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    Contested Meanings

    Democratic Practice and Principles across Cultural Boundaries

    Antje Wiener

    1Welcome Note and Summary

    Revised Draft: 18 October 2005; please do not cite, comments are most welcome

    Prepared for presentation at the Workshop held at the Queen‟s University of Belfast 22-23 September 2005.

Author’s Address:

    Antje Wiener, School of Politics, International Studies & Philosophy, 21 University Square, Queen's University, Belfast BT7 1NN, Northern Ireland, Tel +44 (0)28 9097 3761, Fax +44 (0)28 90235373, email:

     1 This is the fourth workshop held by Team A RG2. The previous meetings included Belfast strategy

    workshop (Feb 05; Abromeit, Mair, Wiener); Leiden democracy workshop 1: conceptual perspectives

    (March 05; Mair, Andeweg, Curtin, Abromeit and others), Athens democracy workshop 2: national

    trajectories in comparative perspectives (March 05; Abromeit and others). The next meeting will be the Mannheim General CONNEX meeting at 18 months (Nov 05). We are grateful to the European thCommission‟s 6 Framework Scheme and the Mannheim University based Network of Excellence, CONNEX, the British Academy for sponsoring a visiting Professorship of Jane Jenson at Queen‟s and

    to the School of Management and Economics and the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence at the Centre of European Studies at Queen‟s for bringing Professor George Ross as a visiting professor to Queen‟s.

    “Regarded as an ideal, democracy is not an alternative to other principles of

    associated life. It is the idea of community life itself. It is an ideal in the only

    intelligible sense of an ideal; namely, the tendency and movement of things

    2 which exist carried to its final limit; viewed as completed, perfected.”


This short paper elaborates on the theme of „contested meanings‟ which marks the

    reference frame for this workshop‟s panel discussions. If we follow Dewey‟s point on democracy as “an ideal” which is based on the “idea of community life” (Dewey 1954, 14), then it is crucial to understand both the ideal and the day-to-day practice of democracy. As the workshop‟s discussions reveal, it is the triangular interplay

    between the democratic ideal, and the way it is practiced and hence experienced in different contexts, that forge the often contested expectations of democracy. Studying the practices of democracy in different contexts and comparing them hence allows us to assess the different meanings of the concept of democracy as a set of norms,

    3principles and procedures.

Much of this discussion is informed by Harold Lasswell‟s guideline for social science

    4analysis, i.e. who says what when and how. The emphasis on communication as

    interactive international or transnational relations conducted in the context of governance beyond modern state boundaries has gained in analytical importance as modernist categories fail to explain politics and are becoming less useful guidelines for political processes. Studying interaction in context with a view to interpreting the meaning of supranationally derived norms has turned into a central indicator for social

     2 Dewey, John 1954: The Public and Its Problems, Athens, Ohio, p. 148; c.f. Hanagan, Michael 1999:

    Introduction: Changing Citizenship, Changing States, in: Hanagan, Michael/Tilly, Charles (Hrsg.): Extending Citizenship, Reconfiguring States, Lanham, Md, 1-16, 14 3 On the notion of essentially contested concepts, see early on Gallie, Walter Bryce 1956: Art as an

    Essentially Contested Concept, in: Philosophical Quarterly 97-114: 4 “Who says what in which channel to whom and with what effect” (Harald D. Lasswell 1946, 37)


    5 As this workshop‟s papers demonstrate, this scientists and lawyers alike.

    methodological focus favours an inductive approach including the method of stock-taking based on reconstruction with a view to developing typologies and, with a view to revising theoretical assumptions from a normative perspective as well.

Supranational Community

    The transnationalization of political processes and policies indicates a change of both the constitutional framework (legal validity) and the social environment (appropriateness; social facticity). It raises the „community problem‟ which has

    become so adamant for students of European integration. Two insights from recent scholarship on the EU‟s constitutional process or project illustrate the problem quite well. The first calls for a constitution, arguing, [T]he more diverse the society, the

    more important [it is] to have a constitution delineating authority, power,

    responsibilities, rights and obligations, including guaranties for individuals and minorities.” (Olsen 2005, 8) The second holds that in the absence of a community, a constitutional project is unlikely to succeed. As Bernhard Peters noted, “[I]n German

    debates over the European Union, in general, and its „democratic deficit‟ in particular, the following quotation by Peter Graf Kielmansegg has become almost canocial: „Europe, even limited to Western Europe, is not a community of communications,

    6barely a community of members, and only a very limited community of experience‟.”

    That is, the „community‟ condition is considered as both impossible and necessary for democratic governance in the EU‟s „beyond the state‟ context.

