposedly non-partisan positions then ultimately brings about the closure of the political agenda. There is a depoliticization through rationalization.

Deliberative Mechanisms of Political Exclusion

The litmus test of the emancipatory potential of deliberative democracy is the question of the political inclusion of as many people as possible affected by collective decisions. The third dimension of the accusation of conservatism concerns the political exclusion of certain strata and groups. Deliberative settings would be organized in a top-down manner, so that elites ultimately determine the establishment and design of deliberative processes (Young 2001, pp. 677–678). They thus become a means of political and administrative elites to circumvent the institutions of representative democracy legitimized by general and equal elections or to put them under pressure in their decisions (Thaa 2007; Urbinati 2010, p. 74). But even where the chances of access are formally the same for everyone affected by a decision, access is in fact limited because structural inequalities favor those actors who have more material, cognitive and social resources (Young 2001, pp. 679-680) . In the end, socially privileged and resource-rich elites again decided on the issues of those who were already socially underprivileged (Shapiro 1999, 2017). A substantial part of the citizens would lose their influence on democratic decisions, which, Sanders pointed out, was tantamount to a “disenfranchisement” (Sanders 1997, p. 352).

But in addition to the unequal distribution of access opportunities, it is also the character of deliberation itself that, from the point of view of the critics, carries the risk of exclusion. Young does not see so-called rational communication as a universally valid form of communication, but as a class-specific style of discussion (Young 2000; similar to Mouffe 2005). By excluding or stigmatizing alternative forms of political articulation (such as storytelling), people from underprivileged social classes are also disadvantaged or kept away from the deliberation process (Sanders 1997).

According to Thaa (2007), it is precisely the informalization and cognitivation of political representation that is a problematic mechanism of exclusion. By placing the discourse principle at the center of the legitimation structure, the formal principle of representation is relativized. The focus is then no longer on the relationship of will between representatives and those represented, via which sanctions can also take place, but on the complex unmanageability of processes of understanding that affect the political center and make it difficult to account for political decisions. Formal equality in the election of representatives will then be informalized by shifting legitimation to deliberation processes.

As a result, the deliberative model excludes many from participation and decision-making. Although deliberative forums would provide opportunities for participation for a selected group of citizens, they would at the same time make the remaining majority of the people even more passive (Urbinati 2010, p. 74). In addition, under certain circumstances they give legitimacy to the existing relationships of exclusion by inadvertently entering into “complicity” (Young 2001, p. 675) with those institutions that promote social and political inequalities.

The charge of conservatism in the discussion

So we have identified three dimensions of the charge of conservatism: Temporally effect the deliberative model to maintain the status quo of structural inequality within a society; factual it closes the political agenda for certain issues, positions and arguments that could have a socially emancipatory thrust; and social lead to the exclusion of certain disadvantaged population groups. What answers can be found in deliberative democratic theory to these points of criticism? What conclusions can we draw from empirical deliberation research?

The temporal dimension: emancipation vs. status quo

It is clear that deliberative procedures introduce a decelerating factor into the democratic process. As a result, decisions are withdrawn from the immediate (provisional) majority will and made available for collective reflection for an extended period of time (Merkel and Schäfer 2015). The underlying assumption is that the preferences on which majority decisions are based are always process-endogenous and thus dependent on the course of deliberation processes (Gutmann and Thompson 2004, p. 20). Deliberation can be understood as a conservative moment insofar as it decelerates democratic decision-making and delays the immediacy of the vote by the citizens or their democratic representatives. At the same time, such temporal restrictions are part of the essence of democracy and can serve to make majority decisions acceptable for the respective minority (Linz 1998). Decelerating can thus create trust in the potential opportunity for participation by as many as possible subject to rule.

Linz, however, also points to a danger: If the democratic debate is not clearly limited in time, those activists who have the greatest time resources will gain power because everyone else (has to) increasingly turn away from the process due to lack of time, which leads to democratic equality would be systematically undermined in participation (Linz 1998, pp. 26–27). This consideration is also applicable to deliberative procedures. Without a clear time frame for the consultation time by setting a decision point at which the deliberation process is ended or interrupted, the deliberative process becomes tense with equal participation and potentially leads either to a standstill or to those who ultimately decide who have the most Have time.

