Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance Seminar

Introducing Non-human Democracy

Tue 6 December 2016Speaker: Dr Jean-Paul Gagnon, University of CanberraVenue: The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


An examination of more than 1200 descriptions of democracy makes one thing abundantly clear—democracy is a human affair. Yet, there is a disturbance in this declaration and it comes from biology. For there is an immense body of scientific literature on how non-humans make decisions to solve collective action problems. And the language used in these studies is strikingly familiar: it is the language of democracy. If we use concepts that are inherent to the logic of democracy to make sense of non-human group behavior, does that not mean non-humans are practicing democracy too? Despite the popularity in other disciplines of inter-species thinking, it is ignored in democracy research. Why is that? Why can we not conceive of democracy as anything other than uniquely human? In answering these questions, this paper introduces non-human democracy and argues that its theory has three functions: non-humans (1) can inspire us to rethink aspects of democracy, (2) instruct us in specific practices of it, and (3) help us draw new analogies to better understand it.


Jean-Paul Gagnon is assistant professor of politics at the University of Canberra. His books include Evolutionary Basic Democracy (2013), Democratic Theorists in Conversation (2014), and Young People, Citizenship, and Political Participation: Combating Civic Deficit? (2017, with Mark Chou, Catherine Hartung, and Lesley J Pruitt).

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