    The workshop‟s discussion suggests that the changes brought about by the transnationalization of politics and policy bring the importance of individually held connotations to the fore as the condition which gains in influence on the

     5 Finnemore, Martha 1996: Norms, Culture and World Politics: Insights from Sociology's

    Institutionalism, in: International Organization 50: 2, 325-347; Finnemore, Martha 2000: Are Legal

    Norms Distinctive?, in: Journal of International Law & Politics 32: 3, 699-705; Brunnee, Jutta/Toope,

    Stephen J. 2000: International Law and Constructivism: Elements of an Interactional Theory of International Law, in: Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 39, 1, 19-74; March, James G./Olsen,

    Johan P. 1998: The Institutional Dynamics of International Political Orders, in: International Organization 52: 4, 943-969. 6 (Kielmansegg 1994)” (Peters 2005, 84)


implementation of norms. In the social environment created by the

    transnationalization of particular political arenas in relation with expanding policy sectors such as say enlargement, monetary policy, financial policy, the environment, and, more recently foreign and security policy, it is possible to identify group-based associative connotations which allow an understanding of the respective normative “structure of meaning in use.” (Weldes and Saco 1996; Milliken 1999)

    Two types of research questions follow with a view to the possibility of supranational community, one is empirical, the other normative. First, while political ideas are

    spread across political boundaries and are often inserted into constitutional or as it were proto-constitutional frameworks, treaties, statutes or conventions, they generate

    7 That is while core different meanings based on contextualised interpretations.

    constitutional norms maybe legally stipulated by a considerably large range of modern national constitutions, and their appropriateness has been acknowledged socially, it does not necessarily follow that their acceptance across the political and societal boundaries of modern nation-states will converge. That is, convergence of meaning needs to be established empirically. Converging interpretations of constitutional norms such as e.g. democracy, the rule of law, human and fundamental rights and citizenship develop first and foremost in transnationalised spaces e.g. in emerging policy fields such as Schengen, monetary union, enlargement, etc in the EU. We can hypothesise, however, that as long as these transnational spaces are not all encompassing; an increase in diverging rather than converging interpretation of meanings is to be expected.

    In turn, the normative question raises the issue of the necessary conditions for an interface in which meanings overlap. To assess particular conditions under which the possibility of such an interface increases, systematising the central constitutional elements such as principles, norms and procedures along three dimensions. These include the concept of legal validity e.g. norms, values and principles stipulated by the

    constitutional framework and to be implemented by the law; social facticity e.g. norm

    types which are acknowledged as appropriate out of habit by a stable social group;

     7 Hall, Peter 1989: The Political Power of Economic Ideas, Princeton; Jenson, Jane, 2005, Social

    Citizenship Within the Social Investment Perspective. Britain and Canada Compared. Paper presented at the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, Queen's University Belfast, Wednesday, 21 September 2005.


and individual connotations e.g. interpretation of meaning of a norm which is held

    individually notwithstanding any particular societal attachment.

Table 3: Typology of Constitutionalisation

Evaluation/institutions Legal validity Social facticity Individual


    ? formal X


    ? informal X

    That is, core constitutional norms acquire legal validity through their stipulation in a community‟s constitution. Their legitimacy is based on, albeit abstract and mythical yet widely acknowledged social contract between governors and governed. They are recognized based on social practices that enable a social reflection of the law within

    8one society. They achieve recognition based on individually held associative

    9connotations; shifting and changing groups, local level. Cultural positions add an

    important analytic angle on more flexible individual based associative connotations in addition to the now relatively well research stable societal institutional arrangements. Agreement on certain types of norms does not preclude agreement about the cultural

    10recognition of norms. While the type of norm is usually shared, say by formal

    signatories of conventions, treaties, agreements and the like, the meaning of norms is not standardized and hence open to contestation. As a consequence, even those liberal norms which are considered as core principles, values and beliefs of western democratic communities such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law, become subject to contested interpretation. Their meaning becomes contested.

Contested Meanings of Norms

     8 Curtin, Deirdre/Dekker, Ige 1999: The EU as a 'Layered' International Organization: Institutional Unity in Disguise, in: Craig, Paul/Burca, Grainne de (Hrsg.): The Evolution of EU Law, Oxford, 83-136. 9 Bourdieu, Pierre (Ed.) 1993: The Field of Cultural Production. Essays on Art and Literature, New York. 10 Fraser, Nancy 2005: Re-framing Justice in a Globalizing World, in: Paper prepared for presentation at the Conference Habermas and the Concept of Intersubjectivity in International Relations Theory, Frankfurt/Main 16-18 June 2005; Fraser, Nancy and Axel Honneth, 2003, Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Echange, London: Verso, p. 10.