Besides dealing With the question of the successes or obstacles to democratic emancipation remains at the time in the Over time. The decisive factor here is whether the deliberative deliberative process also creates opportunities for critical questioning of the prevailing conditions or whether it serves to safeguard existing power relations. However, under the conditions of current social power relations, critics emphasize the danger of manipulating views of citizens' own interests and values ​​in the course of deliberation (cf. Sanders 1997; Przeworski 1998).

Representatives of deliberative democracy, on the other hand, see the emancipatory potential of deliberation in principle even under the existing conditions of today's representative democracies - without assuming positive effects inevitably or being blind to possible negative consequences. Also in view of the obvious challenges that the stratified and professionalized structure of mass media communication provide for rational public discourse (cf. Peters 2007, pp. 190–194), Habermas, for example, is drafting a research program that ascribes the specific function of media political communication to “reflected public opinions "By mobilizing relevant questions and controversial answers, necessary information and suitable arguments for and against" (Habermas 2008, p. 167). Public deliberation takes place against the background of unequal political, social and media power relations. They give individual actors structurally better opportunities to influence the political communication process in their favor. However - so the assumption - these unequal possibilities of influence find their limit in the reflexive structure of the public. Because all attempts at influence must obey the rules of giving and taking reasons that have more or less persuasive power (Habermas 2008, pp. 173–179) if they are to be subjected to critical scrutiny by the public. The prerequisite for the development of this reflective structure, however, is the independence of the media system and a civil society that gives citizens the ability to participate in the formation of public opinion. Against this background, corresponding pathologies can be identified if, for example, the media become too dependent on the state or the market, or if social and cultural disadvantages make access to public opinion-forming more difficult (Habermas 2008, pp. 179–190).

But the reflected opinions made available in the mass media are only a prerequisite for a critical decision-making process. In addition, the citizens must be competent to process this information critically and, if necessary, to transform it into active statements. Here empirical research provides contradicting results. According to Rosenberg (2014), the deliberative theory of democracy assumes citizens have competencies that they do not have: differentiated-analytical, logical and systematic thinking, critical judgment and self-reflection as well as empathy and the ability to cooperate. With reference to social and developmental psychological research, he questions these cognitive, reflexive-evaluative and communicative abilities. Most people therefore tended to be flawed, concreteistic thinking and logical short circuits, to uncritical, unreflective and preconventional judgments as well as to an unwillingness to recognize other and foreign perspectives and to deal with them constructively (Rosenberg 2014, pp. 101-106). Deliberative interaction can only defuse these tendencies to a limited extent. It can be shown that participants learn in deliberative processes, gain information, build social connections and also change their opinions. However, these changes remained within the framework of a superficial, uncreative and uncritical adaptation to social norms and prevailing power relations. In such cases, deliberation would serve more as a mechanism of social control than to criticize existing conditions and the emancipation that builds on them (Rosenberg 2014, p. 113).

Even if the supposed demands that the deliberative theory of democracy according to Rosenberg places on the cognitive competencies of normal discourse participants can be regarded as too demanding, the objections to the lack of communicative competence in particular remain relevant to our question. However, it is questionable whether it is a reasonable expectation that average citizens would have to think objectively, integrated and abstractly in order to grasp the complexity of social problems and to counter them with new approaches (Rosenberg 2014, p. 112). From a democratic theoretical perspective, the question of whether deliberation provides citizens with an instrument to critically discuss and evaluate competing offers from political parties and elites is more important.

