Egaliterianizing the Mike: Deliberative Democracy and Linguistic Diversity

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“Deliberative democracy” is a concept used in political theory to describe a certain democratic mechanism of decision-making. Unlike traditional theories of democracy emphasizing voting as the essence of citizens’ political participation, deliberative democracy seeks to extend citizens’ involvement in the political process in order to enhance democratic and egalitarian civic culture, and increase public’s input and influence over government policies. As its name suggests, deliberative democracy theory relies on a common language for the deliberation process. Despite its considerable progress in many respects, however, surprisingly little thought (if any) has been given by its leading theorists (e.g. Rawls, Cohen, Elster, Dryzek and Gutman) to the fact that most existing political communities, democratic or otherwise, are in fact multilingual. This de facto linguistic diversity problematize the theory, as non-native speakers of the deliberation language inevitably find themselves disadvantaged in comparison with their native speakers peers, in terms of symbolic status (i.e. advancing dominant language, culture and identity at the expense of minority cultures), as well as material harms (e.g. low social mobility or limited accessibility to higher education, resulting from insufficient skills in the language of deliberation). Current theoretical models, thus, appear inaccurate and unhelpful for multilingual political communities seeking to employ deliberative practices, yet unwilling to compromise the recognition of their linguistic and cultural diversity. Addressing this seemingly inherent tension between deliberative practices and multilingual political communities, the paper suggests that the key to its resolving lies in the development and implementation of a language policy which will facilitate minority language learning to dominant language speakers (addressing the symbolic status disadvantage), while assisting linguistic minorities to maximize their dominant language skills (addressing the material disadvantage). The paper concludes with an emphasis on the special importance of deliberative practices for linguistically and otherwise diverse societies, as a mean of enhancing a shared democratic civic culture, tolerance and solidarity.


Keywords: Language Policy, Multilingualism, Multiculturalism, Deliberative Democracy, Democratic Theory, Linguistic Justice, Citizenship Theory and Civic Studies
Stream: Learning, Education, Training
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Yael Peled

Doctor of Philosophy Student, Department of Politics and International Relations
Nuffield College, Oxford University

Oxford, UK

Yael Peled is a current DPhil student in politics and international relations, based at Nuffield College, Oxford. Research interests combine political theory, language policy, sociolinguistics and philosophy of language. DPhil dissertation title (provisional) is "Linguistic Justice and Philosophical Empowerment: Two Justifications for a Plurilingual Theory of Democracy". Past papers and work in progress include "When Granny Weatherwax Met Political Ideologies: Homo Narrans and Humanism in Terry Pratchett's Discworld"; "The Learned and the Sago-Sago: Intralinguistic Misconceptions and Extralinguistic Politics" (discussing language death and linguistic activism); “Language, Rights, and the Language of Language Rights: The Need for a New Conceptual Framework in Political Theory of Language Policy” (discussing the advantages and disadvantages of rights' language in current political theory of language policy).

Ref: D08P0178