Can agonism be institutionalised? Can institutions be agonised? Prospects for democratic design

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  • University of Kansas


One of the main criticisms of agonistic democracy (and of post-structuralism more generally) is that it fails to get beyond a purely negative assessment of alternative theories. The paper takes up this challenge. First, it seeks to specify the core commitments of agonistic democracy, focusing on the concepts of contestation, contingency and interdependence. Second, it analyses how these commitments might be institutionalised through models of perfectionism, adversarialism and inclusivism. Third, it considers how agonistic principles can suffuse broader processes of democratic design, drawing on insights from critical institutionalism. The paper argues that agonism can become more than a thought experiment or critique. An agonistic design process is possible. Such a process has five key characteristics: it is processual, collective, contextual, contestable and always provisional.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)693-710
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations
Issue number3
Early online date6 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


  • agonism , pluralism , critical institutionalism , democratic design

ASJC Scopus subject areas