Reconceptualizing Democratic Innovation

Paper by Cristina Flesher Fominaya: “Democratic innovation is one way the multiple crises of democracy can be addressed. The literature on democratic innovation has yet to adequately interrogate the role of social movements, and more specifically the movement of democratic imaginaries, in innovation, nor has it considered the specific mechanisms through which movements translate democratic imaginaries and practices into innovation. This article provides a preliminary roadmap for methodological and conceptual innovation in our understanding of the role of social movements in democratic innovation. It introduces the concept of democratic innovation repertoires and argues that: a) we need to broaden our conceptualization and analysis of democratic innovation to encompass the role of social movements; and b) we need to understand how the relationship between democratic movement imaginaries and the praxis that movements develop in their quest to “save” or strengthen democracy can shape democratic innovation beyond movement arenas after mobilizing “events” have passed…(More)”.

The Socio-Legal Lab: An Experiential Approach to Research on Law in Action

Guide by Siddharth Peter de Souza and Lisa Hahn: “..interactive workbook for socio-legal research projects. It employs the idea of a “lab” as a space for interactive and experiential learning. As an introductory book, it addresses researchers of all levels who are beginning to explore interdisciplinary research on law and are looking for guidance on how to do so. Likewise, the book can be used by teachers and peer groups to experiment with teaching and thinking about law in action through lab-based learning…

The book covers themes and questions that may arise during a socio-legal research project. This starts with examining what research and interdisciplinarity mean and in which forms they can be practiced. After an overview of the research process, we will discuss how research in action is often unpredictable and messy. Thus, the practical and ethical challenges of doing research will be discussed along with processes of knowledge production and assumptions that we have as researchers. 

Conducting a socio-legal research project further requires an overview of the theoretical landscape. We will introduce general debates about the nature, functions, and effects of law in society. Further, common dichotomies in socio-legal research such as “law” and “the social” or “qualitative” and “quantitative” research will be explored, along with suggested ways on how to bridge them. 

Turning to the application side of socio-legal research, the book delves deeper into questions of data on law and society, where to collect it and how to deal with it in a reflexive manner. It discusses different methods of qualitative socio-legal research and offers ways in which they can be experienced through exercises and simulations. In the research process, generating research results is followed by publishing and communicating them. We will explore different ways to ensure the outreach and impact of one’s research by communicating results through journals, blogs or social media. Finally, the book also discusses academia as a social space and the value of creating and using networks and peer groups for mutual support.

Overall, the workbook is designed to accompany and inspire researchers on their way through a socio-legal research project and to empower the reader into thinking more creatively about their methods, while at the same time demystifying them…(More)”.

China just announced a new social credit law. Here’s what it means.

Article by Zeyi Yang: “It’s easier to talk about what China’s social credit system isn’t than what it is. Ever since 2014, when China announced a six-year plan to build a system to reward actions that build trust in society and penalize the opposite, it has been one of the most misunderstood things about China in Western discourse. Now, with new documents released in mid-November, there’s an opportunity to correct the record.

For most people outside China, the words “social credit system” conjure up an instant image: a Black Mirror–esque web of technologies that automatically score all Chinese citizens according to what they did right and wrong. But the reality is, that terrifying system doesn’t exist, and the central government doesn’t seem to have much appetite to build it, either. 

Instead, the system that the central government has been slowly working on is a mix of attempts to regulate the financial credit industry, enable government agencies to share data with each other, and promote state-sanctioned moral values—however vague that last goal in particular sounds. There’s no evidence yet that this system has been abused for widespread social control (though it remains possible that it could be wielded to restrict individual rights). 

While local governments have been much more ambitious with their innovative regulations, causing more controversies and public pushback, the countrywide social credit system will still take a long time to materialize. And China is now closer than ever to defining what that system will look like. On November 14, several top government agencies collectively released a draft law on the Establishment of the Social Credit System, the first attempt to systematically codify past experiments on social credit and, theoretically, guide future implementation. 

Yet the draft law still left observers with more questions than answers. 

“This draft doesn’t reflect a major sea change at all,” says Jeremy Daum, a senior fellow of the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center who has been tracking China’s social credit experiment for years. It’s not a meaningful shift in strategy or objective, he says. 

Rather, the law stays close to local rules that Chinese cities like Shanghai have released and enforced in recent years on things like data collection and punishment methods—just giving them a stamp of central approval. It also doesn’t answer lingering questions that scholars have about the limitations of local rules. “This is largely incorporating what has been out there, to the point where it doesn’t really add a whole lot of value,” Daum adds. 

So what is China’s current system actually like? Do people really have social credit scores? Is there any truth to the image of artificial-intelligence-powered social control that dominates Western imagination? …(More)”.

