Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance Seminar

Representing the disadvantaged? Conceptions of representation in a citizens' jury in Switzerland

Tue 18 February 2020Speaker: Alexander Geisler, University of Geneva / 11:00am - 12:00pmCrackenback, NSW


While referendums and initiatives are part and parcel of Swiss direct democracy, democratic innovations based on random selection remain underexplored. One such example are Citizens’ Juries assessing popular votes and informing fellow voters via a summary statement, as in the Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR). Fishkin (2018, 2013) has suggested that citizens bring mostly their own interests to the table in larger types of such deliberative gatherings. Challenging this finding, evidence collected from a Swiss pilot CIR in the municipality of Sion involving twenty randomly selected voters’ points to more complex perceptions of whom panelists perceive to represent. The participants reported that they had also represented disadvantaged groups inside and outside their political jurisdiction when discussing an upcoming popular initiative on affordable housing. This suggests that conceptions of representation on part of the panelists in a minipublic and particularly in the CIR may be more complex than previously assumed. Crucially, panelists taking stances of other groups may affect existing shortcomings of inclusion and representation occurring in minipublics of small size.



Since November 2018, Alexander worked as a PhD candidate at the University of Geneva in the project “A non-populist theory of direct democracy”, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation under supervision of Professor Nenad Stojanovic. The project involves conducting two CIR-like mini-public pilots in Switzerland. He earned his Master of Arts in Empirical Political and Social Research (2018) at the University of Stuttgart. After graduation, he worked at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Stuttgart as a research and teaching assistant. During this period, he was involved in two projects: creating a database to track participatory processes in the municipalities of South-West Germany and managing an online network of universities that engage in research on civic participation. His research interests are in the fields of deliberative democracy, political behaviour, the theory and practice of democratic innovations, and social cognition.

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