Jonathan Benson

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Personal profile

Overview

 
Personal Website: drjonathanbenson.co.ukonal Webonathanbenson.co.uk

I’m a political theorist and Hallsworth Research Fellow at the University of Manchester. From January 2025, I will be a Lecturer at Manchester and have previously taught at King’s College London and Utrecht University.

My research focuses on democratic theory with a strong connection to the interdisciplinary tradition of politics, philosophy, and economics (PPE). I am particularly interested in contemporary challenges to democracy. This has included issues of anti-democratic thought, the relationship to the market economy, and problems of voter knowledge, misinformation, and political polarisation. My work has appeared in such places as American Political Science ReviewPolitical StudiesPolitics, Philosophy & Economics, Synthese, and Economics & Philosophy.

My first book ‘Intelligent Democracy: Answering the new democratic scepticism’ is forthcoming with Oxford University Press. Whether it is due to Donald Trump, Brexit, or the rise of populism, many now fear that democracies are destined to make bad decisions, and complaints about voter incompetence are increasingly common. Against this growing scepticism, I argue that we should value democracy, not only because it treats us all equally, but also because it can make good decisions and solve social problems. While it is common to focus on the faults of any one democratic body, I show how democracy’s intelligence is produced through the interaction of many institutions, from elections and deliberation to random sortition and the informal public sphere. The book therefore develops a unique epistemic justification of a democratic system and a comprehensive rejection of proposals which aim to empower the knowledgeable, exclude the ignorant, or expand the free market.

My most recent research has focused on developing a democratic theory of political polarization. While there is much concern about the increasingly partisan and conflictual nature of politics and a significant empirical literature on the topic, the issue of polarization has received less attention from normative political theorists. My project, therefore, aims to connect the latest empirical research to democratic principles, offering an in-depth analysis of if and when polarization undermines democracy. I am particularly interested in the discursive nature of polarization and how it is often shaped by elite behaviour. Early work from this project includes a paper in the American Political Science Review focused on how polarization undermines democracy’s diversity. 

Research Focus

Democratic Theory: Deliberative democracy, epistemic justifications of democracy, systems approaches, sortition and lotteries, democracy’s critics.

Political Economy: Democracy and the market, the limits of markets, polycentricity, exit and voice, public goods.

Political Epistemology: Voter knowledge, political polarisation, misinformation and fake news, informational theories of markets.

Teaching

Having taught at the University of Manchester, King’s College London, and Utrecht University, I have significant teaching experience in the area of political theory. This includes introductory courses which familiarise students with core topics and methods, as well as more advanced modules on applied political theory, democratic theory, the environment, and economic justice. I also have a strong interest in the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary education, having taught extensively on political economy programmes and politics, philosophy, and economics (PPE) degrees.

Current Courses:

Theoretical Approaches to Political Economy (MA Political Economy)

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Areas of expertise

  • JC Political theory
  • Democratic Theory
  • Deliberative Democracy
  • Epistemic Democracy
  • Political Theory of Markets
  • Normative Political Economy
  • Political Polarization
  • Misinformation
  • Voter Knowledge

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