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Rojava, Revolution and Democracy Seminar Series

What is democracy anyway?



19 March 2024 


Since the 1960s the concepts of participatory and radical democracy have been an important one for elements of the radical left, Building on a critique of contemporary liberal democratic state systems as well as Soviet, communist regimes, these theories of participatory democracy imagined a world in which the centralized state machine was shorn of most of its power, and real decision-making power was devolved to citizens in their workplaces, organizations, and communities.


Abdullah Öcalan’s theories are known to have been influenced by the works of the green anarchist Murray Bookchin, and the dream of a genuinely democratic society has animated socialists, anarchists and communists for over two hundred years. So what would that kind of society look like? Would it really ‘work’?           


This session aims to give an overview of contemporary debates around radical, participatory and representative forms of democracy. The aim of the session is to familiarise participants with the concept of participatory democracy, both as an element of the critique of liberal, parliamentary democratic institutions, and as a contribution to the political strategy of the radical left.


Several helpful resources, including short texts by Robert Dahl and Carole Pateman will be made available to participants before the session.



The following articles and readings will help contextualise the discussions for this seminar. Of particular interest is Pateman's 'Participatory Democracy Revisited'. Pateman's argument tackles the limitations behind liberal democracy, instead arguing for a radical, participatory democracy involving worker control. Pateman's vision, with a focus on institutions and procedures, appealing as it is, contrasts with the democratic practice in Rojava where habits, practice and fostering democratic culture have taken precedence in thinking.

You can download a copy of the Seminar Guide and Reading List here.

You can download a copy of the Reading Questions and Study Guide here.


Speakers series: Carole Pateman & Lisa Herzog

Democratising Work (16 October 2021)

In this discussion, part of the 'Global Forum on Democratizing Work' that took place online October 5-7, Carole Pateman (University of California, Los Angeles) is interviewed by Lisa Herzog (University of Groningen). They cover workers rights and democratisation in the workplace, from 'traditional' workplaces to the emerging gig economy. They also consider the radical potentiality of a universal basic income to alter our understanding of 'work'.

Carole Pateman: Participatory Democracy, Feminism & Basic Income

Participatory and Deliberative Democracy at PSA (1 October 2018)

Professor Carole Pateman speaks to Graham Smith of the Political Science Association, focussing on her groundbreaking work Participation and Democratic Theory. The conversation reflects on the extent to which her ideas on participatory democracy remain pertinent for the twenty-first century and how they intersect with her significant contributions in other areas of scholarship such as feminist theory and basic income.

An Interview with Robert Dahl

Annual Reviews (13 May 2011)

In this interview, conducted by Margaret Levi, Robert Dahl grounds his motivation for studying democracy not only in his academic encounters but also in his experiences growing up in Alaska, attending public schools there, and working with longshore workers as a boy. He does not want to replicate the utopian visions of classical philosophers. His commitment is to the development of an empirical model of democracy that guides scholars in their efforts to determine the extent of democratization throughout the world as well as in the United States.

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