Deliberative Machines in Techno-Political Arrangements: A Theoretical Discussion

Deliberative Machines in Techno-Political Arrangements: A Theoretical Discussion

Laurence Monnoyer-Smith (University of Technology of Compiègne, France)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-159-1.ch002
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This chapter explores the theoretical consequences of a conception of deliberative devices as a technical mediation, and more specifically how it helps to redraw the frontiers of grassroots participation. To understand the position of technology in deliberation, it is vital to appreciate how the device itself structures the distribution of opportunities for citizens to speak up. The existence of “deliberative machines” gives them a tribunal and a space for interaction that would be difficult to find in real world arenas of public debate. This chapter’s theoretical frame is inspired by the French philosophers Foucauld and Deleuze and will question the nature of these “deliberative machines”. This chapter will propose to consider them as symptoms of transition between two types of setups, in a context of conflict between conceptions of representation and participation in reflexive democracies.
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Some Background: How Do We Merge Deliberation And Technology In Our Thinking?

The technological sophistication of eParticipation devices and level of browsing skills they require of the average citizen might easily have caused researchers to adopt a theoretical standpoint other than that which eventually prevailed. We might have borrowed from Luhman’s theory of autopoiëtic political systems or from Habermas’ theory of a systemic colonization of the life world by instrumental rationality. Few set forth a global theory of the development of political devices, like Andrew Barry (2001) who is analyzing the expansion of interactive technologies as characteristic of a new deuleuzian diagram of relation between persons and artifacts. Or, in a more sociological perspective, few academics link the digitalization of social and political mediation with a critique of power circulation in the public space (Castells, 2009).

At the outset, online deliberation and consultation devices were primarily envisioned as new ways of deepening democracy within the scope of the deliberative paradigm laid down by philosophy and political science (Macpherson 1977, Barber 1984, Cohen 1986, Dryzek, 2000). From there, researchers took an interest in the impact of technology on political discussion – even to the point where it questioned the validity of the deliberative paradigm (Dahlgren, 2006). Because the enduring deficit of representation of the citizenry in modern society makes the problematization more acute (Coleman, 2005a, b), researchers have leaned towards either cyber-realism or cyber-optimism, with the realists regularly carrying the day: without being entirely “politics as usual”, boundaries of the decision making process didn’t seem to have deeply evolved (Muhlberger, 2004).

Without reviewing research to date into eParticipation (Price, 2009; Greffet,Wojcik, 2008), it is worth pointing up the underlying relations between the citizen’s political experience of eParticipation and the shape of technical devices that inscribe it.

The first issue is the technological context in which deliberation occurs and differences from face to face interaction (Muhlberger, 2005; Witschge, 2002, 2004, 2008):

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