Democracy, Technocracy and the Role of Citizens – A Critical Reflection

Convenors: Lenka Strnadová (University of West Bohemia, Pilsen) and Gonçalo
Marcelo (Univ. of Coimbra / Católica Porto Business School)


For a long time, researchers in the field of political science and political theory have
been preoccupied with the fact that political participation of citizens of liberal
democracies is declining. The worry is that trust in liberal democracy as the best
system available is withering away. Both in political theory and practice we see new
solutions to the problem of weak democracy and its delegitimization. Various political
actors and researchers explore the potential of expert, technocratic visions of
democracy, democracy as corporation, managerial models of democracy, democracy
without participation and the like. The appeal of the once attractive ideal of
democratic inclusiveness is shaken. In the face of tensions caused by the challenges
of societal, economic, cultural, moral, and religious diversity, illiberal versions of
democracy are more or less openly promoted as a substitute to the allegedly illfunctioning
system of liberal democracy.
Discussing the crisis of liberal democracy, various authors turn their attention
to real-world phenomena as wide-spread aversion to politics, alienation from politics,
lack of understanding of political processes, people’s feeling of not being
represented, declining political participation, and general civic apathy. One of the key
problems often addressed in contemporary political theory is the role and perceived
lack of political knowledge and involvement on the part of citizens in existing liberal

In current democratic theory debate, one can find three broadly defined
answers to the problem of the lack of participation and lack of civic competences/
knowledge. First, there is the turn to ‘democracy without participation’ – rule of
experts, technocratic or managerial solutions, or epistocracy. Then, there is the
populist alternative of ‘participation without knowledge’. Finally, there is a theoretical
strand defending and reasserting ‘democracy with participation’, i.e. the conceptions
of democracy firmly rooted in civil society and its competences.

Critical Theory (but also Feminist thought or difference theory) has a long
tradition of challenging technocratic reason and reductionist conceptions of civil
society and democracy. It insists that there is a link between democracy and
participation and democracy’s aim must be to empower citizens by means of
supporting their presence in the public sphere, their equality (by means of inclusion
and struggle against all forms of oppression), equal potential as citizens (as opposed
to formal equality before the law), providing for inclusive institutions and spaces of
civic involvement. The aim is to provide citizens tools and competences/knowledge
that facilitate the reinvigoration of the public.

In our workshop, we intend to explore the following topics:
1. Democracy and instrumental reason: the value of output efficiency in
contemporary democracy.
2. Technocratic society, economic reductionism, and the role of social science in
relation to the contemporary crisis of democracy.
3. The viability of the parallel between the sphere of politics and business
management: can democracy be run as corporation?
4. Beyond democracy: can we separate democratic government from civic
participation? The merit of ‘realist’ conceptions of democracy.
5. Reviving participation: The structural conditions of civic participation; equality
and oppression as determinants of participation.
6. The epistemic benefits and limits of the rule of experts and civic participation;
7. The role of knowledge and civic education in civic participation.
8. Civic community, inclusion, and the sense of belonging – interpersonal
(relational) aspects civic engagement.
9. Romanticizing democracy and preventing democratic disillusion