A CERN Model for Studying the Information Environment

Article by Alicia Wanless: “After the Second World War, European science was suffering. Scientists were leaving Europe in pursuit of safety and work opportunities, among other reasons. To stem the exodus and unite the community around a vision of science for peace, in 1949, a transatlantic group of scholars proposed the creation of a world-class physics research facility in Europe. The grand vision was for this center to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Their white paper laid the foundation for the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), which today supports fundamental research in physics across an international community of more than 10,000 scientists from twenty-three member states and more than seventy other nations. Together, researchers at CERN built cutting-edge instruments to observe dozens of subatomic particles for the first time. And along the way they invented the World Wide Web, which was originally conceived as a tool to empower CERN’s distributed teams.

Such large-scale collaboration is once again needed to connect scholars, policymakers, and practitioners internationally and to accelerate research, this time to unlock the mysteries of the information environment. Democracies around the world are grappling with how to safeguard democratic values against online abuse, the proliferation of illiberal and xenophobic narratives, malign interference, and a host of other challenges related to a rapidly evolving information environment. What are the conditions within the information environment that can foster democratic societies and encourage active citizen participation? Sadly, the evidence needed to guide policymaking and social action in this domain is sorely lacking.

Researchers, governments, and civil society must come together to help. This paper explores how CERN can serve as a model for developing the Institute for Research on the Information Environment (IRIE). By connecting disciplines and providing shared engineering resources and capacity-building across the world’s democracies, IRIE will scale up applied research to enable evidence-based policymaking and implementation…(More)”.

Building Trust and Reinforcing Democracy

OECD Report: “Democracies are at a critical juncture, under growing internal and external pressures. This publication sheds light on the important public governance challenges countries face today in preserving and strengthening their democracies, including fighting mis- and disinformation; improving government openness, citizen participation and inclusiveness; and embracing global responsibilities and building resilience to foreign influence. It also looks at two cross-cutting themes that will be crucial for robust, effective democracies: transforming public governance for digital democracy and gearing up government to deliver on climate and other environmental challenges. These areas lay out the foundations of the new OECD Reinforcing Democracy Initiative, which has also involved the development of action plans to support governments in responding to these challenges..(More)”.

Brain capital: A new vector for democracy strengthening

Report by the Brain Capital Alliance: “Democracies are increasingly under siege. Beyond direct external (e.g., warfare) and internal (e.g., populism, extremism) threats to democratic nations, multiple democracy-weakening factors are converging in our modern world. Brain health challenges, including mental, neurologic, and substance use disorders, social determinants of health, long COVID, undesired effects of technology, mis- and disinformation, and educational, health, and gender disparities, are associated with substantial economic and sociopolitical impediments. Herein, we argue that thriving democracies can distinguish themselves through provision of environments that enable each citizen to achieve their full brain health potential conducive to both personal and societal well-being. Gearing policymaking towards equitable and quality brain health may prove essential to combat brain challenges, promote societal cohesion, and boost economic productivity. We outline emerging policy innovations directed at building “pro-democratic brain health” across individual, communal, national, and international levels. While extensive research is warranted to further validate these approaches, brain health-directed policymaking harbors potential as a novel concept for democracy strengthening….(More)”.

A systematic review of worldwide causal and correlational evidence on digital media and democracy

Paper by Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, Lisa Oswald, Stephan Lewandowsky & Ralph Hertwig: “One of today’s most controversial and consequential issues is whether the global uptake of digital media is causally related to a decline in democracy. We conducted a systematic review of causal and correlational evidence (N = 496 articles) on the link between digital media use and different political variables. Some associations, such as increasing political participation and information consumption, are likely to be beneficial for democracy and were often observed in autocracies and emerging democracies. Other associations, such as declining political trust, increasing populism and growing polarization, are likely to be detrimental to democracy and were more pronounced in established democracies. While the impact of digital media on political systems depends on the specific variable and system in question, several variables show clear directions of associations. The evidence calls for research efforts and vigilance by governments and civil societies to better understand, design and regulate the interplay of digital media and democracy….(More)”

The Case for Abolishing Elections

Essay by Nicholas Coccoma: “Terry Bouricius remembers the moment he converted to democracy by lottery. A bookish Vermonter, now 68, he was elected to the State House in 1990 after working for years as a public official in Burlington. At first state government excited him, but he quickly grew disillusioned. “During my time as a legislator,” he told me in an interview last year, “it became obvious to me that the ‘people’s house’ was not very representative of the people who actually lived in Vermont.”

The revelation came while Bouricius was working on a housing committee. “The committee members were an outgoing and garrulous bunch,” he observed. “Shy wallflowers almost never become legislators.” More disturbing, he noted how his fellow politicians—all of whom owned their homes—tended to legislate in favor of landlords and against tenants. “I saw that the experiences and beliefs of legislators shape legislation far more than facts,” he said. “After that, I frequently commented that any 150 Vermonters pulled from the phone book would be more representative than the elected House membership.”

