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participatory democracy


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The 20th-century reincarnation of the ancient Greek ideal of government by the people (demos). Participatory democracy is direct democracy, in the sense that all citizens are actively involved in all important decisions. The youth and student movements of the 1960s, in Europe and America, adopted direct democracy with enthusiasm. In practice, this meant that all debates and decisions took place in face-to-face meetings of the whole group. Direct democracy was especially important in the American New Left, the French and British student movements, the early women's movements, and the anti-nuclear and peace movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It was also a feature of the ecological and community movements that survived into the 1980s and 1990s. The difficulty with participatory democracy is a practical one—that it complicates and slows down the decision-making process. Its strength is that it binds individuals to the group through their active involvement in all decisions. By general agreement, participatory democracy can be effective only in groups with 500 or fewer active members.

Subjects: Sociology.


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