Ways of searching for the common good

On the critical trajectory of deliberative democracy and the political meaning of deliberative forums

 Luigi Pellizzoni (University of Trieste)

The following text is a development of the main topics addressed during the communication given by Luigi Pellizzoni for the Seminar : De l’alerte au conflit – Logiques argumentatives et trajectoires des mobilisations (EHESS Friday 3 February 2012)]


One of the most significant political phenomena of the last decades is the flourishing of deliberative forums: structured arenas where different categories of people (‘lay’ citizens, experts, stakeholders, public administrators) meet to dialogically address a ‘problem’, more or less loosely defined as common. Such problems may range from major national issues like the adoption of a currency or the handling of emerging technologies to local policy questions like urban traffic or the siting of industrial facilities.

Countries of different political and administrative traditions are confronted with an increasing recourse to this type of processes. Theoretical debates and empirical analyses have intensified correspondingly, and the bulk of literature is becoming impressive. In this context, it is useful to reflect on what may be depicted as a sort of parabolic trajectory in the reading of this phenomenon.

TV campaign on Italian nuclear forum


Actually, the different purposes or concrete effects of deliberative forums have long been debated. To provide just an example, Sintomer and Allegretti (2009) talk of three different types of goals for deliberative experiences in Europe: managerial (improving public policies and modernizing administration by means of the involvement of citizens), social (strengthening cohesion, including minorities and disadvantaged groups, empowering the weakest categories), and political (re-legitimating the political system, expanding participation by means of new public spaces). This argument implies that such different aims, with their related frameworks (the ‘new public management’ in the first case, social justice in the second, participatory democracy in the third) live side by side, as options available to organized interests and institutions according to their needs and preferences.

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