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Disrupting deliberation: The relationship between protest and deliberative systems

William Smith, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Tue 24 March 2015

11:00am - 12:00pm

Fishbowl, Building 24, University of Canberra


The influential defence of a deliberative systems approach offered by Mansbridge et al claims that disruptive protest can be an important corrective to systemic malfunctions. Their discussion culminates in a call for further research into the pros and cons of disruptive protest for deliberative systems. This presentation offers some preliminary responses to this call for further research. The core theme is that analysis of the relationship between protest and deliberative systems should depart from an assumption that informs the view of Mansbridge et al. This assumption is that protest is generally a non-deliberative form of conduct that should be evaluated in terms of its impact on a malfunctioning system. The presentation gestures toward a more nuanced position, which is guided by two central ideas. The first is that disruptive protest can be categorized as deliberative, partially-deliberative, or non-deliberative, depending on its aims and conduct. The second is that disruptive protest can have different deliberative impacts depending upon whether the relevant context is (a) the absence of a deliberative system, (b) the presence of a malfunctioning system, or (c) the emergence of a fully functioning system. The resulting conceptual framework is illustrated through briefly considering the relationship between innovative forms of digital disruption and deliberative systems

About the speaker

William Smith is assistant professor in the Department of Government and Public Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research is in the field of contemporary political theory, with a particular focus on issues related to deliberative democracy, civil disobedience and international political thought. He is author of Civil Disobedience and Deliberative Democracy (London: Routledge, 2013) and has published in a wide range of international journals, including The Journal of Political Philosophy, Political Studies, and Politics and Society.

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