A Brief View of Participatory democracy : Its Critique and Challenges

What is Participatory Democracy? The Meaning, its Critique and Challenges

Participatory democracy happens when individual citizens of a democracy participate in the formation of policies and laws through consistent engagement.

Participatory refers to something that involves active participation. Democracy is a form of government in which power is held by the people. If the people themselves vote directly on policies and laws, it is called a direct democracy. If they elect representatives to make laws and policies, it is called a representative democracy. The term participatory democracy refers to something somewhere in between: the people elect leaders but also play a role in forming policies.

A Brief View of Participatory democracy : Its Critique and Challenges

Participatory democracy is all about participation. Its goal is to ensure that all citizens, not just politicians, have a real say in the creation of the rules and programs that make up their government.

Participatory democracy is a process emphasizing the broad participation of constituents in the direction and operation of political systems. Participatory democracy strives to create opportunities for all members of a population to make meaningful contributions to decision-making and seeks to broaden the range of people who have access to such opportunities. Well participatory democracy is concerned with ensuring that citizens are afforded an opportunity to directly participate, or otherwise be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. 

Since so much information must be gathered for the overall decision-making process to succeed, technology may provide important forces leading to the type of empowerment needed for participatory models, especially those technological tools that enable community narratives and correspond to the accretion of knowledge while on the other hand Deliberative democracy or discursive democracy is a form of democracy in which deliberation is central to decision-making. 

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It adopts elements of both consensus decision-making and majority rule. Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that authentic deliberation, not mere voting, is the primary source of legitimacy for the law. 

Deliberative democracy is compatible with both representative democracy and direct democracy. Some practitioners and theorists use the term to encompass representative bodies whose members authentically deliberate on legislation without unequal distributions of power, while others use the term exclusively to refer to decision-making directly by lay citizens, as in direct democracy. 

The term “deliberative democracy” was originally coined by Joseph M. Bessette in his 1980 work “Deliberative Democracy: The Majority Principle in Republican Government”.  

Since the objective of the both modes are aimed at imparting more participation and increased decision making to the common citizen they can be safely described as two coins of the same coin. Deliberation is one of the most direct forms of participation and forms the bedrock of citizen participation specially in modern representative democracies which are increasingly being criticised for being distant and aloof in their decision making. 


• From feminist perspectives two key problems with participatory democracy are tits failure to recognize the additional burdens on women’s  time, and its emphasis on the workplace as the most important site of increased participation. If men have  trouble getting round to all of those meetings, then what about the democratic women? Every society defi nes women as the carers those ultimately responsible for looking after the young and the sick, not to mention their able bodied husbands. The available time left over for meetings will not amount to much. 

• The other central complaint relates to the importance attached to paid work. Participatory democracy rejects the conventional distinction between public and private spheres and seek to extend the scope of democracy by  embracing worker self-management, worker cooperatives, democratic decision making at work, in doing so, however they refl ect a perennial masculine bias. Most men will hope to work full time through the majority of their adult years and will see their identities in that spirit. Most women, by contrast have  a more broken and distanced relationship to their place of work.  

• Even with the extraordinary increase in female wage employment since the Second World War,  women have  to take time off work to have  babies, frequently return to employment on a part-time basis and almost invariably have  to juggle their time between their paid and unpaid employment. 

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In recent decades the workplace has become considerably more signifi cant in defi ning and directing women’s lives, but women’s  relationship to work remains profoundly different from men’s. They may experience their harshest subordination not at work but at home, while the time they can devote to worker selfmanagement will be severely constrained. 

• The individual can at least pretend to be sexually neutral, but one who gives it a moment of thought would say the same is true about work. Men and women have  a different relationship to work, and a different relationship to time, and no version democracy that rests its case on increased participation at work can be neutral between women and men. 

As Carole Pateman notes, the debate between liberal and radical democrats has revolved endlessly around one particular notion of public and private, concentrating on whether the economy and workplace are private or public and whether democracy in the workplace is feasible or desirable. Neither of the opposing positions deals with women’s lives.


• Periodic elections may look inadequate when measured against classic ideals but they do at least provide a way in which all of the people can make themselves heard. Supporters of participatory democracy are always agitating for more active involvement, but their alternatives are usually seized on by a vocal minority, who cannot be trusted to represent us all. 

• More participation, workplace meetings, direct action and demonstrations can end up denying the majority their voice. More democracy will therefore lead to more elitism, in which the few do better and count for more than the passive, inert, apathetic, non – participant many. This model of democracy covers up, the displacement by counter –elites of pre-existing elites and these new elites will prove much worse than the old. The democracy of periodic elections may not give individuals much scope for exerting control, but it does at least guarantee the moderate and the passive their say. 

• It could equally well be argued that continuous involvement in meetings and decision making improves our understanding of the complexities of political choice, that it reduces intolerance and narrow self-interest and makes us listen more generously to what other have to say. 

But the terrible pressures participation puts on people’s time, and the irresponsible non-participant, the part –time activist, the half – virtuoso man, not all of them want to go to meetings all the time. People want to get on with their private lives as well and the ‘community people’ who attend all the meetings will barely get opportunity for that.

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