    Norms entail a dual quality. They are both structuring and social constructed. They evolve through interaction in context. While stable over particular periods, they always remain flexible by definition. As social constructs norms are contested by

    11 Social norms acquire a degree of appropriateness over time (habitual default.

    12practices); legal norms require social institutions to enhance understanding and

    13identify meaning (normative practice). We can therefore hypothesise that the

    contested meaning of norms is enhanced under three conditions. First, a situation of crisis raises stakes for understanding meanings based on social institutions, the social feedback factor is reduced. Secondly, the change of governance processes i.e. the

    extension of governance practices beyond modern political and societal boundaries changes the social environment and hence the reference frame of social institutions; the social feedback factor is reduced. And thirdly, the historical contingency of normative meaning indicates a change of constitutive social practices both cultural and organisational, and hence normative meaning over time.

    These social or day-to-day practices are central to assessing contested meanings of norms, yet, they do not necessarily reveal interpretations which come to the fore only if and when they are expressed in discourse. This distinction between individually held connotations as a result of social interaction, on the one hand, and their empirical revelation based on interviews or other types of discursive practices, on the other, suggests shifting the focus from studying the mere role and function of norms as

     11 According to Giddens the “[t]he structural properties of social systems are both the medium and the outcome of the practices that constitute those systems.” (Giddens 1979, 69; Bourdieu 1982 [1977]); see

    also Kratochwil, Friedrich V. 1989: Rules, Norms, and Decisions. On the conditions of practical and legal reasoning in international relations and domestic affairs, Cambridge; Finnemore, Martha 1996:

    Norms, Culture and World Politics: Insights from Sociology's Institutionalism, in: International Organization 50: 2, 325-347; Finnemore, Martha 2000: Are Legal Norms Distinctive?, in: Journal of

    International Law & Politics 32: 3, 699-705; Wiener, Antje 2001: The Dual Quality of Norms:

    Constitutional Debates, Conditional Flexibility, and Eastern Enlargement of the EU, 42nd Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, Chicago, 20-24 February 2001. 12 March, James G./Olsen, Johan P. 1989: Rediscovering Institutions. The Organizational Basis of

    Politics, New York et al. 13 Curtin, Deirdre/Dekker, Ige 1999: The EU as a 'Layered' International Organization: Institutional Unity in Disguise, in: Craig, Paul/Burca, Grainne de (Hrsg.): The Evolution of EU Law, Oxford, 83-136. Finnemore, Martha/Toope, Stephen J. 2001: Alternatives to 'Legalization': Richer Views of Law

    and Politics, in: International Organization 55: 3, 743-758.


    14 towards research that seeks to incorporate the emergence and causal for behaviour,

    15meaning of norms as constitutive for the normative structure of politics.

The Workshop Discussion

    16The CONNEX RG2/TeamA work-package (WP1) focuses on conceptual and

    methodological issues related to the norms of „democracy‟ and „accountability‟ in the

    context of governance beyond the state, and with a view to the European Union (EU) context, in particular. The group‟s work has, so far, mainly sought to generate a

    critical appraisal and stock-taking of theoretical approaches as well as

    methodological tools applied in research on governance beyond the state in order to identify overlapping conceptual perspectives on democracy. This workshop has brought together an interdisciplinary and international group of experts in addition to the CONNEX Team members so as to initiate a comparative debate among integration scholars from Europe and beyond including critical perspectives from outside the integration literature and outside the confines of European academia. Key issues are the question of democracy in the light of increasing „diversity‟, and the accommodation of contested normative meanings in conceptual, empirical and pragmatic policy oriented terms. The main object is to assess the diversity and commonality of meaning of democracy and accountability with a view to enhancing democracy and accountability in the European Union. To that end, participants‟ activities focus on comparing practices across space (nation-states; different political arenas) and over time (historically). Ultimately the work-package contributes to the larger question of the Research Group of whether or not there is an identifiable particular EU meaning of democracy.

     14 Checkel, Jeffrey T. 2001: Why Comply? Social Norms Learning and European Identity Change, in: International Organization 55: 3, 553-588; Schimmelfennig, Frank 2000: International Socialization in

    the New Europe: Rational Action in an Institutional Environment, in: European Journal of International Relations 6: 1, 109-139. 15 Weldes, Jutta/Saco, Diana 1996: Making State Action Possible: The United States and the

    Discursive Construction of 'The Cuban Problem', 1960-1994, in: Millennium 25: 2, 361-395. Milliken,

    Jennifer 1999: The Study of Discourse in International Relations: A Critique of Research and Methods, in: European Journal of International Relations 5: 2, 225-254. Barnett, Michael 1999: Culture, Strategy

    and Foreign Policy Change: Israel's Road to Oslo, in: European Journal of International Relations 5: 1, 5-36. Wiener, Antje 2004: Contested Compliance: Interventions on the Normative Structure in World Politics, in: European Journal of International Relations 10: 2, 189-234. 16 Research Group 2, directed by Deirdre Curtin, Utrecht; Team A, lead by Antje Wiener, Belfast


