Democratic Challenges adresses primarily participants in the activities of the Academy for Democracy who are looking for a more comprehensive background and want to apply the methods in their organisations. The material was produced for a Swedish context but has turned out to be applicable and appreciated internationally, too; hence this multilingual Internet version.
The website is a distillation of many years of practical work that my colleagues and I have done in the network Academy for Democracy (DemokratiAkademin): democracy days, workshops, seminars, courses, joint projects, etc.
Over the years, thousands of people have gotten in touch with us and before starting on a project the participants are usually asked what they like best about democracy. This reveals a broad consensus: be they schoolchildren, politicians, administrators or members of an association from any and every corner of the Earth, most of them put participation and involvement first. Just a few give pride of place to representative democracy’s fundamental idea: that rulers have the support of a majority.
This challenge has not been taken up in earnest by either politicians or the academic world. An exception is Robert A. Dahl, a philosopher and political scientist whose book Democracy and Its Critics combines the aspects of representation and participation into a general theory of democracy in the classic tradition. This theory is a starting-point here.
Another notable point of departure, evident in the material, is the tradition of popular movements based on membership that has given Sweden one of the world’s most robust civil societies. Many of these organisations, not least the political parties, have admittedly lost a great many members in recent years but organisations are still seen as a way of life where membership is a source of power.
To an outsider, such an attitude may seem both strange and naïve. It is nevertheless organisations based on membership that have given representative government its special popular foundation in Sweden. The historical conditions for a democratic culture do, of course, vary in different parts of the world. But wherever the challenge to act in a democratic framework is taken seriously, it is also necessary to consider the significance of membership.
The material consists of a simple ideal model, An ABC of Democracy, that is applied to each of three levels: an organisation, a country and internationally. Separate chapters are devoted to Civil society and Human rights and democracy. Each chapter consists of a theoretical background followed by one or more practical applications with references to a method bank.
Forum Syd, Sida Civil Society Center, Olof Palme International Center, SIPU International, SHIA and the Ordfront association have made financial contributions to democracy.se but have not otherwise had any influence on the content. Someone who has, on the other hand, is my sparring-partner and editor, Pernilla Johansson, to whom I am most grateful.
This autumn we updated the site thoroughly. It is now much easier to find one’s way and all applications can be down-loaded without a password.
Göran Hemberg, senior advisor to the Academy for Democracy
Democratic Challenges by Göran Hemberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.