Experiments on the influence of framing by political elites provide positive evidence. A manipulative potential can be ascribed to frame effects insofar as they influence attitudes through the way in which a matter is presented and not through convincing reasons. Druckman and Nelson (2003) examine the communicative contexts in which elite frames affected the political opinions of recipients. They show that such framing effects can mainly be seen on test participants who either follow the frame without a subsequent deliberative structured discussionFootnote 2 are exposed or, in the subsequent discussion in a homogeneous group, only encounter people who were exposed to the same frame. Discussions in heterogeneous groups, whose participants were exposed to different frames, neutralized the framing effects by confronting them with alternative arguments (Druckman and Nelson 2003, p. 737). According to these findings, deliberation can limit the possibilities of elites to manipulate citizens in their own way, but only if the latter have the chance to encounter opposing arguments in their communicative interactions.

In this context, the study by Esterling et al. (2015) interesting. Using the case of deliberative participation procedures for health reform in California, she analyzes the connection between political disagreement and subjective satisfaction with the quality of the deliberative event. The findings show that participants rate the quality of the forum highest when confronted with a moderate level of political disagreement. When citizens are confronted with diverging opinions, they prefer the situation of moderate diversity to like-minded groups as well as to polarized discussions. The decisive factor for deliberative success is that the institutional design of the event arouses a curiosity about moderate disagreement in the participants, which stimulates argumentative debate (Esterling et al. 2015, pp. 544–545). According to these findings, deliberatively structured group discussions can contribute to (moderate) political mobilization.

Finally, Niemeyer's (2011) study provides explicit evidence for emancipatory effects through participation in deliberative mini-publics. His investigation of two case studies of participatory processes in the context of infrastructural conflicts in two Australian regions shows how the deliberative process enabled participants to free themselves from influences through manipulative reporting and populist public rhetoric. During the deliberative process, the participants were able to develop various discourses to assess the alternative choices. This enabled a reorganization of preferences as well as differentiated and autonomous decision-making (Niemeyer 2011, p. 124).

The discussion of the potential of deliberative processes for changing the status quo thus provides a differentiated picture. It is true that there are theoretical arguments and empirical findings that point to the difficulties that the deliberative model of democracy is faced with in view of the structures of the public mediated by the mass media. The predominantly negative assessments of the critics quoted above must, however, be put into perspective. According to this, citizens themselves can, under given circumstances, succeed in revising their perceptions and preferences in public discussions and deliberative processes and in voting for a change in the status quo. The possibility of changing preferences, which has also been empirically established, speaks against the accusation of fundamental conservation of the status quo in the temporal dimension.

The factual dimension: democratization vs. rationalization?

With regard to the accusation of a tendency to de-politicize, reconstructed in the section “Depoliticization through Rationalization”, a rationalistic-formalistic narrowing of deliberation can actually be made out in the frequently encountered readings of deliberative democracy. However, in view of the internal theoretical discussion and empirical research findings, this narrowing does not prove to be mandatory. It relates on the one hand to the form and on the other hand to the result of deliberation. The widespread assumption that deliberation must always be carried out in a rationally impartial form and that it must be resolved by consensus if it is to develop legitimizing power turns out to be incorrect on closer inspection.

Both aspects can already be found in pointed form in Elster (1998), whose interpretation has had a lasting impact on the view of the deliberative model. Elster explains: “Reason is impartial, both disinterested and dispassionate. Arguing is intrinsically connected to reason, in the sense that anyone who engages in argument must appeal to impartial values ​​”(Elster 1998, p. 6).Elster continues that, according to the unanimous view of their representatives, deliberative democracy belongs to: “[…] that it includes decision making by means of arguments offered by other to participants who are committed to the values ​​of rationality and impartiality "(Elster 1998, p. 8). Such a concept of deliberation is characterized by lack of interest, lack of emotion and impartiality of those involved in the discourse and their discourse practice.

Gutmann and Thompson (1996) had already argued against this conception of deliberation. Accordingly, the central principle of deliberative democracy should be reciprocity, which the authors clearly distinguish from that of impartiality. Reciprocity must also aim to provide generally acceptable reasons for the respective positions. Unlike impartiality, reciprocity does not require reasons to be independent of the person and partisan perspectives (Gutmann and Thompson 1996, pp. 53–54). Correspondingly, deliberation cannot have the character of truthful evidence, because such an argument cannot be achieved against the background of competing values ​​in pluralistic societies. Instead, deliberation is a genuinely political form of dispute by means of mutual justification efforts. Although this is aimed at acceptance, it can certainly tolerate dissent as long as the process appears fair.

