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Q&A for Democratic Theory: An Interdisciplinary Journal

Democratic TheoryBerghahn is pleased to announce the launch of an exciting new journal in 2014, Democratic Theory – An Interdisciplinary Journal. The first issue has been published this month!

Democratic Theory is a peer-reviewed journal that encourages philosophical and interdisciplinary contributions which critically explore democratic theory – in all its forms. Below is the transcript of an electronic interview between the Berghahn blog editor and the journal’s editors, Mark Chou and Jean-Paul Gagnon.


What drew you to create the journal?

We came to the conclusion that a scholarly journal dedicated to democratic theory was necessary for two reasons.

The first is that, though it’s often lumped into the sub-discipline of political theory, democratic theory is now so complex and large an area of analysis that it really should have its own dedicated space. Just a cursory analysis shows up varied and interesting work being conducted in such areas as direct democracy, representative democracy, deliberative democracy, agonistic democracy, radical democracy, cosmopolitan democracy, post-democracies and new authoritarianism, and even to ‘democide’. These facets of democracy are theoretical and philosophical. But they also impact on our daily lives and help hazard explanations into why citizens of democracies may act the way they do. So analyzing these different theories and theoretical traditions on their own terms was important, we felt.

This then led to the second reason for starting Democratic Theory. Though it’s now such an important and large body of literature, there is oddly no single forum for work of this type. Of course, scholarship on democratic theory is already taking place. But it remains fragmented and spread across a variety of disciplinary journals. There is no single forum for democratic theorists to develop their ideas and to speak to peers in a sustained fashion (this is not to say that there aren’t dozens of journals that address democracy and democratization). The result, we felt, has meant that democratic theory, as a sub-discipline, has languished unnecessarily – especially when compared to other areas of political theory. So we wanted a journal, for ourselves as much as anyone else, that could fill this pressing gap in the literature.


Did any perceptions on the subject change from the time you started the journal to now?

This is a hard question to answer, partly because the journal is still in its infancy; it’s just started life. I think we probably need a few good years before we can reflect on how democratic theory has changed and the debates that are most important in the area.

But a key insight we acquired from the very beginning, and it’s something we speak of explicitly in our editorial to the inaugural issue, is just how ill-defined this thing called democracy is. Well, that’s not exactly right – more that it has so many definitions. There are so many theoretical definitions and traditions of democracy that it’s now become very easy to confuse or conflate one form of democracy with another. Theorists of democracy may know this, but still work needs to be done to organize and categorize the different conceptions of democracy that exist. Moreover, this is where theorists in the academy need to ensure their work speaks not only to their fellow researchers – but to the public as well. What we mean is that democracy has the potential to become a political weapon in the real world. We see leaders use democracy for their own particular ends. There have even been times when democracy has been used as a reason to go to war. Demystifying democracy in all its forms for the lay reader, for concerned citizens, helps the public get a better sense of how democracy is being deployed by politicians and what type of democracy is being deployed. All this, in the end, will help citizens to better keep account of what their elected representatives are doing in their name.


What aspect of putting the journal together did you find most rewarding?

For us, it’s been simple. It’s the fellow theorists we’ve been lucky enough to work with; colleagues which we may have otherwise not had the chance to meet. For instance, our two associate editors – Selen Ercan and George Vasilev – have not only helped us run the journal; they have introduced us to new ideas and different ways of tackling issues. We’ve been able to have discussions about the latest work in the discipline and how the discipline is changing. It’s already started the type of small-scale conversation that we hope this journal will foster on a larger, global scale.


To what extent do you think the journal will contribute to debates among current and future academics within the field?

We want the journal to tackle key questions. For example: Why is democracy so prominent in the world today? What is the meaning of democracy? Will democracy continue to expand? Are current forms of democracy sufficient to give voice to ‘the people’ in an increasingly fragmented and divided world? Who leads in democracy? What types of non-western democratic theories are there? Should democrats always defend democracy? Should democrats be fearful of de-democratization, post-democracies and the rise of hybridized regimes?

To answer these questions, the journal will purposely accommodate a wide range of theoretical perspectives and a multidisciplinary approach to the study of democracy. Only by democratizing the discourse on democracy itself can we glean insights into the various democratic theories that exist (including, citizenship, representation, democide, deliberation, agonism, participation, e-democracy, neo-liberalism, dissent, etc.); the history (or histories) of democracy; the future of democracy; the philosophical foundations of democracy; theorizations about totalitarianism, authoritarianism and hybrid regimes; the nation-state, globalisation and democracy; domination and resistance; power and inequality; populism and radical politics; and so on.

These, we think, are defining debates to be had in our discipline. And we hope that this journal will act as the channel for some of these discussions to take place.


What are the greatest challenges you have faced professionally, and how did you find it best to address them — as a writer, researcher, academic?

We’re both still new to academia. In Australia, where we earned our doctorates and where we now work, it’s become increasingly difficult for early career academics to get a foothold in the university. Increasingly, we see our friends and sometimes even more senior colleagues take on sessional or contract work at universities, for years on end, which provide little pay or job security. Of course, this isn’t just a national but a global problem.

But we’ve been lucky to have had great mentors, who have steered us in the right direction. One of my early mentors, Roland Bleiker, said to me when I began working with him: as a scholar, your love of research must translate into a love of writing. You’ll write yourself into a PhD, into a job and into a career as an academic. This is the motto that I live my professional life by.

But increasingly, as everything in our work becomes about rankings and impact factors, we’re not always able to write in the way we want or write about what we want.

This is another reason for creating Democratic Theory. As editors, we’re naturally mindful of the ranking and impact that our journal will hopefully have. But we’re also mindful that there should still be a space where new scholars – as well as established scholars – can place their work, work that may be too ‘experimental’ to find a home in the traditional disciplinary journals. This again is about democratizing the discourse/discipline of democracy.



Be sure to check out the first issue of Democratic Theory and read more about the journal here!