Activist inclusion in deliberative systems

Anna Drake, University of Waterloo

Tue 20 April 2021

11:00am - 12:00pm

Virtual seminar

Seminar recording is available on our YouTube channel.


Deliberative democrats speak positively of activists’ systems-wide impact. This attention to activists and, more broadly, to an expansion of deliberative democracy’s inclusive capacity, underpins much of the recent deliberative systems work, where the aim is to underscore the ways that deliberative and decision-making bodies benefit from deeper inclusion, such as paying attention to activists. These benefits include a deeper pool of knowledge, increased legitimacy, and a deepening of deliberative democracy’s democratic aspects. From this vantage point, Black Lives Matter Toronto’s sit-in during the 2016 Pride parade—and the subsequent dialogue on, and responses to, BLMTO’s demands— appears to be an excellent case to support arguments for activists’ positive contributions to, and to the inclusive potential of, deliberative systems. However, I challenge this perspective by focussing on a deeper, structural problem that challenges deliberative systems’ success stories. In the case of BLMTO and the unfolding systems-level dialogue, what started as a critique of anti-Black racism ended up as a watered-down discussion of inclusion: one that largely avoided the topic of systemic anti-Black racism and structural violence. The core problem, I argue, is due to deliberative systems bringing activism into established processes that rest on deeply-ingrained structural racism (and sexism, etc.). The inclusion framework that deliberative systems rely upon fails to address the racist balance of power. As a result, this prevents the systems-level deliberation necessary to facilitate a meaningful exchange between BLMTO activists and those who continue to benefit from strictures of white supremacy and privilege. Despite deliberative systems’ good intentions, an inclusion framework undermines core values of moral & political equality that underpin normative deliberative democratic theory.

About the speaker

Anna Drake is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Waterloo. She works in the area of contemporary political theory, with a focus on democratic theory and practice, intersectional feminist politics, and activism. She is the author of Activism, Inclusion, and the Challenges of Deliberative Democracy(UBC Press, 2021) and has published in a number of journals, including Contemporary Political Theory and Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism.