Deliberating Democracy: Scenes from a Brazilian Municipal Health Council

By Andrea Cornwall: [excerpt]

What this case suggests is that deliberative democratic theory might usefully pay closer attention to contention and contestation as attributes of a deliberative process that strengthen, rather than threaten, its democratic potential. Spaces of “empowered participatory governance” like the conselho are not just neutral management spaces, they are inherently political spaces: sites for political activism, and for the construction of alliances and articulations that span a plu- rality of political spaces. They can neither be insulated from the play of party politics, nor would this be necessarily desirable. Arguably, they work to deepen democracy precisely because of those contests and those connections. The kind of “abstinence from vigorous methods of challenging power”43 that are advo- cated for deliberative democracy to flourish would not only rob the conselho of the passions that animate debates within it, but might also impoverish its con- tribution to deepening democracy.

Read full article free at POLITICS & SOCIETY, Vol. 36, No. 4, December 2008: 508-531.




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