Sustaining Democracy: Localization, Globalization, and Feminist Praxis


  • My gratitude to members of the Eastern Sociological Society (ESS) for the honor of serving as President. This article is based on the Presidential talk given at the ESS meetings, March 24, 2013. My thanks to the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Sociology for allowing me to present a draft of this article and for their valuable feedback. Special thanks to John Markoff, Jackie Smith, and Susan Ostrander for their inspired suggestions and for sharing their work with me. Thanks also to Mary Bernstein, Chris Bose, Barbara Gurr, and Cathy Schlund-Vials for their important contributions to the article and for the amazingly quick turnaround.


Following contemporary discussions of environmental sustainability, I view sustainable democracy as an approach that remains open to diversity, promotes well-being for all social actors, and advances social justice. The notion of sustaining democracy that I adopt foregrounds everyday practical and participatory strategies that are self-consciously tied to a vision of the future which will be more economically equitable, peaceful, inclusive, and socially just. However, I argue, a political vision cannot be enacted without an epistemological articulation that informs political practice. Feminist praxis contains, in its epistemological formulation, a reflexive process by which lessons from past activist engagements are incorporated into contemporary efforts, which, in turn, are further reflected upon in changing political and cultural contexts. Feminist praxis is further deepened by incorporating epistemological insights from feminist theories of intersectionality to inform its political methodology. I illustrate the possibilities of intersectional feminist praxis for sustaining democratic practice with attention to five different dimensions: strategies for inclusion, methods of empowerment, countering power imbalances, organizing across differences, and processes of reflexivity.