Expert advocacy for the marginalised: how and why democratic mediation matters to deepening democracy in the global South
von Lieres, Bettina
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The paper argues that the practice of democratic mediation is an increasingly common, yet under-researched, component of engagements between citizens and public authorities across the globe. While the actors who mediate (and their tactics) are diverse and are not necessarily of the marginalised group, they share a commitment to overcoming representational, knowledge or ideological deficits in decision-making for the marginalised group. While the ‘speaking for’ nature of democratic mediation clearly opens up critical legitimacy problems, the practice of democratic mediation appears to be remarkably common, and even effective. The paper demonstrates this by surveying at least three kinds of democratic mediation observed across a large number of cases. First is ‘mediationas professional advocacy’. The mediator in these cases is more an ‘interested intermediary’ in contentious policy politics. In a context of skewed power relations where certain groups remain systematically marginalised, not least through knowledge and representational deficits, a degree of advocacy is required to get more egalitarian policy dialogue. Second is ‘mediation as representational entrepreneurship’. This refers to engagements between citizens and forms of public authority that stretch from the local to the global level. In more ‘global-local’ mobilisations, mediators are often experts, professionals, and international NGOs. In more ‘local – global’ movements, the mediators are ‘hybrid activists’ deeply rooted in the local identities and associations. However, in either case the actor is distinguished by the taking of initiative to include the voices of the marginalised in a domain of power-relations which is multi-level. Lastly, ‘mediation as citizenship development’ refers to forms of activism typically associated with community and capacity development, and usually involves limited advocacy by civil society organisations (CSOs). Hence there may be little by way of explicit mediation in local governance decision-making in these cases, although the empowerment of communities has a demonstrable and mostly positive impact on local governance.