Dr. Dannica Fleuss
Research Fellow / Lecturer

Theoretical argumentation and empirical analyses can (and should!) 'speak to each other'. Hence, my political theorizing usually also draws from empirical analyses - and the empirical studies that I conduct with researchers from various disciplines and backgrounds are also based on my theoretical-conceptual work. In articles that apply philosophy of science-approaches to 'meta-analyze' my own (and others') research, I reflect on the question how precisely normative-theoretical and empirical inquiry should be combined.

At the Centre for Future Media, Democracy & Society (FuJo) at Dublin City University, I am currently applying conceptual and methodological approaches for studying deliberation and deliberative systems to analyze the impacts, merits and pitfalls of Climate Change Citizen Assemblies in diverse European countries.

Please find more information about the Horizon2020 project EuComMeet and the Irish Research Council's Laureate project that I am working on with Jane Suiter. 






My research in political theory deals with conceptualizations of democratic legitimacy. I particularly focus on  deliberative and democracy and consider the role of society-wide argumentative exchanges for democratic quality. These theoretical enquiries are complemented by empirical studies that measure political systems' deliberative quality and assess the impacts and contributions of deliberation in democratic policy-making.

Theoretical and empirical research should complement each other and normative theorizing must do justice to ever changing societal contexts. 

Determining the precise relationship of theoretical and empirical findings poses serious challenges. I am applying philosophy of science-concepts to address these challenges.

This philosophy is also the basis for my interest in the overarching project of decolonizing democratic theory: in my ongoing work devoted to this enterprise, I am applying a grounded normative theory-approach to get out of the academic ivory tower and to develop an empirically grounded understanding of "Reconceptualizing Emancipation(s)" that does justice to the experience of people in postcolonial countries marginalized groups. 


Research interests

Theories of political legitimacy, particularly deliberative and radical democratic theory

Critical theory

Theoretical and empirical research on deliberation & deliberative systems

Decolonial theory

Political philosophy of liberalism, Kantianism, and proceduralism

Philosophy of science:bstrategies for combining theoretical and empirical inquiry

Digitalization-induced challenges for democratic societies


Project: Let's Democratize Theorizing About Democracy - Conversation Starters for Democratic Renewal and Reform

In recent years, Western democracies’ legitimacy has been heavily under attack. On the one hand, declining public support and rising citizen distrust or apathy vis-à-vis representative democratic institutions point towards peoples’ estrangement from political elites. In consequence, many scholars demand to strengthen peoples’ voice and to implement more means for bottom-up participation. At the same time, increasing political complexity is associated with the rise populist and post-truth politics. These developments inspired scholars to propose “expertocratic” models of democratic governance and to strengthen the role of experts in political decision-making. 

Democratic politics depend on citizen participation, trust and support. While this support in democratic institutions and political elites is declining, public and scholarly discourse frequently suggests counteracting the challenge by strengthening the role of experts in political decision-making, yet such reform proposals convey a paternalistic threat that contravenes fundamental democratic principles.

Proposing an alternative, ‘radical proceduralist’ understanding of democratic legitimacy and institutional reform, Radical Proceduralism argues that there is no such thing as ‘political truth’ or ‘correctness’ that could justify experts wielding political power. Rather, the only criterion for democratic legitimacy is the fair and equal inclusion of all affected citizens.


Radical Proceduralism bridges the gap between political philosophy and practical institutional experimentation asking us to bring citizens back in and to engage them in a dialogue about ‘the rules of the democratic game’ and proposing institutional devices that figure as ‘conversation starters’ and facilitate such dialogues.

In a nutshell, I argue that we must 'democratise' not only political decision-making, but also the design of institutions - and make political norms and institutions a subject of citizen deliberation and contestation.


