UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

A democratic theory of hope : collective agency in uncertain times Lacelle-Webster, Antonin


Democratic institutions and practices ideally empower people to talk, organize, deliberate, and act with others to imagine, decide, and move toward collective futures. They navigate the uncertainty of collective action through the hopes that connect people with both one another and future publics. Hope enables democracies to organize aspirations. It captures the creative potentialities of democracy by forming and actualizing political agency while, in turn, enabling polities to move toward desired futures. In this dissertation, I provide a democratic theory of hope which identifies the kinds of hope that underwrite democracy and the political conditions that organize and empower democratic hope. Narratives of hope are a fixture of democratic moments of high political mobilization, yet just as often, they are dismissed as naïve, disempowering, or distracting. This apparent ambiguity is, in part, owing to a lack of analysis within democratic theory that would enable us to distinguish the various natures, kinds, and political functions of hope. As hope emerges from the uncertainty of political life, how political processes mediate the temporal and spatial intervals within which hope unfolds shapes its articulation. I juxtapose Harvey Milk’s “The Hope Speech” with received theories of hope to uncover the in-betweenness of hoping with others, best conceptualized by Hannah Arendt’s phenomenological approach to politics. Taking my lead from Arendt and her notions of natality, action, and promises, I conceptualize democratic hope as a collective good structured by the open-ended, discursive, and collective features of politics. Democratic hope involves an openness that justifies deliberative and disruptive political practices, which play complementary roles in defining and challenging possible futures. I adopt a problem-based approach to democracy to organize this collective work and experience of hope, and then situate it in relation to how democracies pursue their normatively desired functions. A democratic theory of hope points toward practical institutional reforms and innovations, particularly those that enable the open-ended, discursive, and collective work that supports, empowers, and actualizes hope. I illustrate this point with the example of climate assemblies, as their integration into democratic systems organizes hope by navigating the constraints and possibilities that structure the climate emergency.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International