Research: The Subject of Suffering

The Subject of Suffering: Democracy and Injustice

Book project with Julie White, Ohio University

Democracy is often advocated as a remedy for injustice. We argue that most democratic theory is inadequately attentive to the obstacles to political recognition of vulnerability and victimization. As a consequence, whether the remedy is legal justice, as is the case in liberal democratic approaches, or inclusive participation, as is the case in deliberative democratic approaches, democracy in these forms fails to adequately address the subject of injustice.

An adequate democratic theory and the practices it justifies must, we argue: 1) provide openings for the political recognition of both a victim's sense of injustice and 2) provide remedies for the structural conditions that produce injustice. We assess liberal and deliberative democratic approaches with this in mind. Liberal democratic theories, both because of their narrow vision of the political and their strong commitment to individual autonomy, present substantial obstacles to the political recognition of injustice.

Although it is often argued that liberal democracy, while it may be consistent with neglect, offers a strong defense against domination, we argue that liberal democracy is consistent with and often reinforces certain forms of domination. Deliberative theories might be assumed at least to offer better assurance that public dialogue will create openings for a broader political recognition of vulnerability and suffering -- a necessary, if not sufficient condition for remedy. We argue, however, that neither approach to democracy is adequately attentive to the obstacles to recognition and remedy.