Democracy and Conceptual Contestability: Reconsidering Conceptions of Democracy in Democracy Promotion

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Abstract

Democracy is a deeply contested concept: historically, complex debates have revolved around the meaning of democracy and the plausibility of different ‘models of democracy.’ However, democracy’s conceptual contestability has received diminished attention in the post-Cold War democracy promotion debate as the attention of democracy promotion actors and scholars has turned to fine-tuning of policies through which a liberal democratic model can be successfully encouraged. It is argued here that the focus on the extension of the reach of the liberal demo- cratic mode of governance has resulted in a conceptually impoverished appreciation of the multiple meanings that the idea of democracy can take. It is argued that the ‘essential contestability’ of the idea of demo- cracy is not adequately recognized and tackled, which in turn has important effects for the ability of democracy promotion scholars, as well as practitioners, to take into account the consequences that consid- ering alternative (non- or extra-liberal) models of democracy might have for democracy promotion. To move the debate forward, I explore here, primarily in conceptual and theoretical terms, what serious engagement with the essential contestability of democracy might mean for democracy promotion. I argue that it entails a two-fold move: ‘plura- lization’ and ‘contextualization’ of the conceptions of democracy. The latter part of the article examines in detail the reasons that might exist for considering such a move in framing the study and the practice of democracy promotion, as well as the potential dangers that might be involved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-386
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Studies Review
Volume12
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010

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