The “Pragmatist Turn” in Theory of Governance

The “Pragmatist Turn” in Theory of Governance

Alain Loute (Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3670-5.ch014
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In this essay, the author focuses on what Jacques Lenoble and Marc Maesschalck call the “pragmatist turn” in the theory of governance. Speaking of pragmatist turn, they refer to recent work by a range of authors such as Charles Sabel, Joshua Cohen and Michael Dorf, who develop an experimental and pragmatist approach of democracy. The concept of “turn” may raise some perplexity. The author believes that we can speak of “turn” about these experimentalist theories because these theories introduce a key issue, what we may call the question of “self-capacitation of the actors.” The author tries to show that this issue constitutes a novelty compared to the deliberative paradigm in the theory of governance. While the issue of collective learning is a black box in the deliberative paradigm, democratic experimentalism seeks to reflect on how the actors can organize themselves to acquire new capacities and to learn new roles. The author concludes in revealing the limits of this approach.
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The Paradox Of The Participative Democracy Revival

In the last few years, some reform practices that have taken place within our States, have revived the ideal of participation: recurring theme of participative democracy, deliberative practices, implication of the users in the evaluation of public services, etc. Some authors, like Blondiaux and Sintomer (2002), refer to the emergence of a “deliberative imperative.” The European policy context is also strongly influenced by the theme of participative democracy. This is for instance illustrated with the White Paper on European Governance (European Commission, 2001) which highlights participation as one of the principles for a good governance. Other authors, like Pierre Rosanvallon (2008), show how much democratic legitimacy implies the necessity and prescription of proximity and reflexivity. Our societies have thus entered the era of “reflexive modernization” (Beck, 1986; Beck et al., 1994) which brings into question the strict divisions of the task of our representative societies and our societies founded on the power of experts (Callon et al., 2001). For us, although they constitute a new mode of participation, the paradox of these new practices initiated by politics is that they do not seem to induce a real growth of power of citizens in collective decisions. They do not seem, using an expression of Marcel Gauchet, to render power appropriable by the members of the political community (2002). These offers of participation touch only a small part of the population, when they are not “colonized” – using an expression from Habermas – by the lobbies or by administration discredited which seek to acquire some form of legitimacy1. The multiplication of deliberative spaces has instead had the effect of making possible new forms of opportunism and strengthening the domination of majority interest.

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