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Phronesis, deconstruction, and democratic theory : a hybrid interpretive approach to democratic systems Ouellette, Jordan Eric Pierre


Although democratic theorists have been searching deeper into context and shared meaning, which shape and validate certain practices as more or less democratic answers to problems in democratic political systems, there has been little serious interest among them to consider more interpretive and practice-centered strategies for research. The main purpose of this paper is to combine two such strategies, Bent Flyvbjerg’s phronetic social research and Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction, into a hybrid interpretive approach to democratic systems. First, I trace how contemporary democratic theory up to Mark Warren’s problem-based approach has moved closer and closer to adopting four common and crucial features of both phronetic and deconstructive research. Next, and in light of this methodological overlapping, I argue that the latter two research strategies are indispensable to the study of democratic systems. Here I discuss two general areas in which such a hybrid interpretive approach would be most effective: in understanding how to do what Warren calls “functional sorting” for the sake of democratizing political systems; and in understanding how social movements “function” in democratic systems today. The last section deals with some bigger concerns regarding my serious engagement with Derrida. I argue against what has long been the conventional view that distances Derridean deconstruction from democratic theory by hinting at the democratic project (if not method or theory) that Derrida was developing, especially in his later years, and the growing recent scholarship around this overlooked development. Moreover, I reconsider Flyvbjerg’s own rejection of Derrida and demonstrate how phronetic and deconstructive ways of doing research can and should, in fact, complement each other. The conclusion reiterates the promise of this (or any other) hybrid interpretive approach for the democratic theorist today.

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