Below is the text of the talk I just gave at the Policy & Politics conference in Bristol (England). As you can see, I was very conscious of the audience, which I was not quite sure I had a handle on, but which turned out, I think, to be a group of people who think a lot about government and policy, but do so very critically and intelligently. So my message, that we need to get serious about thinking democracy without the State, was in a sense a message “from beyond,” but one they were able to hear and engage with, even if they did not fully accept it. Also important to know is that the theme of the conference was “Democracy, Inequality, and Power.”
[The paragraphs in brackets were part of the talk, but they were offered as asides. Those with a “***SKIP***” tag were in fact left out.]
DEMOCRACY AGAINST, BEYOND, AND WITHOUT THE STATE
When you find yourself on a list of plenary speakers like this one, in which all the others have really deep track records of academic achievement, you ask yourself what the heck you are doing here and what you can contribute. I don’t have their record, I am not a social scientist, I don’t study inequality, I am not even British.
I guess what I am issomeone who has thought about and written some on democracy, on the idea and practices of democracy. So I thought what I would do today is offer a contribution along those lines. What I plan to do, we’ll see how it goes, is to introduce into the conference what I anticipate will be a minor current of thought. Continue reading Democracy without the State, by Mark Purcell→
by Tessa Coombes, PhD Researcher at Bristol University
For the final plenary session of the conference Prof. Andrew Gamble, from Cambridge University, took us back to the issue of democracy and its ability to survive and even thrive. We were reminded that for the first time in the modern state system authoritarian regimes are in retreat and representative democracy, in some form or other, is on the rise.
Representative liberal democracies have been described as the least admirable form of governance not least because of their inability to take difficult decisions and their short term thinking. Despite this, in the 20th century, representative democracy came to be seen as an ideal state. But it now seems we are in a time of transition, where there is a real disengagement and disillusionment with mainstream politics, where the choice is narrowing and where people are indifferent to their right to vote. This crisis of representative politics reflects a crisis of trust in our politics and politicians. Once more, despite this process, representative democracy Continue reading Can democracy survive?→
by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P conference 2015
The second day of the conference started with an excellent presentation from Prof. Kate Pickett, from the University of York. Kate co-authored the influential book “The Spirit Level” which provided evidence to illustrate how almost everything is affected not by how wealthy a society is but how equal it is. The book was written at a time when inequality was not being discussed, and even now, whilst it is indeed the subject of much more debate on an international stage, it is still only rhetoric, and we are still waiting for this to translate into real action.
There are some shocking statistics that illustrate the level of the challenge we face across the globe, such as the one used by Oxfam – the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as 3.5 billion of the poorest people – illustrating a truly grotesque level of inequality. But, as Kate pointed out, we need to remember that these are not just meaningless, abstract numbers, they represent real human suffering and have real impacts. Continue reading The human cost of inequality→
by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P Conference 2015.
The second plenary session of the Policy and Politics Annual Conference was delivered by Prof. Danny Dorling, who provided a shocking and somewhat scary analysis of the increasing levels of inequality in the UK. The big question for us all to consider is why there is no consistent challenge to this situation and why we appear to accept the disparities that exist. Why is it acceptable and why would anyone think inequalities are a good thing?
One answer to the question is that we don’t actually realise how unequal we are as a society. But a quick look through some of the statistics soon provides the evidence we need. Danny took us through graph after graph that more than adequately demonstrated just how big the problem is and that it is increasing. One example to illustrate the point, in 2010 the best off tenth of the population in the UK were nearly 14 times better off than the worst off tenth. By 2015 this had grown to more than 17 times better off, and if the trend continues on a similar course in less than 20 years the best off will have over 24 times as much disposable income as the worst off. The problem is that the change is gradual, we don’t notice it so much and we get Continue reading Why social inequality persists→
by Tessa Coombes, guest blogger for P&P Conference 2015.
The Policy and Politics Annual Conference 2015 kicked off with a fascinating challenge to our thinking about democracy and the state. Mark Purcell, from the University of Washington, took us on a philosophical journey of discovery about the true meaning of the word democracy, concluding with the notion that the state and democracy are the antithesis of one another.
Mark offered us what he termed a minor current of thought to haunt our discussions and to stimulate new and better currents of thought throughout the conference. He premised his presentation on the idea that the state and democracy need to be seen as antithesis and that we do indeed need democracy.
The debate about power, according to Mark, is about more than we think it is and we need to think about it differently; we need to think of it as power to rather than over. That is, all people retain power to act into and change the Continue reading Democracy without the state→
Join us at the Marriott Royal Hotel in Bristol on 15th and 16th September to debate the relationship between democracy, inequality and power. This year will mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta providing an opportunity to reflect on the failures and successes of democratic policy and politics in the UK and around the world.
Some of the issues we’ll be discussing include:
austerity politics and the disproportionate impacts on society’s most vulnerable,
increased awareness of disparities in relation to electoral and political participation amongst a range of social groups (leading to concerns about ‘a divided democracy’),
the reshaping of the relationship between government, business and civil society,
rising ‘urbanisation’ and associated concerns about the governance of place, space and territory,
developments in information and communication technology and its impact on citizens’ engagement with politics and public services,
civic unrest linked to demands for democracy, equality and transparent government,
human rights initiatives around gender, age, race, disability and sexuality, and
a reconfiguration of the role of the mass media and social media in policy and politics.