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Discourse Theories on Institutions - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 159
Institutions/Discourse theories/Bohman: The discursive approach to democracy leads to an institutional design that is based on a 'two-track model', in which on the one hand formal institutions generate effective decisions through the medium of law and thus are 'jurisgenerative' (Michelman, 1988(1); Habermas, 1996(2)), and on the other the robust public sphere and civil society allow citizens to engage in deliberation with each other from a variety of perspectives. Deliberative politics then takes place in both tracks at once, in a complex discursive network that includes argumentation, discussion, bargaining and compromise.
Formal institutions: Formal institutions must be designed to be open to influence from the wider and more informal public sphere and civil society, with various mechanisms such as representation and elections that ensure not only access to influence but also that a variety of perspectives emerge in deliberation and debate.(Dryzek, 1996)(3).
Gaus I 160
Problems: (...) there is a conflict between a view of public discourse
a) as providing challenges to formal legal and political authority and, as such, being indirectly deliberative (Dryzek, 2000(4); Pettit, 1998(5)) and subject to discursive challenge from the outside; and
b) the view of those who see it as more directly deliberative in the decision making process itself (Habermas, 1996(1): ch. 8; Dorf and Sabel, 1998(6)).
Bohman: Scientific or expert authority that is delegated public power provides an example of the first; the planning process in public administration provides an example of the second. Indeed, there seems to be a continuum from direct to indirect deliberation, depending on the sort of institutions and supportive discourses involved.
Gaus I 163
Explicit rules function to create the frameworks in which institutions operate to the extent that they can be embodied in deliberative procedures. But this constructive role for the theory is not sufficient, since implicit social norms can undermine communicative success within an institutional framework of explicit rules. Civil rights, for example, may be interpreted legally so as to establish and guarantee a minimum threshold and the fair value of communicative liberties. >Civil rights/Discourse theories.


1. Michelman, Frank (1988) 'Law's republic'. Yale Law Review, 97: 1493-537.
2. Habermas, Jürgen (1996) Between Facts and Norms. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
3. Dryzek, John (1996) 'The informal logic of institutional design'. In R. Goodin, ed., Theories of Institutional Design. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Dryzek, John (2000) Deliberative Democracy and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
5. Pettit, Philip (1998) Republicanism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
6. Dorf, Michael and Charles Sabel (1998) 'Democratic experimentalism'. Columbia University Law Review, 26: 270-472.

Bohman, James 2004. „Discourse Theory“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Discourse Theories
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-06-18
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