When citizen deliberation enters real politics: how politicians and stakeholders envision the place of a deliberative mini-public in political decision-making
In the wake of the increasing use of deliberative citizen assemblies in the public sphere, this article studies how traditional policy actors receive a mini-public as ‘newcomer’ in political decision-making, despite its reliance on a fundamentally different vision of policy-making and that it substantially alters existing power distributions. Survey data collected before and after a typical mini-public case, the Citizen Climate Parliament, shows that most politicians and stakeholders welcome this ‘newcomer’ as long as it remains consultative. A typological discourse analysis of 28 semi-structured interviews with these politicians and stakeholders suggests that this attitude comes with four different views of mini-publics’ place in political decision-making: an elitist-, expert-, (re)connection- and reinvention view. Given that an important correlate of these views was the extent to which actors agreed with the recommendations of the mini-public, it shows that their views were driven both by actors’ interests in the outcome on a micro-level and by their general ideas about political decision-making on a macro-level. The findings illustrate that mini-publics may encounter opposition from both political actors and stakeholders once they aim to take a place in political decision-making that goes beyond occasional and consultative uses. At the same time, these results show that the use of mini-publics does not leave traditional representative institutions unaffected as it prompts them to think about the place that citizen deliberation should take in the political system.
KeywordsDeliberative system Mini-publics Elites Stakeholders Discourse analysis
I would like to express my gratitude for invaluable comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this article to Min Reuchamps, Vincent Jacquet, Jérémy Dodeigne, John Pitseys, Sergiu Gherghina, Dimitri Courant, Nathalie Schiffino, Jean-Benoît Pilet, Eszter Timár, Spencer McKay and to the participants of conferences at Goethe Universität Frankfurt, Université catholique de Louvain–Mons, Université libre de Bruxelles and Université Saint-Louis–Bruxelles. Furthermore, I would like to thank the organizers of the Citizen Climate Parliament (CCP), the SEED Research-Unit at Université de Liège, for having allowed me to observe the CCP and for having shared numerous internal documents with me. Special thanks go to all politicians, associations and companies who responded to my surveys and who accepted to be interviewed. Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to the two anonymous reviewers of Policy Sciences for their detailed and generous comments and suggestions. Throughout the writing process, I was funded by the Fonds pour la Recherche en Sciences Humaines (FRESH – F.R.S.-FNRS).
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