Framing Democracy: A Behavioral Approach to Democratic Theory by Jamie Terence Kelly. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012. 157pp., £24.95, ISBN 978 0 691 15519 7
Article first published online: 8 JAN 2014
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies Review © 2014 Political Studies Association
Political Studies Review
Volume 12, Issue 1, page 99, January 2014
How to Cite
Hilmer, J. D. (2014), Framing Democracy: A Behavioral Approach to Democratic Theory by Jamie Terence Kelly. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012. 157pp., £24.95, ISBN 978 0 691 15519 7 . Political Studies Review, 12: 99. doi: 10.1111/1478-9302.12041_18
- Issue published online: 8 JAN 2014
- Article first published online: 8 JAN 2014
Jamie Terence Kelly argues in this work that ‘just as in economics and law, normative democratic theory must begin to pay attention to the picture of human choice described by empirical psychology’ (p. 1). Specifically, the text focuses on judgement-based theories in which citizens are understood to be seeking the common good. Kelly is anxious to point out, however, that the ‘behavioural approach’ referred to in this book is not that usually associated with Skinner et al. and ‘behaviouralism’. Rather, Kelly takes for granted humans' ‘internal mental states’ – as do many psychologists, economists and other social scientists – and focuses unreflectively on their implications for democracy.
Thus this brief book describes a ‘behavioral approach to normative democratic theory’ (p. 1). Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the role of ‘framing effects’ and their largely negative role in democratic decision making. Chapter 2 organises extant theories of democracy according to the author's judgement taxonomy. Chapter 3 – the core of the book – makes a case for the key advantage of the behavioural approach to democratic theory, namely as ‘a way to reconcile normative claims about democracy with troubling empirical evidence regarding the epistemic abilities of citizens’ (p. 4). In chapter 4 the theory is applied to minimalist and maximal theories of democracy, and finally chapter 5 considers the institutional implications of the behavioural approach to democratic theory on media, constitutional review and public education.
Political scientists who are sympathetic to empirical approaches to democracy may find Kelly's ‘behavioural approach’ theoretically promising. However, those familiar with the criticisms of social science by thinkers including Peter Winch will inevitably question the practical value (and even the possibility) of a behavioural theory of democracy for improving democratic practice in specific cultural contexts – let alone generally. And affecting democratic practice is ultimately what Kelly seeks to accomplish. But despite the author's attempt to ‘lessen the gap that currently exists between philosophical theories of democracy and practical problems regarding the design of institutions in democratic societies’ (p. 124), the larger issues of democracy as a human practice and its practical relation – if any – to political theory and meta-theory are problematically absent from Kelly's otherwise recommendable book.
Overall, Framing Democracy is well written and logically organised. Scholars and graduate students interested in the literature of democratic theory will find much to debate in this thoughtful monograph.