Against this background, what about the objection that the deliberative model excludes forms of communication as irrational that do not do justice to the standards of cool, rational and impartial argumentation? The internal theoretical discussion does not confirm this. Mansbridge thus develops the ideas put forward by Gutmann and Thompson. In doing so, she points to the necessity, in the deliberative model, of not only looking at political arenas in the narrower sense, but also those everyday forms of communication among citizens that indirectly influence political decision-making. In principle, these forms would have to share the same normative standards of deliberation - such as reciprocity - in the other communication arenas, but they can also be relaxed in a more informal communication situation. Mansbridge argues: "In both legislative bodies and the rest of the deliberative system the concept of 'public reason' should be enlarged to encompass a 'considered' mixture of emotion and reason rather than pure rationality" (Mansbridge 1999, p. 213; see also Chambers 2004).

Empirical deliberation research has also productively taken up the criticism of the supposed exclusion of specific forms of communication in its proposals for the operationalization of the assumptions of democracy theory. Bächtiger et al. (2010) suggest, for example, that alternative forms of communication such as storytelling should be taken into account. These are now assigned a phase-specific functionality within the deliberative process. Polletta and Lee (2006) provide further information on this. In their empirical study, they concentrate on deliberative online forums that address the issue of redesigning the Ground zero conducted among selected New York City residents on the role of storytelling versus formal reason-giving reasoning. The authors start from the assumption that stories are told in deliberative contexts in order to justify an attitude. So it's not just about storytelling, but about “to make a point” (Polletta and Lee 2006, p. 702).

Polletta and Lee show with their investigation that storytelling not only does not have to contradict more formalized argumentation - in the sense of “reason-giving” - but, on the contrary, it can also fulfill important deliberative functions. Storytelling shares certain structural characteristics of “reason-giving” (Polletta and Lee 2006, pp. 699–705), but expresses them differently and in this way achieves complementary discourse services. Empirically, the authors can demonstrate that the forum participants make use of storytelling particularly often when they want to make clear a point of view that they perceive as marginalized in order to give it plausibility and validity (Poletta and Lee 2006, p. 711). In doing so, they aim to question supposedly universal and neutral principles that dominate the current argumentation on the topic. This opens up opportunities to place new topics and perspectives on the collective decision-making agenda.

However, Polletta and Lee also work out the limits that are placed on the positive effects of storytelling. Apparently through culturally established evaluation hierarchies, storytelling is viewed by the actors involved as an ambivalent form of communication with a serious and a dubious side. This restricts the adequacy framework to a narrower subject area: the more concrete policy decisions are made, the more the use of stories decreases and the use of formal argumentation increases: “Narrative claims were not ignored altogether, but they did lose rhetorical force in such discussions “(Polletta and Lee 2006, p. 716). This important point makes it clear that despite the goodwill of the facilitators, deeply imprinted cultural patterns do not disappear, but rather help to stratify communication. There is still a particular risk that the culturally traditional values ​​will take effect especially with social groups that are already underprivileged.

The second aspect of the conceptual narrowing in the criticism concerns the decision-making within deliberation. Elster, for example, claims that the idea of ​​deliberative democracy lies in decision-making through discussion (Elster 1998, p. 1). He interprets deliberation primarily as a decision-making mechanism alongside other forms of decision-making such as negotiating or voting (Elster 1998, p. 5). This view is too general and unsustainable. Gutmann and Thompson (2004, p. 18), for example, make it clear that deliberative democracy does not provide a “natural” mechanism for decision-making if there is no consensus, which is usually not to be expected. Therefore, deliberation must always be combined with other decision-making procedures.Footnote 3

The assumption that deliberation is a mode of collective decision-making obviously implicitly presupposes that deliberation inevitably results in a rational consensus, which in turn makes another type of decision-making superfluous. However, this is neither a realistic nor a theoretically necessary assumption. At this point, however, as we have seen above, critics such as Chantal Mouffe come in and accuse the deliberative model of a depoliticizing tendency. Because if the demand for consensus dominates, then it can serve to put an end to existing conflicts through the demand for rationality.

