New Politics&Society Issue (June 2013)

Special issue on real Utopia

Ackerman, B. (2013). "Reviving Democratic Citizenship?" Politics & Society 41(2): 309-317.

Many of our inherited civic institutions are dead or dying. We need an ambitious reform program to revive democratic life. This essay advances a four-pronged “citizenship agenda”: (1) a campaign finance initiative granting each voter fifty “patriot dollars” to fund candidates and political parties of his or her choice; (2) a proposal for a new national holiday, Deliberation Day, held before each national election, enabling citizens to deliberate on the merits of rival candidates; (3) a system of federally financed electronic news-vouchers to permit professional journalism to survive the destruction of its traditional business model; and (4) a new form of citizenship inheritance, which provides $80,000 to all Americans as they start off life as adults. Working with collaborators, I have developed each of these initiatives at book length. This essay suggests how the “citizenship agenda” yields a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts.

Benkler, Y. (2013). "Practical Anarchism: Peer Mutualism, Market Power, and the Fallible State." Politics & Society 41(2): 213-251.

The article considers several working anarchies in the networked environment, and whether they offer a model for improving on the persistent imperfections of markets and states. I explore whether these efforts of peer mutualism in fact offer a sufficient range of capabilities to present a meaningful degree of freedom to those who rely on the capabilities it affords, and whether these practices in fact remain sufficiently nonhierarchical to offer a meaningful space of noncoercive interactions. The real utopias I observe here are perfect on neither dimension. Internally, hierarchy and power reappear, to some extent and in some projects, although they are quite different than the hierarchy of government or corporate organization. Externally, there are some spectacular successes, some failures to thrive, and many ambiguous successes. In all, present experience supports neither triumphalism nor defeatism in the utopian project. Peer models do work, and they do provide a degree of freedom in the capabilities they provide. But there is no inexorable path to greater freedom through voluntary open collaboration. There is a good deal of uncertainty and muddling through. The last part of the article suggests a theory of freedom that supports the significance of even these obviously imperfect peer systems with incomplete coverage of necessary human capabilities, and explains why expanding the domain of mutualism improves freedom and well-being under conditions of persistent market imperfection and an inevitably fallible state. Peer mutualism doesn’t have to be perfect; it merely needs to offer a new dimension or sufficient diversity in how it instantiates capabilities and transmits power to offer us, who inhabit the systems that these peer systems perturb, a degree of freedom.
Davis, G. F. (2013). "After the Corporation." Politics & Society 41(2): 283-308.

Shareholder-owned corporations were the central pillars of the US economy in the twentieth century. Due to the success of the shareholder value movement and the widespread “Nikefication” of production, however, public corporations have become less concentrated, less integrated, less interconnected at the top, shorter-lived, and less prevalent since the turn of the twenty-first century, and there is reason to expect that their significance will continue to dwindle. We are left with both pathologies (heightened inequality, lower mobility, and a fragmented social safety net) and new technologies suitable for being repurposed in more democratic forms. Local solutions for producing, distributing, and sharing can provide functional alternatives to corporations for both production and employment; what is needed is the social organization to match the tools that we already have, or will have shortly. The time for democratic local economic forms prophesied by generations of activists may finally be at hand.
Fung, A. (2013). "Infotopia: Unleashing the Democratic Power of Transparency." Politics & Society 41(2): 183-212.

In Infotopia, citizens enjoy a wide range of information about the organizations upon which they rely for the satisfaction of their vital interests. The provision of that information is governed by principles of democratic transparency. Democratic transparency both extends and critiques current enthusiasms about transparency. It urges us to conceptualize information politically, as a resource to turn the behavior of large organizations in socially beneficial ways. Transparency efforts have targets, and we should think of those targets as large organizations: public and civic, but especially private and corporate. Democratic transparency consists of four principles. First, information about the operations and actions of large organizations that affect citizens’ interests should be rich, deep, and readily available to the public. Second, the amount of available information should be proportionate to the extent to which those organizations jeopardize citizens’ interests. Third, information should be organized and provided in ways that are accessible to individuals and groups that use that information. Finally, the social, political, and economic structures of society should be organized in ways that allow individuals and groups to take action based on Infotopia’s public disclosures.

Gastil, J. and R. Richards (2013). "Making Direct Democracy Deliberative through Random Assemblies." Politics & Society 41(2): 253-281.

Direct-democratic processes have won popular support but fall far short of the standards of deliberative democracy. Initiative and referendum processes furnish citizens with insufficient information about policy problems, inadequate choices among policy solutions, flawed criteria for choosing among such solutions, and few opportunities for reflection on those choices prior to decision making. We suggest a way to make direct democracy more deliberative by grafting randomly selected citizen assemblies onto existing institutions and practices. After reviewing the problems that beset modern direct-democratic elections and the long history of randomly selected citizen assemblies, we propose five different varieties of randomly constituted citizen bodies—Priority Conferences, Design Panels, Citizens’ Assemblies, Citizens’ Initiative Reviews, and Policy Juries. After selecting members through stratified random sampling of citizens, each of these assemblies would operate at a different stage of the legislative process, from initial problem identification through approval of a finished ballot measure. Highly structured procedures guided by professional moderators and featuring expert testimony on policy and legal matters would help to ensure deliberative quality, and careful institutional designs would make each body politically powerful. In the end, these citizen bodies would be likely to address the deliberative deficit of direct democracy and better achieve the public’s desired policy objectives.

Van Parijs, P. (2013). "The Universal Basic Income: Why Utopian Thinking Matters, and How Sociologists Can Contribute to It." Politics & Society 41(2): 171-182.

Utopian thinking consists of formulating proposals for radical reforms, justifying them on the basis of normative principles combined with the best possible scientific analysis of the root causes of the problems the proposals are meant to address, and subjecting these proposals to unindulgent critical scrutiny. Such utopian thinking is indispensable, and contributing to it is part of sociology’s core business. This article illustrates these claims by considering one particular utopian proposal: an unconditional basic income paid to every member of society on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement. It summarizes the main arguments that support this proposal, mentions a number of contexts in which it is being taken seriously, and sketches a number of ways in which sociological insights and research are crucially relevant to the discussion of the economic and political sustainability of an unconditional basic income.


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