Democratic Design — Michael Saward

This talk is part of the Museum Legitimacies Event Series 2021-22 — political innovation in, against and beyond art galleries, museum and heritage organisations.

We often think about democracy in terms of different models – representative, deliberative, participative, and so on. But democracy is not exhausted by advocating specific models or set of institutions; rather, Michel Saward argues, democracy is a design challenge.

Looking through the lens of democratic design helps us to open up our ideas about what democracy can be, how it can be planned and reformed. It also draws attention to the active work of creating models – new and hybrid models for different contexts, from government to civil society and from the formal to the informal.


Michael Saward is Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. His major books include The Terms of Democracy (1998), The Representative Claim (2010), Making Representations: Claim, Counterclaim, and the Politics of Acting for Others (2020) and Democratic Design (2021) and is currently working on performance and democratic representation and the role of political ideas in practical political life.

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This event will be held online.

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About the Museum Legitimacies Event Series

The question of the legitimacy of art galleries, museums and heritage organisations is being posed increasingly loudly. Long standing attempts to reform are now being framed by strikes, demonstrations, occupations but also by increasing government oversight and policy constraint.

Negotiating between the politics of representational legitimacy via the state, delegated authority to professionals and participatory politics has for many decades now been core institutional work. Yet the present moment has exposed and generated vulnerabilities in the political constitution of art galleries, museums and heritage organisations.

In this series exploring political innovation in, against and beyond art galleries, museum and heritage organisations we will connect a range of debates often not well connected – from new approaches to practice, democratic innovation beyond trustee and arms-length models, DIY and mutual aid, co-operatives and community benefit societies to defunding and abolition – to ask: What does ‘legitimacy’ mean for art galleries, museums and heritage organisations?

These events are part of Designing for Democratic Engagement, a collaboration between the Centre for Democratic Engagement and Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage.


Museum sign. Photo by Scott Webb.