The Centre for the Future of Democracy, which launches at the Bennett Institute in January 2020, will explore the challenges and opportunities faced by democratic politics over the coming century.
The goal of the Centre is to understand the prospects for democracy in broad historical and international perspective, getting beyond the immediate crisis to identify different possible trajectories for democracy around the world. This means distinguishing what is essential to democracy, what is contingent and what can be changed. That requires taking the long view, drawing on the big picture and expanding our imaginative horizons. This is what the Centre hopes to achieve, and in doing so it will connect with work being done across Cambridge in a wide variety of fields, from computer science and environmental science to history and philosophy.
Our aim is to move away from a fixation on the here and now, and beyond the who and what of democratic politics – who is going to get elected, what are they going to do? – to look at the how. How do democratic decisions get made and how can they be made differently? How can the consent of losers and outsiders be achieved? How can new social divisions be bridged? How can the use of technology be brought under democratic control? And if we can’t do these things, how will democracy not merely survive but flourish in the future?
The Centre will initially focus on three strands of research:
In conjunction with the work being done by Cambridge Zero and the Centre for Science and Policy, we will be exploring how different forms of democracy can engage with the politics of climate change. The particular focus of this project is on the relationship between technical problem-solving (including geo-engineering) and deliberative democracy. Can expert science and democratic engagement mix?
This project will explore the causes, impact and wider implications of the growing generational divide in democratic politics, which increasingly pits younger voters against older voters. Do its origins lie more in demography, technology or identity? How is this gap to be bridged? The particular focus of this project will be on democratic engagement with children, including a series of workshops in primary schools. How can democracy best take account of the interests of those too young to vote?
Building on work done in CRASSH and in the Centre for the Future of Intelligence, this project will explore the impact of the digital revolution on democratic politics around the world, from the changing character of elections to the new power of big technology companies. It will also look at how non-democratic regimes, particularly China, deal with similar challenges and what this might mean for the relationship between technology and democracy in the future.