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    Revised Draft: 18 October 2005; please do not cite, comments are most welcome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