August 8, 2003

· Politics

If you’re interested in the relation between deliberative democracy and social choice theory, which Henry has just written about, then you might want to read an interesting and constructive paper by two of my new colleagues here at the RSSS, John Dryzek and Christian List. The paper, “Social Choice Theory and Deliberative Democracy: A Reconciliation” [pdf] just appeared in the British Journal of Political Science. Here’s the abstract:

The two most influential traditions of contemporary theorizing about democracy, social choice theory and deliberative democracy, are generally thought to be at loggerheads, in that the former demonstrates the impossibility, instability or meaninglessness of the rational collective outcomes sought by the latter. We argue that the two traditions can be reconciled. After expounding the central Arrow and Gibbard-Satterthwaite impossibility results, we reassess their implications, identifying the conditions under which meaningful democratic decision making is possible. We argue that deliberation can promote these conditions, and hence that social choice theory suggests not that democratic decision making is impossible, but rather that democracy must have a deliberative aspect.

It’s a good introduction to why results from social choice theory pose a challenge to what we think democracy can do, and also a useful corrective to the idea that these results should just make us chuck the whole idea of democracy out the window.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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