Participatory Democracy and Multi-strategic Research

Hugh Lacey



What approaches to science should be fostered in the light of holding democratic values? Answers to this question differ depending on how “democracy” and “science” are interpreted.

I will sketch two interpretations of democracy: representative democracy and participatory democracy, and two (not so familiar ones) of what constitutes scientific research: decontextualizing research (DS-research), i.e., systematic empirical inquiry conducted under decontextualizing strategies (DSs), and multi-strategic research (MS-research). DS-research enables entertaining and confirming hypotheses and theories that have to do with the underlying structures of phenomena/objects/systems, of their constituents and their processes and interactions, the causal networks they belong to, and the laws governing them, considered in dissociation from their human, social, and environmental contexts, and that are tested in view of their fit with relevant empirical data that are normally obtained in the course of measurement (instrumental) and/or experimental interventions. In MS-research, DSs are complemented by context-sensitive strategies (CSs). Empirical investigation of phenomena that are inseparable from their human, social, and environmental contexts (see Section 7.2.4) require adopting some CSs and, under them, claims are tested in view of their fit with empirical data that may be qualitative and/or involve interpretations of natural and human phenomena in their ecological and social contexts. DS- and MS-research reflect often competing views of admissible (or privileged) methodologies and the priorities of scientific research, and they are associated with disagreements about what items of scientific knowledge may legitimately be used to inform social practices and daily life.1

My principle objective is to show (in Section 7.3) that holding the values of participatory democracy leads to fostering MS-research. First, however, I will discuss connections between representative democracy and DS-research, and the consequences that may follow for science from threats being made in several countries today to weaken democratic values and institutions.

Representative Democracy and Decontextualizing Research

Representative Democracy

Representative democracies (RDs) - the variety of political systems, selfidentified as democratic, that function in the USA and many other nations — are marked, if only ideally or according to articles of their constitutions, by the separation of powers, networks of governmental bodies with responsibilities ranging from the local, through the provincial to the national, representatives in legislative and (in many cases) executive bodies at most levels chosen in elections in which all eligible citizens can vote, freedom of the press, the rule of law, and juridical protection of civil/political, property, and (in some cases) the full array of economic/social/cultural rights.

Democratic values are identified in RDs as the values that are articulated (in constitutions, by political parties, and legal and scholarly commentators) as shaping their core institutions, even if actually it is only a remote ideal that the values be robustly embodied in them. They include individual freedom, equality of opportunity, equality before the law, and protections for wealth and property, which in most RDs are very highly ranked values, even in those whose constitutions articulate respect for equality and solidarity. How these values are embodied varies among the RDs, and their embodiment can be enhanced or, as is happening today in the USA, Brazil, and several other countries, that of some of them can be diminished. Their robust embodiment is generally held to fit with the ideal that all people have the opportunity to live in ways experienced as being reasonably fulfilling, and so have access to the material conditions (including employment) to do so. There are disagreements, however, about whether to provide welfare programs for those who lack (or do not avail themselves of the opportunity to gain) access to these conditions. Entrepreneurial initiatives tend to be valued in RDs. And, in most of them, so are (with varying degrees of government tolerance and support) a vast array of independent civil society organizations and social movements, representing a pluralism of value outlooks, that deal with matters — connected with education, health, protection

Participatory Democracy and Multi-strategic Research 137 of human rights, recreation, art, sport, care for children, the disabled, and the elderly, charities, special interest groups, etc. — that may fall outside a government’s purview or conflict with its policies. Valuing some of these organizations and movements tends to be reinforced by the conviction that adherence to democratic values is nourished by participating in them.

It is also widely believed in most actual RDs that commitment to the values of technological progress (VTP) contributes to (and safeguards) the robust embodiment of democratic values, where commitment to VTP involves (in summary) according high ethical and social value to exercising technological control over natural objects, to expanding human capacities to exercise such control in more and more domains of human and social life, and to the definition of human, social, and ecological problems in terms that permit solutions that deploy innovations derived from DS-research (Lacey 2005, 18-24). In addition, since institutions and interests that embody values of capital and the market (VC5cM) (i.e., values such as economic growth, private control of productive forces, competition, profit, and private property) are the principal bearers of VtP today, the prospects for strengthening democratic values are widely believed to be linked with furthering the trajectory being shaped by VTP and VC&M. Then, VTP and VC8cM tend to be considered inseparable from the core democratic values and integral to how they are interpreted.

Thus, the pluralism of value outlooks fostered in contemporary RDs tends to be bounded by the possibility of achieving an acceptable balance among

  • 1 strengthening the core democratic values and institutions,
  • 2 encouraging and tolerating a range of independent civil society organizations, and
  • 3 commitment to VTP and Vc&m-

Political parties compete about how to interpret these items, rank them in order of importance, and determine what counts as an acceptable balance among them. In many RDs there is a virtual consensus among the leading political parties that an acceptable balance depends on interpreting (3) to require that decisions made in certain areas (often justified by appeal to the judgments of economic and scientific experts) should prioritize, or at least not be opposed to, relevant interests of property, capital, and the market. These areas include the production and distribution of good and services; the goals and processes of the workplace and farming practices; the use of natural resources and goods; the kinds of social arrangements that may exist and flourish; and how to balance institutionally social/economic/cultural rights with civil/political rights.

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