Democratic Mini-Publics: On the Role of Mini-Publics for Democracy

Student thesis: Phd


The systemic turn in deliberative democracy has been criticised for inadvertently justifying a post-democratic order where deliberation in formal decision-making bodies remains unreceptive to the democratic input of informal public spheres. The question of how to (re)connect citizens with their representatives has thus become crucial to redeem the democratic credentials of the deliberative democratic ideal. One proposal that has attracted considerable attention concerns the possibility of breaking down the broad public sphere into several micro-deliberative venues directly coupled with empowered decision-making sites. So-called deliberative mini-publics seem to offer the right solution to the legitimation crisis of governance institutions. As democratic experiments apt to promote direct participation in administrative affairs, they hold the promise of enhancing the public accountability of governance networks. As corrective improvements to the plebiscitary and populist rhetoric of mass public discourse, they raise the hope for a more enlightened public opinion paving the way to better policy outcomes. However, past the initial enthusiasm, deliberative mini-publics have also raised scepticism for potentially replicating, rather than solving, the above trend. Aside from being at risk of strategic abuse, they have been criticised as being just another instrument of depoliticisation. When used as shortcuts to bypass public debate, deliberative mini-publics deprive citizens of the opportunity to reflexively engage with the rationale underlying public enactments and, therefore, cannot be justified on democratic grounds. Should we therefore think of mini-publics as the cure against the ailments of contemporary democracies or rather as just another example of the underlying crisis of representative government? In this work, I reach a mixed verdict, arguing that the democratic legitimacy of mini-publics depends on their institutional design and integration within the overall democratic system. I adopt a liberty-based, systemic understanding of deliberative democracy that is normatively grounded in the co-originality of basic rights and popular sovereignty to argue that mini-publics can be conceived of as genuine democratic innovations only when devised as instruments of (re)politicisation.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorChristian Schemmel (Supervisor) & Miriam Ronzoni (Supervisor)


  • Co-Originality Thesis
  • Deliberative Systems
  • Democratic Theory
  • Deliberative Democracy
  • Deliberative Mini-Publics

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