Agonistic Democracy: Rethinking Political Institutions in Pluralist Times, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Agonistic Democracy

Rethinking Political Institutions in Pluralist Times, 1st Edition

By Marie Paxton


224 pages

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Hardback: 9781138354043
pub: 2019-11-26
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Agonistic Democracy explores how theoretical concepts from agonistic democracy can inform institutional design in order to mediate conflict in multicultural, pluralist societies.

Drawing on the work of Foucault, Nietzsche, Schmitt, and Arendt, Marie Paxton outlines the importance of their themes of public contestation, contingency and necessary interdependency for contemporary agonistic thinkers.  Paxton delineates three distinct approaches to agonistic democracy: David Owen’s perfectionist agonism, Mouffe’s adversarial agonism, and William Connolly and James Tully’s inclusive agonism. Paxton demonstrates how each is fundamental to enabling citizens to cultivate better virtues for themselves and society (Owen), motivating democratic engagement (Mouffe) and enhancing relations of respect and understanding between conflicting citizens (Connolly and Tully). Situated within the context of a deeply polarised post-Trump America and post-Brexit Britain, this book reveals the need to rethink our approach to conflict mediation through democratic institutions. Pulling together insights from experimental research with deliberative democratic innovations, Paxton explores how agonistic theory might be institutionalised further.

Through discussing ways in which agonistic institutions might be developed to render democracy more virtuous, more engaging, and more inclusive, Agonistic Democracy provides a unique resource for students of contemporary political theory.


"Much of the theoretical debate on the design of democratic institutions is dominated by the ideas and principles of deliberative democrats. Marie Paxton argues cogently why agonistic democrats need to overcome their relunctance to engage constructively with questions of institutional design. Through careful consideration of contemporary developments in democratic theory and practice, Paxton opens up a significant new perspective on how agonistic principles such as contestation can reorientate our thinking."Graham Smith, Professor of Politics, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster

"Marie Paxton’s book aims to move us from invocations of an agonistic ethos to the design of agonistic institutions. Developing an analytic account of adversarial, inclusive and perfectionist strands of agonistic political theory, she draws on New Institutionalist approaches in political science, the use of experimental methods, and studies of democratic innovations to initiate an institutional design agenda for agonistic democracy. This work marks a necessary and welcome step forward for the agonistic theory of democracy."David Owen, University of Southampton

"As politics becomes increasingly polarised, Marie Paxton explains why agonistic principles – of critique, engagement and inclusion – have never been more important. Combining sophisticated theoretical analysis with experimental research, the book puts forward recommendations for how agonistic principles can be put into practice in national and local institutions, schools, media and popular culture. Marie Paxton has pushed the boundaries of agonistic thinking by taking on the practical challenges and opportunities presented by agonism. This is a timely and highly original volume, with international reach."Professor Vivien Lowndes, School of Government, University of Birmingham, UK

"Marie Paxton delivers an incisive critical survey of agonistic democracy, as well as breaking new ground with her thoughtful response to the ‘institutional deficit’ characteristic of agonistic theory. Paxton delineates the balance between innovation and institutional ordering, understood as constitutive of democratic politics, and through her discussion we come to understand the proximity between agonistic theory and the ‘new institutionalism’. Highlights include the account of a ‘contestation day’, presented as an alternative to the ‘deliberation day’, as well as the novel use of experimental design to add empirical weight to the main theoretical claims of the book. Altogether, this work represents an important and imaginative intervention in this growing field of contemporary democratic theory."Mark Wenman, Senior Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Birmingham

Table of Contents

Introduction: Why Agonistic Democracy?

Part 1: Theory

1. The Theoretical Roots of Agonistic Democracy

2. Three Approaches to Agonistic Democracy

3. Agonistic Democracy and Institutions

Part 2: Institutions

4. Experimenting with Agonistic Democracy

5. Insights from Agonistic Experimentation

6. Agonistic Democracy and Democratic Innovations

7. Proposals for Agonistic Institutions

About the Author

Marie Paxton is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Westminster College, Salt Lake City.

About the Series

Routledge Advances in Democratic Theory

Advisory Board: Amy Allen (Penn State University), Benjamin Barber (City University of New York), Rajeev Bhargava (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies), David Chandler (University of Westminster), Fred Dallmayr (University of Notre Dame), John Keane (University of Sydney), James R. Martel (San Francisco State University), Chantal Mouffe (University of Westminster), Davide Panagia (UCLA), Bhikhu Parekh (House of Lords), and Nadia Urbinati (Columbia University)

Democracy is being re-thought almost everywhere today: with the widespread questioning of the rationalist assumptions of classical liberalism, and the implications this has for representational competition; with the Arab Spring, destabilizing many assumptions about the geographic spread of democracy; with the deficits of democracy apparent in the Euro-zone crisis, especially as it affects the management of budget deficits; with democracy increasingly understand as a process of social empowerment and equalization, blurring the lines of division between formal and informal spheres; and with growing demands for democracy to be reformulated to include the needs of those currently marginalized or even to include the representation of non-human forms of life with whom we share our planet.

Routledge Advances in Democratic Theory publishes state of the art theoretical reflection on the problems and prospects of democratic theory when many of the traditional categories and concepts are being reworked and rethought in our globalized and complex times.

The series is published in cooperation with the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London, UK.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies / Democracy
POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory