A short reflection on 2021: Intercontinental Dialogues in Pandemic Times
2021 was another challenging year but also one that brought many great things for our group. We were chuffed to receive the “Specialist Group of the Year Award” by the Political Studies Association which recognised the group’s work in 2020, as we made the most of digital spaces to create new research synergies and provide support for our Early Career Researchers in particular.
We were hoping that in 2021 we would finally get to meet in person again. But the pandemic had other plans – and so once more we made the most of those by now tried and tested digital spaces, which, to be fair, allowed us to continue to reach out to new audiences across continents. The group’s ten panels at the PSA Annual International Conference 2021 covered a broad range of empirical and theoretical approaches to the study of deliberative and participatory democracy and were more inclusive than ever, with scholars old and new from all over the world.
Despite all the challenges of pandemic life, our members have been hard at work, publishing several exceptional monographs. We hosted five book launches to reflect on the future of democracy and democratic reforms, at a time where these are most needed, sparking some great discussions with audiences as engaged as ever.
In 2021 “digital spaces” were not merely a stopgap but also facilitated exchanges across continents and cultures. The PDD group picked on the growing need to look at and learn from different democracies and pushed forward a long due research agenda on non-Western democratic practices and towards “Decolonizing Democratic Innovations”. So far, the study of participatory and deliberative democracy has mostly sidelined issues of white privilege and structural racism entrenched in western liberal democracies, and it has had limited engagement with critical race theory. A growing number of African political philosophers and political scientists are taking a critical stance towards practices of liberal democracy from the perspective of their own cultural and political contexts, in the quest for alternative ways of ‘doing democracy’. “Going digital” allowed us to initiate inspiring exchanges between African and Western democracy scholars. One core initiative was a two-part webinar series “Beyond Liberal Democracy: African and Western Perspectives in Dialogue” that the PDD group organized in collaboration with political philosophers based at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. The webinars with speakers from the UK, Nigeria, Kenya, the USA and Germany addressed both critical perspectives on contemporary liberal democracy and perspectives for democratic renewal and reform.
At the last APSA (American Political Studies Association) annual meeting, in collaboration with the APSA Democratic Innovations group, we hosted the UK PSA (Political Studies Association) sponsored panel on Decolonising Democratic Innovations: Beyond the White and Western Gaze. Speakers from Europe, Australia, Canada and Kenya explored forms of differences (e.g. cultural, racial or gender-related) as sites and sources of democratic alternatives. At the panel we debated research agendas in the field and felt that there is much work to be done for deliberative and participatory democrats to develop a truly inclusive, decentred understanding of democratic norms and practices that account for the diversity of democracies and (political) cultures across the globe.
In 2001 we also launched a new blog , Agora, to explore and understand current affairs through the lenses of democratic theory, and we dedicated a special blog series “Agora – Democracy Beyond the West” to learn about different democratic practices across the world in diverse cultural and political environments. In 2022, we’ll build on and expand these collaborations with democracy scholars “beyond the West”, to support new research agendas.
We have a few exciting book launch events in the pipeline, and of course we’re really looking forward to our eight panels at next PSA conference, showcasing the ever innovative work of our members. We also have a gift for you all: our very first (online and free for all members!) masterclass on “Designing and Facilitating Public Deliberation” led by Susanna Haas Lyons. PDD members will have the unique opportunity to explore the practical side of organizing public deliberation and will get a look into the toolbox for delivering public engagement. So, if you’re not a member yet, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and join us for free. We’ll add you to our mailing list and keep you posted on all these exciting events.
OK, 2022 might look uncertain and we’re all pretty exhausted after two years of doom and gloom that made disaster movies less eventful than regular news. But if there is one thing that can give us hope for a better, saner world is more citizen participation – and your amazing work is taking us there. Thank you and Happy New Year!