The question whether and how NGOs or transnational social movements can be considered as productive parts of something like a global democratic governance or even an evolving cosmopolitical order has bothered many scholars sofar. In absence of a fixed nation state framework, including clear-cut geographical representation chains, some scholars even deny the attempt to understand transnational activism as a form of promoting democracy across borders.
“Deliberative Politik von unten” is not genuinely dealing with transnationalism in specific. However, I suggest the innovative research method is worth taking a serious look at for all researchers which are interested in measuring deliberation in transnational small groups settings; this book helps one to go transnational with Habermas.
On the theoretical level, deliberative democratic theory has been considered as a feasible path of solution. Most importantly because deliberative democratic theorists believe that good arguments – regardless their geographical, national or other origin – is far more important for democratic legitimacy than vote-based representation within given political borders.
Yet some empirical studies have been undertaken in order to show that activists contribute democratically to global governance by bringing up deliberative discourses, public discussions and pointing at problems not represented on the international agenda. Most prominent have been the German research on the communicative action on the global level. However, like on the local and national level, it turned out that studying deliberation by far is easier in form of qualitative case studies than in actual detailed discourse analysis.
In this regard, Mundo Yang’s Book makes a new attempt to solve the many methodological problems in studying deliberation and its conditions. The first part deals with the question of how empirical deliberation research can be better rooted in a Habermasian variant of critical theory. In the second part, Yang presents his empirical analysis. While this part of the study deals predominantly with local activists’ groups (trade unionists, left party-members) it nonetheless entails also an Attac-Group working on international financial markets. Yang proposes to study deliberation within activists’ groups in order to reveal the value of their political work for democracy. Hereby, he has recorded group sessions as audiotapes and analysed more than 1,800 utterances according to criteria like the use of arguments, communicative interaction, absence of interrupting other interlocutors or the variety of argumentation types (e.g. facts, norms, subjective impressions).
Moreover, the qualitative analysis of the varied motives, beliefs and schemata of interpretation articulated within these groups provide a thorough picture of the agency behind deliberative action. Yang reveals that seemingly non-deliberative motives of a harsh denial and even angry critique of social inequality on the local as well as global level don’t withstand the discursive elaboration of public critique. With other words, the notion deliberative agency summarizes the many conditions and motivations behind activists that nowadays also enter the transnational realm on a regular basis. Given the intensive conceptual work behind its empirical approach this book might also be used to do academic research on the rather essaistic proposals for more political indignation, discussed by authors like Hessel or Crouch.