 

Praise for "Radical Proceduralism"

 

“Dannica Fleuss calls on us to resist the lure of epistocracy, in favour of a radical proceduralism that trusts in the collective capacity of citizens to govern their societies. In this powerful and provocative book, she reinvigorates democratic theory and restores faith in democratic politics.”
William Smith, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

“Dannica Fleuß attacks her subject with a philosophical precision that is grounded in an awareness of the importance of context. But rather than meekly giving in to coext and saying ‘it depends’, she boldly grasps the proceduralist horn of the democratic legitimacy dilemma. Her arguments will be important for anyone wanting to do serious, thoughtful work on legitimacy, democracy and expertise."
John Parkinson, Maastricht University

 

"What is the role of the political theorist?, Dannica Fleuss asks. The answer, given through a detailed and comprehensive explanation of radical proceduralism (an impressive collation and analysis of literature that stands on its own as an original contribution), is to embrace humility, to understand oneself as an equal member of one's local community(ies), and to ultimately deliver the role of the interpreter, of guild master, to one or more procedures of democracy. It is not for the theorist to control the substance of a community's focus but rather to "start and facilitate open ended conversations [...] not to deliver their conclusion". Fleuss offers political theorists a way out of the cloister, a thoroughly justified and well-argued position for getting one's hands dirty, a professional destiny that sees one's place of work as not the lecture theatre, nor cluttered desk, but rather the street, the dining table, the cafe, the online forum, and countless other spaces and places where so many of us meet, greet, talk and continue figuring out our place in the world and what we want from this life.”

 Jean-Paul Gagnon, University of Canberra

 

 


Let's collaboratively democratise - and decolonise - democratic theory! 

Articles and projects devoted to integrating 'lay citizens' perspectives into normative theorising include...

!! Forthcoming: Book edited in collaboration  with M. Amutabi, E. Akuni, H. Jeremiah Ojwang, unfolding narratives on "African W omen's Intellectual Leadership " from a Kenyan perspective (under contract with Routledge).

!! Forthcoming: Symposium on "Radical Proceduralism" in Journal of Deliberative Democracy that brings voices from political theorist across the globe into a dialogue.



Reconceptualising Emancipation(s) - Beyond the White and Western Gaze

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Theories of emancipatory processes frequently fail to address the considerations of decolonial and intersectional theorising - and, more importantly, the perspectives and experiences of people from diverse geographical, social and cultural backgrounds. 

My book project "Reconceptualising Emancipation(s) - Beyond the White and Western Gaze" addresses this gap. To this aim, am conducting field research in different cultural contexts, particularly in post-colonial states - but I also wish to include as many diverse voices as possible. To this aim, I am currently conducting a survey (with open-ended questions) to complement my in-depth fieldwork.

In the outline below, you may find some background information about the survey (also addressing issues of anonymity and confidentiality) that I am currently conducting - I'm very grateful for all responses, however long or short they may be! 

THANKS A LOT!



Bridging theory and Method in Researching Democratic Quality (habilitation; submitted)

THE DEMOCRATIC MALAISE, POTENTIAL CURES – AND THREE GAPS IN RESEARCH
The claim that “democracy is in crisis” appears to be omnipresent in democracy scholarship across the decades. Yet a closer look at studies dealing with “the state of democracy” reveals that such assessments have “gone through periodic cycles of hope and fear” (Norris 1999, p. 3). Scholars in the late 20th century frequently assumed that many democratic citizens are “critical citizens” whose support for current institutions and authorities of representative democracies is eroding. Yet the prevailing opinion was that these “critical citizens” still overwhelmingly support the general principles of democratic rule (see Norris 1999).
By now, this “cautious optimism” – that substituted the crises diagnoses of the 1960s and 1970s in the late 20th century – has “widely been replaced by the diagnosis that contemporary democracy is not just ‘challenged,’ but in deep crisis” (Fleuß 2021, p. 5): recent public opinion studies suggest an even deeper malaise than the critical citizens-diagnosis. Contemporary Western democracies not just suffer from a continuous erosion of citizen trust and support in specific institutions or authorities and declining levels of citizen engagement in conventional forms of political participation (Campus & André 2014; Dalton 2004; Ercan & Gagnon 2014; Foa & Mounk 2017; 2019; Inglehart et al. 2014; Merkel 2018; Norris 1999).
However, even when we accept this diagnosis on behalf of today’s mainstream democracy scholarship, “this observation in itself has limited practical and analytical value” as “both the precise diagnosis and the cure of the problem crucially depend on the presupposed normative ideal of democracy” (Fleuß 2021, p. 1; also see Ercan & Gagnon 2014; Merkel & Kneip 2018). Established democracy measurements – such as the Democracy Barometer, the Index of Freedom in the World, the Polity IV- or the Varieties of Democracy-project – provide methodological tools for systematic comparative assessments of nation states’ democratic quality (Bühlmann et al. 2012; Coppedge et al. 2019; Freedom House 2019; Marshall & Jaggers 2018). Accordingly, they are frequently employed in empirical assessments that analyze the development of democracies’ quality over time and to study the conditions that are conducive or obstructive to democratic quality. Yet depending on their normative-theoretical and conceptual point of departure, scholars are likely to arrive at fairly different conclusions with regards to the concrete manifestations, roots and remedies for “the democratic malaise”.
In consequence, such assessments of “democratic quality” or “democratic legitimacy” constitute a prime example for fields of inquiry that require a close interaction of normative theory and empirical research. Most democracy scholars would accept this general claim, albeit with different levels of emphasis and enthusiasm. Nevertheless, democracy scholarship only rarely engages with the question how exactly normative theorizing and empirical inquiry can and should be combined. 

