Sortition, a play by Selina Thompson

Sortition, a new play by Selina Thompson, is described as follows:

A century after Parliament gave the first women the right to vote, Selina Thompson’s provocative new work turns this moment of democratic history on its head. Sortition is produced by and with Britons under the age of 30 who have never voted and have no intention of voting – ever.

Developed with non-voters from across the UK, along with a team of political provocateurs, experts and troublemakers, Sortition imagines what the country would look like with representatives selected not by election but by lottery – at random. Thompson considers the distinction between using your own voice and electing someone to speak for you in a work exploring how young people make themselves heard in Britain today.

8 Responses

  1. Wow, I want to see this. It says Autumn 2018 in Bristol, UK. This is an important connection of sortition and feminism, which is a connection that should be developed more.

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  2. My essay on the connection between feminism and sortition is here: No equality for women without sortition.

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  3. Great essay. And, of course, things are even worse from an intersectional feminist perspective. Do you know of other examples of feminist writers supporting sortition? There’s a mention by Carole Pateman: “But, given the obvious problems with elections in the richest as well as poor countries, why not introduce experiments with decision-making bodies chosen by lot (proper random selection) instead of elections?” (Carole Pateman and Charles Mills, Contract & Domination, p. 34)

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  4. That’s interesting — Carole Pateman is one of the original theorists of participatory democracy and she’s not a big fan of deliberative approaches. Sortition will have the effect of reducing participation levels for the vast majority of people as you won’t even get to go to the polling station. I approached her a couple of years ago when I was thinking of setting up the Journal of Deliberative and Participatory Democracy and asked her to join the ed board. She agreed but a bit reluctantly as she felt that participation would be very much the minor partner, but maybe she’s changing her mind.

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  5. Jonathan,

    Thanks. No, I am not aware of well known feminists supporting sortition.

    Regarding Pateman: Interesting. Is that just a throw-away comment, or is there a substantive discussion of sortition in the book?

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  6. There’s no further discussion of sortition in Contract & Domination (Polity, 2007). That book is a kind of direct conversation between Carole Pateman and Charles W. Mills as a follow-on to her The Sexual Contract and his The Racial Contract.

    Here is an excerpt from where the above quote is taken. Pateman: “My view is that if an alternative is to be developed some new ideas, and some old ideas brushed up and renewed, are called for about some very central matters, one reason that I am interested in basic income. For example, never has so much been heard about elections and democracy. But, given the obvious problems with elections in the richest as well as poor countries, why not introduce experiments with decision-making bodies chosen by lot (proper random selection) instead of elections? Again, political theorists have paid scant attention to the question of corporations, which are legal ‘persons’ in the United States (another problem that needs tackling), and new thinking about ways to break down and democratize the rapidly expanding, vast reach of corporate power, including the corporatized media, is urgently needed. So much of vital importance is rarely touched on in democratic theory and, more generally in these dangerous times, political theory needs to be brought down to earth, away from the Higher Theory and focused on our present circumstances. In The Racial Contract you wrote that we need to know ‘what went wrong in the past, is going wrong now, and is likely to continue to go wrong in the future if we do not guard against it’ (p. 92). To raise the question of what went wrong in the past is not something that is always welcomed. Without much more knowledge of the history of the sexual and racial contracts than is commonly provided it is all the harder to map out potentially democratic paths for the future.”

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  7. A bit weak.

    I am not sure what “higher theory” means, but I don’t see how a fine understanding of the history of gender and race relations contributes much to a democratic future.

    Like

  8. About feminism and democracy-through-minipublics.
    *** I said that even the more militant ecologists may support dêmokratia, if they are of the rationalist-optimist kind: they are convinced that their ideas are good and quite self-evident, they will be able to convince a majority of common citizens, and the material-interest lobbies will not block the progress as they can in a polyarchy.
    *** The same can be said for feminists, and even more; the rationalist-optimist feminists will be even more optimist as in Western societies more than half of the civic body belongs to the female gender.
    *** Which proportion of the feminist militants are rationalist-optimist? It is, for each country, a question.
    *** But there is another problem: there are various brands of feminisms, sometimes very different and even antagonist. In some brands at least there is a strong element of identitarian/conflictual worldview: they don’t see “women’s liberation” as a movement linked to modernity and which must go on against some reactionary forces, but as a stage in an endless war of the genders linked to everlasting parameters. For instance” penetrating sex” is intrinsically an aggressive domination (rape being only the extreme case) and therefore women needs a repressive antiphallic system uninhibited by universalist legal principles ; or women, as less aggressive than males, will be always dominated in any formally egalitarian system, and must be strengthened by specific institutional powers Etc… These brands of feminism are basically anti-universalist, and they will be repelled by the universalist side of dêmokratia. For them, in any situation we must look to the quality of the person (here the gender); and in dêmokratia voters are considered without their quality, they are only counted. Sortition is extreme as universalist: balls are taken from the bag, without looking if they are red or black. Independently of any practical strategic expectations for women, this is utterly displeasing for the anti-universalist brands of feminism.
    *** Common citizens of female gender may be specially attracted by democracy-through-minipublics, following Yoram Gat’s discourse, as they may feel especially “underrepresented” in power circles of polyarchy. But we must not extend that to the entire feminist movement, some parts of which may support democracy-through-minipublics, but others will be probably among the hard enemies of the model. Clearly, elitist leanings may combine here.
    t*** The specific attraction of female common citizens towards democracy-through-minipublics will be an advantage for this model but a counterattack is easy : female quota among elected “representatives”. Actually gender and color quota are weapons of the “representative ideology” : the Parliament will look like the dêmos … in photographs, at least.
    *** Note that the specific attraction of female common citizens towards democracy-through-minipublics will be an advantage for this model – but conversely some male citizens will feel unhappy with the model for the same reason. Including maybe some who will not acknowledge it.

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