New literature review in Contemporary Sociology by Francesca Polletta: “By the 1980s, experiments in participatory democracy seemed to have been relegated by scholars to the category of quixotic exercises in idealism, undertaken by committed (and often aging) activists who were unconcerned with political effectiveness or economic efficiency. Today, bottom-up decision making seems all the rage. Crowdsourcing and Open Source, flat management in business, horizontalism in protest politics, collaborative governance in policymaking—these are the buzzwords now and they are all about the virtues of nonhierarchical and participatory decision making.
What accounts for this new enthusiasm for radical democracy? Is it warranted? Are champions of this form understanding key terms like equality and consensus differently than did radical democrats in the 1960s and 70s? And is there any reason to believe that today’s radical democrats are better equipped than their forebears to avoid the old dangers of endless meetings and rule by friendship cliques? In this admittedly selective review, I will take up recent books on participatory democracy in social movements, non- and for-profit organizations, local governments, and electoral campaigning. These are perhaps not the most influential books on participatory democracy since 2000—after all, most of them are brand new—but they speak interestingly to the state of participatory democracy today. Taken together, they suggest that, on one hand, innovations in technology and in activism have made democratic decision making both easier and fairer. On the other hand, the popularity of radical democracy may be diluting its force. If radical democracy comes to mean simply public participation, then spectacles of participation may be made to stand in for mechanisms of democratic accountability.”