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Deliberative Democratic Systems, Political Economy, and the Spatial Division of Labour

  • National Civic League


Critical scholars of capitalist democracy argue that capitalism must brought into the ambit of democratic government, but there is a particular gap in conceptualizing interconnections between political economy and participatory and deliberative decision-making across space and place. I ask the question: how can deliberative democracy contribute to the spatial redistribution of economic and social benefits to the broader populace? I argue that addressing certain types of capitalist problems is within the ambit of deliberative democracy, but this stems from axioms rooted in a more critical reading of the ‘division of labour’ and informs how to achieve a more democratized capitalist system. The paper uses Britain as a case study to outline the relationship between economic geographies of disadvantage and its implications on people across space and place, along with how decision-making at productive and legislative levels operate. The paper builds on the discipline of economic geography to outline a spatial and integrated orientation for a deliberative system to solve economic problems. This means supplying various public fora with distributive, coordinating authority, over geographical spaces, and in connection to multiple repertoires of local, devolved, and national spatial capacities and responsibilities.
Deliberative Democratic Systems, Political Economy, and the Spatial
Division of Labour
Nick Vlahos
Paper prepared for the Political Studies Association Conference, University of York, April 11-
Critical scholars of capitalist democracy argue that capitalism must brought into the ambit of
democratic government, but there is a particular gap in conceptualizing interconnections between
political economy and participatory and deliberative decision-making across space and place. I ask
the question: how can deliberative democracy contribute to the spatial redistribution of economic
and social benefits to the broader populace? I argue that addressing certain types of capitalist
problems is within the ambit of deliberative democracy, but this stems from axioms rooted in a
more critical reading of the ‘division of labour’ and informs how to achieve a more democratized
capitalist system. The paper uses Britain as a case study to outline the relationship between
economic geographies of disadvantage and its implications on people across space and place, along
with how decision-making at productive and legislative levels operate. The paper builds on the
discipline of economic geography to outline a spatial and integrated orientation for a deliberative
system to solve economic problems. This means supplying various public fora with distributive,
coordinating authority, over geographical spaces, and in connection to multiple repertoires of local,
devolved, and national spatial capacities and responsibilities.
The classical account of capitalist democracy suggests that the more well-to-do a nation is
regarding education, industrialization, and wealth, the greater the chances are to sustain democracy
(Lipset 1959). Yet, proponents of human welfare linked to capitalist development fail to recognize
that while capitalism might be highly productive it is often undemocratic in how decisions are
made within production processes and in what or how to use surplus. Data (including wages,
health, height, mortality etc.) on quality of life indicates that hundreds upon hundreds of millions
of people live in extreme destitution because of basic needs not being met within capitalist systems
(Sullivan and Hickel 2022). Even in advanced industrial countries, there is a massive income
disparity between the super wealthy and most of the working population, alongside rising housing
costs and decreasing purchasing power towards everyday living (Stiglitz 2019).
Contradictory logics of capitalism and democracy have long been highlighted by Marxists
(Wood 1995), and their point that crises of capitalism threaten to become crises of democracy are
salient. With rising ideological and partisan polarization, along with a general resentment and
distrust of political elites who are seen as failing to manage and invest in more socially progressive
and prosperous economies, uneven geographies of employment, incomes and opportunities create
political cleavages (Storper 2022). Thus, spatial configurations of democratic decision-making
appear to be vital for any alternative political economic agenda.
Critical scholars of capitalist democracy argue that capitalism must brought into the ambit
of democratic government, not least because of the adverse impact that footloose financialization
and deregulation has wrought on societies worldwide (Streek 2015). Research has recently found
that redistribution of public goods has the potential to counteract feedback loops that induce
polarization, and low levels of redistribution magnify underlying inequality and entrench
polarization (Stewart et al. 2021). Still, we are left with an enduring problem of what an embedded
participatory and deliberative capitalist democracy should look like (Bussu et al. 2022), and
something that looks to the future, not simply to the golden age of welfare capitalism.
On one hand, there are calls for more democratized systems of finance, workplaces, and
investment. Some of these are attuned to space and geography but not all. Meanwhile, notions of
democratic decision-making concerning policies of economic geography and (re)distribution are
heavily focused on institutions and policy elites. If traditional representative democracies, with the
emphasis on party politics, cabinets and legislatures are failing to meet public needs, what is
required is not only more attuned policy elites with progressive agendas, but also, a participatory
and deliberative democratic economy that places the public front and centre in decision-making.
This paper seeks to build a research agenda, asking the question: how can deliberative
democracy contribute to the spatial redistribution of economic and social benefits to the broader
populace? The challenge is that while some scholars have called for placing the economy at the
centre of participatory and deliberative democracy (as an example see Pateman and Smith 2019),
it has been rare to see comprehensive attempts in addressing this concern (but see Thorpe and
Gaventa 2020). This is problematic because the field needs the conceptual and empirical tools to
assess how public deliberation might democratize economic arrangements and comprehensively
address the challenges that capitalist democracies continue to face across multiple scales. Thus,
any alternative democratic agenda must be able to speak to how public decision-making can cut
across sectors, nations, regions, localities, and governance arrangements that are organized to
support innovation, productivity, and inclusive growth, but also encompassing contestation and
challenges to existing structural dynamics of capitalist power concentration (Bua 2022).