    The papers address conflictive meanings along three distinctive types of norms which relate to three dimensions of the community. They include first, core constitutional

    norms such as citizenship, human rights, the rule of law and democracy; secondly,

    operating principles that inform political procedures in the community such as accountability, transparency, and legitimacy; and thirdly, standardised procedures,

    rules and provisions such as qualified majority voting, consensus. The individual contributions focus on

    1) noting difference and establishing a typology for analysing accountability

    (Bovens, Van de Steeg);

    2) accommodating difference with a view to policy coordination (Puetter;

    Landfried; Begg);

    3) identifying procedures, principles and discourses of democracy in national and

    European arenas (Lord, Morison, Niznik, Ross);

    4) establishing access to participation based on democratic citizenship practice

    (Jenson, Pfister, O’Neill)

    With a focus on comparing practices across space (nation-states; different political arenas) and over time (historically) this workshop‟s papers contribute to RG2‟s larger

    question of whether or not a meaning of democracy that is particular to the European Union is detectible (as Jane Jenson suggested during the workshop discussions, e.g. comparing EU with Canadian use of the principle of accountability e.g. the concept of „peer accountability‟ presented by the Bovens & Van de Steeg papers does present an institutional innovation that is not available to Canadians). The workshop‟s selection

    of panels and presenters sought to open up the internal European(integration) debate towards an interdisciplinary and international perspective. This perspective is intended to juxtapose and compare views from the European Union and beyond so as to not fall into the trap of contributing to the creation of a sui generis theory for a sui

    generis case of „European governance‟ that often looks pretty similar to models of modern nation states. In addition, most of the workshop papers propose a normative position to go beyond the pitfalls of modernist categories of democratic governance, arguing that these categories have been incomplete all the way. They lack the potential to establish democratic legitimacy based on the absence of access to participation in contestation over the rules and rulers - that govern a democratic


    community. There is then, a critical emphasis beyond the pragmatic concern of today‟s political scientists, as to how best coordinate politics under conditions of globalisation.

    17 i.e. those citizens who enjoy full access to The Marshallian citizens of our time,

    participation to the public sphere are restricted to restricted transnationalised spheres. As long as the rather optimistic view of the cosmopolitans remains unsubstantiated by empirical data, it is advisable to maintain a critical perspective on the development of citizenship rights based on the radical change of access conditions (e.g. social rights, welfare state etc.) to establish an exclusive Marshallian citizenship seriously. If we acknowledge an increasing diversity for some time to come then the normative

    question of whether „diversity‟ is a possibility or a constraint arises, i.e. should

    diversity be accommodated (overcome) or maintained (establish)? The former approach is reflected in the „community‟ based approaches to democracy that inevitably find a „democratic deficit‟; the latter proposes to rethink concepts of democratic government in the light of governance beyond the state including citizenship, contestation, rights, access, belonging.

    - focus on new sites in addition to modern community/polity/society, i.e.

    - structures (rather than systems)

    - individual/groups (rather than states)

    - institutions (hard and soft; see Shaw‟s comment on the „soft quality‟ of „new



The workshop‟s goal was threefold: take stock, compare (empirically, conceptually)

    and network towards joint research projects and elaborate on new theoretical perspectives. The papers presented at the workshop reflect both the empirical and the normative questions. They were grouped on thematic panels on „democratic accountability‟, „democratic procedures‟, and two governance panels on „economic policy‟ and „rights politics‟, respectively.

     17 Marshall, T.H. 1950: Citizenship and Social Class, Cambridge.


    Table 1: Conditions of legitimate democratic governance beyond the state under the principle of ‘diversity in unity’

    Stages Focus Dimension Type of approach Criteria Paper

    Noting Principle Descriptive/Analytical Multi-level Bovens, 1

    difference governance; Van de

    (stock-taking) social Steeg;

    relations; Begg;

    arrangements Ross;



    Accommodating Procedure Pragmatic Trust; small Puetter 2

    diversity group Landfried


    Accepting Core Normative Rights; O‟Neill, 3

    difference & constitutional equality; Jenson,

    establishing norm public Pfister;

    access to deliberation; Morison;

    contestation wider Puetter



    regime; sites;


    The papers respectively address the issues of policy implementation, constitution-making, and a critical normative input into the conceptual debate. To that end they raise the questions of first, how do norms work and why do they work differently in different arenas; secondly, how to define norms; and thirdly, how to guarantee democratic quality under the condition of transnationalization. The discussion suggests to emphasise on a methodological focus for tackling the input of normative contested meanings and subsequently assess the possibilities for democracy beyond the state that emphasises first and foremost the role of new spaces in addition to

    modern community/polity/society, including structures (rather than systems), individual or micro-level groups (rather than states) and an understanding of institutions as both hard and soft. Empirical work following these assumptions would ideally seek to analyse the quality of public deliberation, the degree of access to

    contestation, and the procedural arrangements.


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