Radical Democracy Summer School 2023
Registration is now open for our Radical Democracy Summer School, co-hosted with Simon Fraser University, Community Engaged Research Initiative (CERi) in beautiful Vancouver, Canada! Join us for an action packed week of workshops, guest lectures, field trips, shared meals and creative, collaborative group work. Register today for the entire course, or drop in for any number of sessions.
Register & Details: https://www.sfu.ca/ceri/participedia-ceri-summer-school/about.html
When: Sunday, 4 June — Saturday, 10 June 2023 with two virtual pre-meetings May 18 and 25, 4–6 pm Pacific time.
Where: Simon Fraser University, downtown Vancouver, Canada
Radical democracy refers to aspirations, ideas and practices that aim or embody an attempt to re/uncover the roots of what democracy is or should be. It takes seriously the claim that “democracy — [is] a process in permanent radicalization of itself” (Kothari et al., 2019, xxi). As such, the term is better conceived as a project of radicalizing or deepening democracy, rather than a free-standing and exhaustive substitute to liberal democracy.
Since the collapse of the socialist alternative and its related imaginaries, radical democracy has come to best represent the multitude of democratic experiments and manifestations that can be found all over the world. Those movements have often departed from the class-based struggle of classical Marxism in order to embrace a multiplicity of fights against a variety of forms of domination, and to work towards a more equal and just future without the teleological end-point of communism (Loyd and Little, 2009).
The theoretical literature is inhabited by two major strands. One is associated with deliberative democracy, and relies on enhancing the public exchange of reasons to deepen democracy. The second strand, influenced by post-structuralist thought, affirms the ineradicability of power and conflict and endeavors to mobilize democratic power to fight dominative forces.
We take an expansive view of radical democracy and include the two strands, as well as other theories that seek to strengthen democracy. We also pay particular attention to practices that do the same, and aim to thread both theory and practice in our exploration of the subject.
Day 1: Sunday, June 4, 2023
Introduction & Dialogue
The first session presents participants with preliminary reflections on the idea of democracy. It asks, among other things, what would a more “rooted” democracy, a more equal, a more free democracy look like? Who is the subject of democracy? Who are the people and how do they constitute, express and enforce their will?
Speakers: Stuart Ponytz and Am Johal, Co-Directors CERi; Bonny Ibhawoh, Director, Participedia; Tzeporah Berman, Canadian Activist, International Director, STAND.EARTH
Day 2: Monday, June 5, 2023
Power and Disruption
Lived Experience of Democracy
There are many ways of conceptualizing power. The most common one is to think of it as coercion, that is, as having someone do something they would not otherwise do by threat of sanction or the use of force. Coercion is not only a “regrettable” aspect of politics, it is an essential feature of most forms of collective agency. Without coercion, there is only the status quo, or as Jane Mansbridge puts it, “drift”. Hence, as democratic movements contest the institutional power of the state (fight power), they also have to mobilize a form of coercion to do so (use power). Other ways of conceiving of power exist which emphasizes the possibility of mobilizing it in a more consensual, deliberative and/or relational way. This session studies power as an inescapable and at times desirable aspect of democratic politics. It raises questions such as: what are the different forms of democratic power? What differentiates between brute force and democratic power? How is it possible to maintain the democratic nature of power (equality and inclusion of minorities) while using it more radically (against privileged interests, for instance) to democratize society? How might we empower the people to a greater extent without failing to protect minorities and those who “lose” more often at majority decision-making processes?
Speakers: Tara Mahoney and Joanna Ashworth, Simon Fraser University; Antonin Lacelle-Webster, University of British Columbia and Etienne Cardin-Trudeau, University of Toronto; Cara Peacock, University of Toronto
Day 3: Tuesday, June 6, 2023
Creativity & Futurity
Designing & Imagining a Deeper Democracy
Radical democrats and activists have, for the most part, abandoned the teleological end-point of communism or of emancipation from relations of power. The future they imagine is constituted by power, but also by hope for a better society, a society, however, that can never be perfect or final. This session draws from design as “a conversation about possibilities of being, doing, and knowing” (Escobar, 2020, 140), and art-based activism, to challenge participants to imagine how to get involved in making where they live, work and study, more democratic places. It asks, among other things, what role does art and creativity play in democratic life? How can design thinking help us build a world that is more just and more inclusive? What are some of the limits of this approach?
Speakers: Justin Langlois, Interim AVP Research + Dean of the Jake Kerr Faculty of Graduate Studies Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Tara Mahoney, Research and Engagement Coordinator, SFU CERi, and Jesi Carson, Design Technology Lead, Participedia
Day 4: Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Democratic Forms of Agency
Practice & Research
People act, everyday, everywhere, towards an incrementally more just future. In this session, forms of democratic agency, from protest to participatory budgeting, to citizens’ assemblies, to digital democracy, will be analyzed in terms of their process design and impact. Exploring the interconnections between theory and practice, this day will shed light on people’s lived experiences of democracy and what it means to practice radical democracy everywhere — in one’s personal life, in the community, in organizations, and beyond. We will be attentive to questions such as: what are the theories and methods that inform and guide our actions? What are the methods for studying and learning from the practice of radical democracy? What is the value of focusing on lived experience? And more generally, how can we, ourselves, be radical democrats?
Speakers: Ricardo F. Mendonça, Hans Asenbaum and Selen A. Ercan
Day 5: Thursday, June 8, 2023
Care, Inclusion & Decolonization
Centering Relationality in Radical Democracy
Radical democrats recognize the constitutive role of power for politics, and they have been more and more attentive to the relationships that power — but also other features of human life such as love and care — produce, underline or draw from. To be radical is to recognize the interdependence inherent in any human group, and life on Earth more broadly, and point towards ways of recognizing and embracing this feature to strengthen democracy. This session will raise the question of the place of relationality in democratic settings. How should democratic citizens relate to each other, and how does it affect the space of democratic power and our ability to restrain power from being used in an undemocratic fashion? How should we conceive of inclusion when certain democratic forms of agency require us to exclude people to preserve the safety and power (effectiveness) of the group? How is decolonization one of the most radical, necessary and possibly beneficial ways of transforming how we relate to each other and the world?
Speakers: Genevieve Fuji-Johnson, Simon Fraser University; Kathy Walker, University of Saskatchewan
Day 6: Friday, June 9, 2023
Democracy & Ecology
“The Common” Radical Models of Economic Sustainability
“The Common” has become a key principle of alternative political movements in the 21st century. It can be defined as the principle according to “which we are able to build the commons, maintain the commons, and sustain the commons” (Dardot and Laval, 28) where the commons refers to “self-organized social systems for managing shared wealth” (Bollier, 2020, 72). In societies deeply shaped by neoliberal rationality, the common is increasingly invoked as the operative concept of practical struggles creating new forms of democratic governance. We will use Dardot and Laval’s book as a source to trace the active lives of human beings saying that only a practical activity of commoning can decide what will be shared in common and what rules will govern the common’s citizen-subjects. This re-articulation of the common calls for nothing less than the institutional transformation of society by society: it calls for a revolution. This session will explore the theory and practice of The Common and implications for deepening democracy. It considers questions such as: how does capitalism affect democracy? Is radical democracy necessarily anti-capitalist? Is it possible for people to voluntarily and democratically decide to undergo a process of degrowth, or collectively take other difficult decisions in relation to climate change?
Speakers: Valérie Paquet, UQÀM; Am Johal, Director of Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement and author of Ecological Metapolitics: Badiou and the Anthropocene and Dionne Co, Director of Research at Solid State Community Industries
Day 7: Saturday, June 10, 2023
Design Presentations & Closing Circle