Deliberative democracy in the real world, the contribution of the capability approach

TitleDeliberative democracy in the real world, the contribution of the capability approach
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsBonvin, J-M, Laruffa, F
JournalInternational Review of Sociology
ISSN0390-6701, 1469-9273
KeywordsCapability approach; positional objectivity; conversion; markets; deliberative democracy

Drawing on Amartya Sen’s writings, this article presents the capability approach to democracy and shows its relevance for the sociological reflection and research on democratic processes conceived as ways to convert individual preferences into collective norms or decisions. Two moments are key in this respect: the formation of individual preferences and their translation into collective norms in the course of public debates. The initial sections present Sen’s conception of democracy, particularly emphasizing its articulation with the notions of ‘positional objectivity’ and ‘conversion’. Then, this conception is compared with two other mechanisms that may be used to coordinate individual decisions or preferences, namely the market and idealistic views on deliberative democracy. The article emphasizes how the capability approach departs from these two conceptions with regard to the two key concepts of capacity to aspire and capability for voice. The final section shows how Sen’s notion of democracy may open up a new field for research, namely the sociological investigation of the informational (or knowledge) basis of democracy.