Recognizing the diversity of deliberation as a discursive practice and consensual decision, on the other hand, allows us to take seriously the fears of the critics and to differentiate the modern conceptions of deliberative democracy from older conservative ideas, such as those understood by Burke as a rational unification among sensible elites becomes. More recent approaches in theory-led deliberation research have shown how such a narrowing can be avoided in specific research contexts by emphasizing the specific democratic theoretical value of partisan (White and Ypi 2011), contestative (Schäfer 2017b) or advocacy (Urbinati 2000) forms of deliberation . More pragmatic operationalizations, which nevertheless capture the normative core (cf. Fishkin and Luskin 2005, p. 285), then allow both the potential and pathologies of the deliberative model to be grasped beyond formalistic orthodoxy.

The social dimension: inclusion vs. exclusion?

The normative claim of the deliberative model is clear: All those affected by the decision or subject to rule should have the same and unlimited opportunity to participate in political decision-making processes and to freely approve or reject collective binding decisions (Cohen 1998, p. 19; Benhabib 1996, p . 68; Habermas 1996, pp. 299-300; Gutmann and Thompson 2004, pp. 48, 50). But can this claim be enforced in view of existing social inequalities? This issue has to be considered on two levels. The first concerns the question of how inclusive access to deliberative procedures and opportunities for participation is. The second question is whether participants are systematically disadvantaged by specific deliberative mechanisms within the process.

Let us first concentrate on the access level: Who actually takes part in deliberative processes? Is it only the economically, culturally and politically privileged, as the critics quoted above claim, or can we expect even participation across social classes, strata, genders and milieus? Cook et al. (2007) provide findings for the distribution of discursive participation in the USA that suggest a more positive view. In their study, they use representative survey data to examine the extent to which the relevant socio-economic and cultural inequalities (e.g. education) influence the discursive participation of citizens. The result does indeed provide indications of the influence of distorting factors; However, these were significantly lower for discursive participation than for other participatory forms such as B. Elections. Membership in organizations and political interest are also more important than education. This is a finding that at least suggests that by creating discursive, participatory opportunity structures, egalitarian participation patterns can be established (Cook et al. 2007, pp. 41–42).

Other research points in a similar direction. Neblo et al. (2010) oppose evaluating actual participation behavior under current conditions as the sole benchmark for the feasibility of deliberative democracy. One must also take into account their current-critical and future-oriented thrust. The authors provide evidence for the thesis that there is a fundamental need among citizens to make greater use of deliberative forms of participation. In addition, people from those groups of deliberation opportunities would be addressed who have tended to turn away from political engagement in parties and associations (Neblo et al. 2010, p. 269). In surveys, compared to traditional forms of participation, an above-average number of non-white, younger and low-income people were found to be open to deliberative forms of participation (Neblo et al. 2010, p. 574). Even those respondents who actually accepted the offer to participate in a deliberative forum in the study did not turn out to be the usual suspects from the group of activists, who are often found in other forms of participation above average. Pogrebinschi and Samuels argue similarly in their study of the “National Public Policy Conferences” in Brazil (Pogrebinschi and Samuels 2014). Both groups of authors conclude from this that many demobilized citizens would turn to the political process if classic forms of participation were “embedded” in deliberative framework conditions (Neblo et al. 2010, p. 582).

Such findings suggest that access to and motivation to participate in deliberative processes and discussions are generally not the most serious problem of exclusion. However, this empirical argument about willingness to participate does not yet prove that deliberation could be a means of improving the conditions for democratic decision-making and decision-making processes against the background of social inequalities. The success of deliberation in the sense of an emancipatory instrument would still too often depend on the goodwill of political elites who organize deliberative forms of participation in certain situations (cf. McLaverty 2014). For this reason alone, the deliberative theory of democracy would be well advised to seek the democratic potential of deliberation not only, and not even primarily, in organized mini-publics (see Chambers 2009; Lafont 2015).