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Clint Lanford
Clint Lanford

Deliberation Across Time and Space: Essays on Historical Deliberative Practices in Six Countries

Collective Decision Making Around the World: A Book Review

Have you ever wondered how people make decisions together in different cultures and historical periods? How do they deliberate on issues that affect their lives and communities? What are the challenges and opportunities of collective decision making in diverse contexts?

Read online book Collective decision making around the world : [essays on historical deliberation pr


If you are interested in these questions, you might want to read Collective Decision Making Around the World: Essays on Historical Deliberative Practices, a book edited by Ileana Marin and published by the Kettering Foundation in 2006. This book offers a fascinating exploration of how deliberation has been practiced around the world, from ancient times to modern days, in six countries: Albania, Cameroon, Colombia, New Zealand, Romania, and Russia.

In this article, I will review this book and highlight its main argument, structure, methodology, case studies, implications, strengths, limitations, and contributions. I will also provide some FAQs at the end for those who want to learn more about this topic. Let's get started!

The main argument of the book: Deliberation is widespread and fragile

The main argument of this book is that deliberation is not a rare or recent phenomenon, but rather a widespread and ancient practice that has been at the core of collective decision making in many societies. Deliberation is defined as "a process of public reasoning among free and equal citizens" that aims to reach a common understanding or agreement on a matter of public concern. Deliberation can take various forms and formats, such as assemblies, councils, meetings, dialogues, forums, etc.

However, deliberation is also a fragile and vulnerable practice that can be easily destroyed or distorted by external forces or internal dynamics. Deliberation can be threatened by top-down politics, authoritarian regimes, colonialism, violence, corruption, inequality, polarization, etc. Deliberation can also be undermined by poor communication, lack of information, prejudice, bias, manipulation, etc. Therefore, deliberation requires constant vigilance and care to preserve its quality and integrity.

The structure of the book: Six case studies from different countries

The structure of this book is simple and clear. It consists of an introduction by Julie Fisher and Ileana Marin, six case studies by international scholars and practitioners of the Kettering Foundation, an afterword by David Mathews, and a list of references. Each case study focuses on a specific country and period and describes how deliberation was practiced in that context. The case studies are organized chronologically according to the historical period they cover.

The six case studies are:

  • Albania: Ancient public deliberation and assembly in the Code of Lekë Dukagjini by Daut Dauti

  • Cameroon: Traditional decision-making processes among the Baka people by Joseph Sany Nzima

  • Colombia: Artisan democratic societies in the 19th century by Catalina Arreaza and Gabriel Murillo

  • New Zealand: Pacific ways of talkHui and Talanoa by David Robinson and Kayt Robinson

  • Romania: The Sfata historic deliberative experience by Ruxandra Petre

  • Russia: Early traditions of collective decision making by German Artamonov and Denis V. Makarov

The methodology of the book: Historical and anthropological research

The methodology of this book is based on historical and anthropological research. The authors of the case studies use various sources of evidence, such as archival documents, oral histories, ethnographic observations, interviews, surveys, etc. to reconstruct and analyze the deliberative practices in their respective contexts. The authors also use a comparative perspective to highlight the similarities and differences among the cases and to draw some general lessons and insights.

The methodology of this book is not without challenges, however. One of the main difficulties is finding accurate and reliable historical records that document the deliberative practices in different cultures and periods. Many of these records are either missing, incomplete, inaccessible, or biased. Another challenge is interpreting and evaluating the quality and impact of the deliberative practices in different contexts. How can we measure the effectiveness and legitimacy of deliberation in different settings? What are the criteria and indicators that we can use?

The case studies: How deliberation works in different contexts

In this section, I will briefly summarize each case study and highlight its main findings and implications. I will also provide a table that compares the main features of the deliberative practices in each case.

Albania: Ancient public deliberation and assembly in the Code of Lekë Dukagjini

This case study examines the ancient public deliberation and assembly in Albania, as codified in the Code of Lekë Dukagjini, a set of customary laws that governed the social and political life of the Albanian people from the 15th to the 20th century. The Code of Lekë Dukagjini was based on the principle of self-government and collective decision making among free and equal citizens. The main institution of deliberation was the kuvend, a public assembly that convened periodically to discuss and decide on matters of common interest, such as justice, peace, war, taxation, etc. The kuvend was composed of representatives from different clans, families, villages, or regions, who were elected by their peers or inherited their positions. The kuvend was guided by a set of rules and norms that ensured its fairness and inclusiveness, such as:

  • The right to speak and be heard by everyone.

  • The duty to listen and respect others' opinions.

  • The obligation to seek consensus or majority vote.

  • The responsibility to abide by the decisions.

  • The authority to enforce the decisions.

The kuvend was also supported by other institutions and actors that facilitated its functioning, such as:

  • The pleqësia, a council of elders who acted as mediators, advisors, or arbitrators.

  • The bajraktar, a leader who represented his clan or region in the kuvend and coordinated its actions.

  • The gjakmarrja, a system of blood feud that regulated the relations among clans or families in case of conflict or violence.

  • The bessa, a code of honor that obliged people to keep their promises and respect their agreements.

The author of this case study argues that the kuvend was an effective and legitimate form of deliberation that enabled the Albanian people to govern themselves autonomously and democratically for centuries. However, he also acknowledges that the kuvend faced many challenges and limitations, such as:

  • The exclusion or marginalization of women, minorities, or outsiders from the deliberative process.

  • The domination or manipulation of some clans or leaders over others.

  • The escalation or perpetuation of violence or revenge among conflicting parties.

  • The erosion or suppression of the kuvend by external forces, such as Ottoman rule, communist regime, or modern state.

Cameroon: Traditional decision-making 71b2f0854b


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