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Making a Difference: Toward a Feminist Democratic Theory in the Digital Age

  • Hans Asenbaum (a1)

This essay asks how the democratic ideal of inclusion can be achieved in societies marked by power asymmetries along the lines of identity categories such as gender and race. It revisits debates of difference democracy of the 1990s, which promoted inclusion through a politics of presence of marginalized social groups. This strategy inevitably entails essentializing tendencies, confining the democratic subject within its physically embodied identity. Difference democrats did not take notice of the parallel emerging discourse on cyberfeminism exploring novel identity configurations on the Internet. This essay augments the politics of presence with digital identity reconfigurations. Neither difference democrats nor cyberfeminists distinguish between various participatory sites. Drawing on conceptions of participatory spaces from development studies and deliberative democracy, this essay generates a typology differentiating between empowered spaces such as parliaments, invited spaces such as citizens' assemblies, and the claimed spaces of social movements. The democratic functions these spaces fulfil are best facilitated by three different modes of identity performance: identity continuation, identity negation, and identity exploration. A pluralization of participatory sites and modes of identity performance facilitates inclusion while tackling the essentializing tendencies in difference democracy.

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I would like to express my thanks to Selen Ercan and Marion Stöger, whose extensive comments have helped improve this article. I am also deeply grateful to Kimmo Grönlund and the Social Science Research Institute at Åbo Akademi University for a visiting fellowship that enabled me to work on this paper. Finally, my thanks go to three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.

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