The claim that empirical assessments of democratic quality require thorough theoretical reflection (and vice versa) is deceptively simple. I will not aim at presenting a blueprint-strategy or “hard and fast solution” for researching democratic quality in a theoretically and methodologically reflected manner. Rather, I shall explore the spectrum of “puzzles” and questions that arise when we reflect on the relationship between theoretical and empirical approaches to democratic quality and outline exemplary strategies for addressing them. More specifically, the articles focus on three critical junctures of attempts at “bridging theory and method” that I will briefly contextualize and elaborate on in subsequent sections of this introduction:

  1. Reflections on meta-theoretical aspects: The relationship between (normative) theorizing and strategies or methods of empirical inquiry poses numerous problems that are located at a scientific-theoretical or meta-theoretical level. These issues concern (a) the implications of normative theorizing for empirical research and (b) the ways in which empirical findings may “speak to” normative theorizing.
  2.  Normative models applied in comparative research: All empirical assessments of democratic quality presuppose a normative understanding of “good” or “legitimate” democracy. While such concepts are heavily disputed among democratic theorists, comparative empirical research on democratic quality usually build on fairly homogeneous, allegedly undisputed normative models of “liberal democracy” that essentially refer to 19th and 20th century democratic theories. Consequently, the models and concepts presupposed in measurements of democratic quality must be reflected against the backdrop of (a) changing empirical circumstances and (b) novel theoretical developments.
  3. Bridging democratic theory and empirical inquiry in concrete applications: Established measurements of democratic quality almost exclusively build on liberal understandings of democracy. Yet, growing number of democracy scholars, political practitioners and citizens reject the claim that democratic quality should be evaluated solely on the basis of this model – and ask for “more deliberative democracy”. Against the backdrop of a deliberative paradigm, I outline and apply exemplary strategies for “bridging theory and method” in researching democratic quality and translate theoretical premises into methodological approaches for assessing and comparing the deliberative quality of democratic systems.

A prime focus of my analyses are assessments of democratic quality from a deliberative democracy-perspective. Democratic deliberation is not only relevant for democratic theorists. Increasingly, measures of democracy try to integrate this fluid and emergent phenomenon and attempt to examine the deliberative performance of states. Up until now, there is no comprehensive approach that measures not only the quality within deliberative fora, but also the connection between them and their integration in the political system as a whole. Yet integrating the fluid and emergent phenomenon "deliverativeness" and attempts to examine the deliberative quality of democracies (or democratic systems) is confronted with severe challenges. 

Hence, my publications also aim at developing a more comprehensive approach that measures not only the quality within deliberative fora, but also the connection between them and their integration in the political system as a whole.  Based on conceptualisations of systemic deliberative theory (Habermas, Dryzek, Mansbridge), the research project fills this gap and combines deliberative theory and the measurement of deliberation to develop an instrument for assessing and comparing nation states’ deliberative quality.


 


Previous research project participations

2015: Research Assistant, Research Project “Wie zentral ist die Mitte? Mittelschichtsdiskurse und wohlfahrtsstaatlicher Politikwandel im internationalen Vergleich“ (Funding DFG, directed by Prof. Michael Haus, University of Heidelberg)

2014: Research Assistant, Research Project “Regulation and Self-Regulation” (Field of Focus 4 at the University of Heidelberg).

2012: Research Assistant, Research Project “Problemdiskurse in Städten” (Funding DFG, directed by Prof. Michael Haus, University of Heidelberg).

2008-2009: Research Assistant, Interdisciplinary Project “Human Dignity” (Institute for Philosophy at the University of Heidelberg).