Simone Chambers

"Studying with Giovanni Sartori as a graduate student, I was dazzled by his erudition and confidence. His knowledge of democratic systems was encyclopaedic. His utter certainty that if only scholars would agree on the words and concepts we use (preferably the ones he had coined), we could finally have a cumulative science worthy of the name, was intoxicating.

Jean-Paul Gagnon has revived this ideal with equal erudition, if perhaps more humility. Despite the attractiveness of a neatly organised and navigable science of democracy, starting with an orderly typology of answers to the question 'what is democracy?', I had my doubts in graduate school and they have only grown over the years.

My objections are not about the value of the research project Gagnon describes, of cataloguing the words people have and do use to describe and talk about democracy, of then constructing an overarching narrative from that collection.

My objection is to the Sartorian claim that only such a project, as the master narrative of all democratic theory, can save the study of democracy from chaos and irrelevance. Far from being a 'shambles', democratic theory has never been more innovative, grounded, accessible, and relevant. And all this despite having no agreement on the increasingly irrelevant question ‘what is democracy?’"
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