Why and how to compare deliberative systems

John Boswell, Jack Corbett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The systemic turn in deliberative democratic theory presents empirical researchers in this field with a problem. Deliberative systems are complex, porous and shifting in nature. These features cannot be adequately assessed by existing tools for measuring deliberative and democratic qualities. Such qualities only become apparent when set against practices in other systems. Meaningful analysis rests on comparison. However, in turning to the comparative politics literature for inspiration, we caution that the two dominant traditions in this subfield – rigidly systematic comparison or thickly descriptive area studies – are of only limited utility. On the one hand, rigid comparative analysis will map uncomfortably on the systemic account. On the other, there is a need to move beyond idiographic accounts produced in thick descriptions. Instead, this article emphasises the value of two alternative traditions in comparative political analysis. The first is through the use of ‘family resemblances’ in comparative research design. The second is through post hoc comparisons that draw together eclectic affinities between systems. Both approaches are sensitive to the contextual complexities of deliberative systems in practice. Both can tell us a great deal about why and how deliberative practices and institutions emerge, flourish or fail, and how they enable, enhance or undermine the democratic and deliberative qualities of the system overall. This article draws on promising examples of these two approaches to emphasise their value in understanding deliberative systems in practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)801-819
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Anderson, Benedict
  • area studies
  • comparative political science
  • deliberative systems
  • eclectic affinities
  • family resemblance
  • Lijphart, Arend

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