Geographies of radical democracy: agonistic pragmatism and the formation of affected interests

Barnett, Clive and Bridge, Gary (2013). Geographies of radical democracy: agonistic pragmatism and the formation of affected interests. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 103(4) pp. 1022–1040.



There is significant interest in democracy in contemporary human geography. Theoretically, this interest has been most strongly influenced by poststructuralist theories of radical democracy, and associated ontologies of relational spatiality. These emphasise a priori understandings of the spaces of democratic politics, ones which focus on marginal spaces and the de-stabilization of established patterns. This article develops an alternative account of the spaces of democratic politics, one which seeks to move beyond the stylised contrast of poststructuralist agonism and liberal consensualism. This alternative draws into focus the spatial dimensions of philosophical pragmatism, and the relevance of this tradition for thinking about the geographies of democracy. In particular, the geographical relevance of pragmatism lies in the distinctive inflection of the all-affected principle and of the rationalities of problem-solving. Drawing on John Dewey’s work, a conceptualisation of transactional space is developed to reconfigure understandings of the agonistics of participation as well as the experimental institutionalisation of democratic will. The difference that a pragmatist approach makes to understandings of the geographies of democracy is explored in relation to transnational and urban politics.

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