Necessary Preconditions for Deliberative Environmental Democracy? Challenging the Modernity Bias of Current Theory

Published In

Global Environmental Politics

Document Type


Publication Date



In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Democratic theorists have often seemed unconcerned about the practical applications of deliberative democracy and have restricted their concerns to normative and procedural values, leaving the practical realm out of their focus of inquiry. But environmental and natural resources policy scholars have begun to pay increasing attention to deliberative democratic theories and deliberative practices in recent years.1 Meadowcroft, for example, argues that "a vigorous extension of deliberative democratic practice with the environmental and natural resources (ENR) policy domain can enhance significantly society's capacity to manage environment-related problems in the coming decades."2 Yet nearly all of the rapidly growing literature on applied deliberative democracy is focused on experiences and circumstances as they exist in the wealthy liberal democracies of the world.3 At the same time, most deliberative democratic theorists accept assumptions that seem to limit the applicability of their theories to societies that are relatively wealthy, well-educated, and culturally Western.4 Thus the literature on deliberative environmental democratic processes is, perhaps inadvertently, largely consistent with prevailing presuppositions in the theoretical literature, namely, that democratic deliberation is suited only to conditions of advanced modernity. The question that arises is: are deliberative democracy and deliberative environmental politics ideals to which only modernity can aspire?

This article examines the potential for deliberative environmental democracy [End Page 94] in a traditional, unquestionably non-modern, context by investigating a community conservation experiment in a relatively isolated, traditional village in rural India. We explore the feasibility of deliberative democracy in a small, poor, semi-literate community that, uninformed by deliberative theory, has been attempting to actualize the norms of deliberative democracy. We ask whether such conditions of modernity as Western social and cultural norms, wealth, literacy, and institutional fragmentation are indeed prerequisites for deliberative democracy to function effectively.


© The MIT Press

Persistent Identifier