How legislatures work – and should work – as public space

Paper by John Parkinson in latest issue of Democratization: “In a democracy, legislatures are not only stages for performances by elected representatives; they are also stages for performances by other players in the public sphere. This article argues that while many legislatures are designed and built as spaces for the public to engage with politics, and while democratic norms require some degree of access, increasingly what are termed “purposive publics” are being superseded by groups who are only publics in an aggregative, accidental sense. The article begins with a conceptual analysis of the ways in which legislatures can be thought of as public spaces, and the in-principle access requirements that follow from them. It then draws on interviews and observational fieldwork in eleven capital cities to discover whether the theoretical requirements are met in practice, revealing further tensions. The conclusions are that accessibility is important; is being downgraded in important ways; but also that access norms stand in tension with the requirement that legislatures function as working buildings if they are to retain their symbolic value. The article ends with two “modest proposals”, one concerning the design of the plazas in front of legislatures, the other concerning a role for the wider public in legislative procedure.”