The future of democracy is in question.
Those who aspire to democratic futures are presented with new opportunities and challenges to how citizens and government understand their relationship with one another. Political participation has shifted from traditional organisations to take in new web-based activities. New information and communication technologies offer community empowerment, but also contain the threat of disseminating fake news, contributing to polarisation and invidious forms of surveillance.
Tensions between national sovereignty and membership in international economic and political alliances have exposed competing visions of political futures. Automation and the extension of the workplace into the private sphere threatens democratic rights won by collective bargaining. Gender, race, age, sexuality and other intersecting identities, social characteristics, and associated inequalities remain predictors of democratic (dis)engagement and inequality.
Symptoms of the failure of politics to negotiate complexity include:
- declining engagement in traditional institutions of representative democracy (elections and political parties)
- increasingly professionalised lobbying
- rising populism and anti-politics
- declining trust in intergovernmental institutions
Scholarship that has tried to explain the symptoms of these challenges has focused either on cross-case comparison of within-country factors, or on structural issues of overlapping economies and democratic populations in a globalised world. And despite institutional innovations aimed at avoiding or coping with democratic deficits, the models of democracy offered have proven unfit for a world of multi-level governance.
Research at the CDF asks how different attributes reinforce democracy (or not), what an ideal future democracy will look like, and what innovations are needed to achieve these ideals. To achieve its ambition, we follow streams of research corresponding to the challenges outlined above. We draw on our unique expertise to investigate the potential for ‘democratic reinforcement’ and ‘democratic bolstering’.
We aim to produce research and education which provide the answers to democratic failure, for a democratic future.