There is widespread disgust with electoral politics and a hunger for greater responsiveness—a hunger, in other words, for democracy.

Many Americans agree. In a poll conducted in January 2020, 65 percent of respondents said that everyday people selected by lottery—who meet some basic requirements and are willing and able to serve—would perform better or much better compared to elected politicians. In March last year a Pew survey found that a staggering 79 percent believe it’s very or somewhat important for the government to create assemblies where everyday citizens from all walks of life can debate issues and make recommendations about national laws. “My decade of experience serving in the state legislature convinces me that this popular assessment is correct,” Bouricius said.

The idea—technically known as “sortition”—has been spreading. Perhaps its most prominent academic advocate is Yale political theorist Hélène Landemore. Her 2020 book Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the Twenty-First Century explores the limitations of both direct democracy and electoral-representative democracy, advocating instead for government by large, randomly selected “mini-publics.” As she put it in conversation with Ezra Klein at the New York Times last year, “I think we are realizing the limits of just being able to choose rulers, as opposed to actually being able to choose outcomes.” She is not alone. Rutgers philosopher Alex Guerrero and Belgian public intellectual David Van Reybrouck have made similar arguments in favor of democracy by lottery. In the 2016 translation of his book Against Elections, Van Reybrouck characterizes elections as “the fossil fuel of politics.” “Whereas once they gave democracy a huge boost,” he writes, “much like the boost that oil gave the economy, it now it turns out they cause colossal problems of their own.”…(More)”.

Calls to “save democracy” won’t work if there is little agreement on what democracy is

Article by Nicholas T. Davis, Kirby Goidel and Keith Gaddie: “One of the most consistent findings in academic research is the existence of something called the principle-implementation gap. People can agree that an idea is perfectly reasonable but will largely reject any meaningful action designed to achieve it. It happens with government spending. People want government to create public goods such as law enforcement, healthcare, and national defense, but oppose new (or additional) taxes. It happens with climate change. The public largely accepts the idea that human-caused climate change is occurring but is unwilling to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. And it happens with racial equality. People decry racism, but they reject policies that reduce inequality. It also happens, it turns out, with democracy. People claim to love democracy, but willingly sacrifice democratic norms in pursuit of partisan political ends.

A recent New York Times/Siena Poll illustrates this point. Most Americans (71 percent) said they believed American democracy was endangered, but there was little agreement on the nature of the threat or the appropriate corrective action. In response to an open-end question, the most frequently identified threat (mentioned by only 14 percent of respondents) was corruption, not the undermining of democratic norms or the rule of law by former President Donald Trump and the almost 300 Republican candidates running for public office in this year’s midterm elections who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.

Despite much weeping and gnashing of teeth about the “crisis of democracy,” a singular, widely shared understand of democracy is not on the ballot. Or, if it is on the ballot, it appears to be losing.

Why don’t right-wing populist threats against democracy inspire, mobilize, or persuade a public that professes to believe in democracy?

Our new book, Democracy’s Meanings: How the Public Thinks About Democracy and Why It Matters, suggests at least two reasons. First, according to open-ended responses, citizens mostly view democracy through the lens of “freedom” and “elections.” The United States is having an election this fall. It may be less free and less fair in some places than others, but, overall, the electoral apparatus in the United States hasn’t cracked apart – at least in the minds of ordinary voters who don’t pay much attention to the news or care much about the intricacies of electoral law….(More)”.

Cloud Empires: How Digital Platforms Are Overtaking the State and How We Can Regain Control

Book by Vili Lehdonvirta: “The early Internet was a lawless place, populated by scam artists who made buying or selling anything online risky business. Then Amazon, eBay, Upwork, and Apple established secure digital platforms for selling physical goods, crowdsourcing labor, and downloading apps. These tech giants have gone on to rule the Internet like autocrats. How did this happen? How did users and workers become the hapless subjects of online economic empires? The Internet was supposed to liberate us from powerful institutions. In Cloud Empires, digital economy expert Vili Lehdonvirta explores the rise of the platform economy into statelike dominance over our lives and proposes a new way forward.

Digital platforms create new marketplaces and prosperity on the Internet, Lehdonvirta explains, but they are ruled by Silicon Valley despots with little or no accountability. Neither workers nor users can “vote with their feet” and find another platform because in most cases there isn’t one. And yet using antitrust law and decentralization to rein in the big tech companies has proven difficult. Lehdonvirta tells the stories of pioneers who helped create—or resist—the new social order established by digital platform companies. The protagonists include the usual suspects—Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Travis Kalanick of Uber, and Bitcoin’s inventor Satoshi Nakamoto—as well as Kristy Milland, labor organizer of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and GoFundMe, a crowdfunding platform that has emerged as an ersatz stand-in for the welfare state. Only if we understand digital platforms for what they are—institutions as powerful as the state—can we begin the work of democratizing them…(More)”.