Political Theory

H04(c) - Political narratives and disagreement

Date: May 30 | Time: 01:30pm to 03:00pm | Location:

Partisanship and Cross-Border Influence on Democratic Discourse: Normative Implications: Stefan Macleod (University of Toronto)
Abstract: In this paper, I offer a justification for shoring up civic and cultural institutions (public education and state-funded cultural programs) for the purposes of counteracting the pernicious influence that powerful states can have on the political discourse of their neighbours. Instead of offering a justification based on the irreducible value of national self-determination, or the inherent legitimacy of state political boundaries, I draw on recent work on the political theory of partisanship to argue that there is a better justification that appeals to the value of stable and mutually intelligible norms of democratic discourse. The value of such norms, I argue, is not grounded in the legitimacy some pre-political demos, but in the inclusionary prospects of a stable partisan system. I illustrate this argument through analysis of the way that the political discourse of powerful states can create a destabilizing distortion in the discourse of neighbouring countries. In short, the discursive influence of powerful states is often powerful enough to shape the political narratives employed by certain actors, but not powerful enough to shape the broader norms of political discourse and institutional rules that characterize neighbouring states. The disconnect between those who invoke the political discourse of foreign states (such as those in the US) and the established norms of their home state creates a significant threat for maintaining stable and healthy form of partisanship in democratic societies. The justification I offer demonstrates the compatibility between the need to shore up state democratic institutions without a commitment to normative nationalism.

“Both Sides” Mediation and the Representation of Difference: Simon Lambek (University of British Columbia)
Abstract: “Both sides” discourse is often critiqued for drawing equivalencies between two positions, even when one side is demonstrably worse than the other. This paper makes a further criticism of “both sides” mediation, arguing that it necessarily posits and thereby helps to establish and solidify under-representative interpretive horizons. Drawing on hermeneutic theory, the constructivist turn in the politics of representation, and feminist theories of judgment, I argue that discourses which present issues as having only two sides effectively silence interpretive diversity and reify under-representative publics. The long-term result is not merely that ideational and perspectival pluralism is reduced but, rather, a sedimentation of conservative public spheres. In the place of “both sides” mediation, I argue for the importance of multi-polar mediation. I conclude by calling on political theorists to not merely consider the politics of representative claim-making, but also the normative effects of different forms of meta-representative claim-making (“both sides” vs multi-polar).

Disagreement and Conflict in Self-Organized Democratic Theory: Victor Bruzzone (University of Toronto)
Abstract: Many argue that at the core any truly emancipatory politics is the need for a renewed democratic culture. This means broad and robust participation and engagement by citizens. But how is such a change expected to occur? My paper engages in a comparison of three democratic theory traditions that place broad democratic transformation at the centre of their projects – radical democracy (Mouffe, Connolly, Honig), participatory democracy (Pateman, Barber), and autonomist democracy (Hardt and Negri). While all the above theories have appealing attributes, they leave many unanswered questions. Especially relevant in the context of contemporary political polarization is the question of conflict and disagreement. Therefore, my paper focuses on comparing how the above traditions address the problem of disagreement and conflict. Although they emphasize broad bottom-up control of political decisions, they also share a commitment to preserving societal pluralism in a way that avoids serious conflicts. This leads to a serious challenge: how to preserve pluralism while also enhancing robust democratic opportunities? Ultimately, I argue that, since many of the above views are either skeptical or hostile to liberal democratic institutions as a way of quelling conflict, they necessarily depend on human behavioral changes towards active self-organized forms of democratic activity that is committed to fairness and pluralism – something I argue amounts to civic virtue. Moreover, my paper argues that these theories do not do enough to demonstrate how such civic virtues will be broadly cultivated in the population.