New Approaches to Political Cohesion in Democratic Systems

Workshop sponsored by the Centre of Political Thought (University of Exeter),

together with Cardiff University and the University of Oxford

(We also acknowledge the support of the PSA Political Theory Standing Group)


New Approaches to Political Cohesion in Democratic Systems


University of Exeter, Wednesday 29 November 2017,

Reed Hall, Ibrahim Ahmed Room – 12.45-6.30pm


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12.45pm Arrival (Coffee)


1.00-2.30pm Session one: Partisanship

A discussion based on Matteo Bonotti (Cardiff), Partisanship and Political Liberalism in Diverse Societies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

Comments by Jonathan White (LSE, London) and Dario Castiglione (Exeter).


Coffee Break


3.00-4.30pm Session two: Participation

A discussion based on Joseph Lacey (Oxford), Centripetal Democracy: Democratic Legitimacy and Political Identity in Belgium, Switzerland, and the European Union (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

Comments by Sandra Kröger (Exeter) and Richard Bellamy (EUI, Florence).


Coffee Break


5.00-6.30pm Session three: Emancipation

A discussion based on Sofia Näsström (Uppsala), The spirit of People: Sources of Democratic Corruption and Renewal (forthcoming, manuscript in preparation).

Comments by Carole Pateman (UCLA and Cardiff) and David Owen (Southampton).



The Workshop Rationale

Questions of procedure and substance have been central to contemporary debates in democratic theory. While procedural accounts have attempted to understand how fair democratic processes can legitimate political decisions, substantive conceptions have understood legitimacy to consist in those processes that lead to the best possible outcomes. One question that is often marginalized by the debate on input and output forms of legitimacy concerns the impact that various kinds of democratic processes may have on political cohesion. By contrast, minimalist or competitive conceptions of democracy have defined democracy in terms of its ability to produce the most basic form of political cohesion. That is to say, “the peaceful resolution of conflict” through competitive elections is supposed to generate sufficient commitment among the citizenry for the continuation of the political community under a system of electoral democracy.

This workshop places an emphasis on the relationship between democratic processes and political cohesion that goes beyond the simplistic formula of competitive democrats. Political cohesion, or the commitment to a common political project, is a matter of degree and processes leading to the peaceful resolution of conflict are just one way of contributing to this phenomenon. Indeed, political processes can embody values and produce norms that may legitimate the political system in one way or another and lead to much deeper forms of political cohesion among members of a political community than that which is allowed for by the mere avoidance of violent conflict. On the one hand, we consider the circumstances under which competitive elections can do more than peacefully resolve conflict by contributing in a deeper sense to citizens’ commitment to democratic values. On the other hand, as procedural and substantive democrats recognise, there is much more to democracy than free and fair elections. We therefore expand our inquiry beyond election to understand how other democratic values and activities may contribute towards political cohesion.

Three main themes will be explored in the workshop: partisanship, participation and emancipation. Partisanship is a concept that embraces the competitive value of elections, but nevertheless insists that the ongoing process of contestation between opposing forces in a political system is bound up with norms of political justification that serve political liberalism in its aims to integrate citizens with diverse conceptions of the good within an overlapping consensus. While partisanship focuses on the role of representatives in promoting political cohesion, the idea of participation makes us look more closely at how various active roles played by citizens themselves in the democratic process, both within and outside parties, can affect political cohesion. The idea of participation embraces competitive elections in this regard, but it also places a high value on direct instruments of democracy and informal talk among citizens in the public sphere.

Partisanship and participation are particular, if broad, practices within a democratic system. Emancipation, by contrast, is a meta-principle that animates what has been referred to as the “spirit of democracy”. Different political forms (republics, monarchies, despotisms, democracies) require different principles of commitment to sustain over time. To create cohesion in a democracy, the commitment to emancipation must trump other principles (virtue, distinction and fear), and institutions must in turn encourage action-orientations in its support, through political procedures but also through social policy-making in areas such as citizenship, education and work. In this sense, political cohesion in a democracy becomes a function of how well it realises its potential for change by engaging and institutionalizing commitment to the principle of emancipation.

Particular questions to be addressed in this workshop concern a) the tension/complementarity between democratic legitimacy and political cohesion; b) the tension/complementarity between emancipation, partisanship and participation in the development of political cohesion; and c) the challenges that emancipation, partisanship and participation face in promoting political cohesion within societies harbouring different degrees and types of diversity (whether multicultural, territorial, linguistic, etc.).


The organisation of the Workshop

The workshop will be organised in three sessions, one on each of the main themes and approaches here identified as relevant to political cohesion in democratic societies. Each session will have as its starting point a published or forthcoming volume, which will be briefly introduced by the author, followed by two brief comments and by general discussion. However, we welcome contributions from all participants to each of the three sessions, offering either comments on the selected texts or more general points on the overall theme of each session. We expect around 20-25 participants to the workshop, including authors and discussants. A couple of chapters from each of the three texts will be circulated in advance to the registered participants. The particular order of the sessions may be subject to variation.



Participation is free of charge, but participants must register. Places may be limited. Please contact Dario Castiglione ( no later than 14 November 2017.


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