Theme Panel: Changing Face of Democracy and the Rising Discontent of the Citizens

Changing Face of Democracy and the Rising Discontent of the Citizens

Democracy is a fascinating but a contested concept. It translates as ‘Power of the People’. Democracy stresses equal moral worth of individuals, it refers to collective self rule. Democratic government is rooted in the consensus of the people. Democratic state is constitutive of citizenship, giving equal rights and liberties to the citizens. Democracy is also associated with pluralism; it protects the social relations so that they can develop autonomously from the state. Diversity is seen as the main strength of democracy and it calls for the tolerance of all shades of opinion.

However democratic governments are undergoing rapid transformation. Individual identities are increasingly challenged by migration, mobility, multiculturalism as by the complex identities of the post materialist citizens. All these developments have created disharmony within democracy. Historically democracy has been a movement that aimed at the removal of differences based on caste, race, gender, and ethnicity. Eliminating differences comes from the idea of the equal moral worth of every individual. This has been critiqued by feminist scholars who incorporate the notion of difference. They hold that men and women are different, democratic policies seem to be gender blind. Multiculturalists argue that in culturally plural societies, though liberal democracy claims to be neutral, laws and practices reflect the cultural bias of the majority. Democracy invariably means the rule of the majority.

Feminists and multiculturalists hold that liberalism values the abstract self interested individual and ignore other identities. Modern societies are said to be characterized by deep diversity and cultural pluralism.

Identities are socially constructed and are rooted in a matrix of social relationships. However sometimes these identities create dualities between groups and generate conflicts. When these dualities are graded, ranked hierarchically, these become oppressive and result in asymmetrical power relations. Identities are to be understood as a process of social, cultural, and political struggle for hegemony among social groups.

Ashutosh Varshney, Brown University (Chair)


Changing Face of Democracy and the Rising Discontent of the Citizens
Atul Kohli, Princeton University (Author)