Cultural scripts, culture as practice, and the curious case of deliberative democracy

Presented by: Professor John Parkinson Griffith University

Culture has been used in two ways in deliberative democratic theory. The first has been in arguments about the universality or cultural particularity of deliberative norms; the second to see deliberation as a bridge across allegedly-cultural divides. However, deliberative scholars, like political scientists generally, have tended to assume an idea of culture that has been long-discredited in the main ‘cultural’ disciplines, not least because decades of research failed to find strong evidence for cultures thus conceived.

This paper sets out a more modern, ‘cultural practices’ account which helps shed light on the universality and bridging debates in deliberative theory. But it also has some troubling implications, including the thought that deliberative events are culturally pre-scripted in favour of particular agendas and decisions in a way that has little to do with the empirical, logical or normative cases for those decisions. The paper offers some routes out of the problems by arguing that a cultural practices account is superior to standard models and procedures in activating three values: deliberative autonomy; controlling strategic manipulation; and achieving deliberative equality. The paper concludes by highlighting the potentially far-reaching implications of the argument for political science, especially the study of democracy and political culture.

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