I argue that addressing certain types of capitalist problems is within the ambit of
deliberative democracy, but this stems from axioms rooted in a more critical reading of the
division of labour and informs how to achieve a more democratized capitalist system. An
expansive, systemic, view of the division of labour must encompass deliberative, spatial, political,
and economic elements. To support this endeavour, the paper draws from the discipline of
economic geography, notably its emphasis on how places and spaces are socially constructed, and
how these are differentially vested with the political authority and responsibility for devising
policies that structure the economy.
The paper breaks down as follows. Section 1 and 2 build the base for how deliberative
systems research must think about macro-structural issues and political-economic decision-
making across geography. Section 3 historically outlines the problem of the spatial division of
labour using Britain as a case study. This case is used to generate a picture of the operation of
economic governance across different scales of the state, and how local, regional, and national
levels contribute to the types and locations of industries, their supports, and what these mean for
issues like underdevelopment, deindustrialization, wage inequality and so on. This provides an
opening in Section 4 for an exploration of the sort of public decision-making that is needed to turn
the tides of spatial economic injustice and offer a base for further research.
Bringing the Economic Back into the Deliberative Repertoire
Deliberative democracy strives to overcome the shortcomings of an individualistic,
understanding of democracy. For deliberative democrats, representative democracy tends to
atomize public participation through the act of voting, so they strive to establish a communicative
approach that precedes any collective aggregation of preferences (Chambers 2003). At a
fundamental level, deliberative democracy affirms the need to justify how and why political
decisions are being made, which makes room for many forms of collective problem-solving, so
long as at some point, a process of public deliberation takes place between citizens and
representatives (Gutmann and Thompson 2004). The idea is that democracy should involve equal
inclusion and a reciprocal disposition between those potentially impacted by public decisions.
Deliberative democracy can thus deepen democracy by making it more inclusive of plural lived
experiences (Young 2004).
The deliberative turn in democratic theory has gone through various theoretical and
empirical agendas. While deliberative fora now encompass a broad range of policy areas, there has
been a tendency for empirical research to focus deliberative minipublics (DMPs). While an
important innovation, DMPs have a contingent relationship with centres of power, and there is a
tension surrounding the appropriate scale at which public deliberation should be designed and
carried out, including how the broader public has a role in decision-making (Vrydagh 2023; Lafont
2020). This paper shifts the conversation beyond the mechanisms for reconciling the scope and
impact of deliberative communication, toward the structural dynamics that often remain untouched
by public engagement. The task for deliberative democrats is to reflect on, but also go beyond, the
advocacy of certain deliberative mechanisms and scales of activity and focus on the bigger
political-economic picture.
For example, in the case of Brexit, a binary choice was offered to the public regarding
Leave or Remain in the European Union, but a chance to reject neoliberalism was not on the
ballot (Jessop 2018). The problems that undergird the governance and politics of capitalist
development both domestically and at the supranational level were entirely absent from any
substantive consideration in the vote. Just months prior to the historical vote to leave the EU, two
citizens’ assemblies concluded their work in the North and South of England in 2015, and they
both independently discerned that a core issue that England needed to address was intra- and inter-
regional inequality that perpetuates enduring economic injustices within the country (Flinders et
al. 2015).We could assert that a better Brexit referendum was needed, learning from Scotland’s
Independence Referendum in 2014, which had broadly inclusive deliberative inputs (Tierney
2015). However, this process alone would not change Britain’s economic woes and decision-
making patterns. Referenda and DMPs are not the only forms of problem-solving and decision-
making activity needed to address the challenges facing the capitalist economy. The historical
problems of economic (under)development and governance need to be addressed head on, and
over the long-term, which requires multiple spaces and realms of intersecting deliberative
communication concerning land planning and development, regional economic development,
investment in infrastructure, job placement and training, higher education, sectoral diversification
and balance, monetary and fiscal policy. Establishing a deliberative political economic system, in
essence (Ettlinger 2007).
Some scholars situate public deliberation within broader fora such that a division of
deliberative labour should be viewed across space (Mansbridge et al. 2012). A systemic approach
provides the foundation for integrated political communication, focusing on various sites,
connections, and forms of discussion (in which minipublics might be just one part), formally and
informally, within institutions and the broader public sphere. Deliberative systems thinking fills
in the gap of strictly focusing on single deliberative mechanisms and sites, and directs our attention
to communicative activity in multiple, diverse, yet overlapping spaces, and emphasizes the need
for interconnection between these spaces (Elstub et al. 2016). The goal of a systemic approach is
to connect to macropolitical ambitions to enhance democracy at the large scale. For Parkinson
(2018), a deliberative system needs to be both plugged into the experiences, narratives,
deliberations, claims, symbols, and language of relevant demoi on one end, and be plugged into
the power socket at the other, being decisive in some way.
Despite the support for this approach, it faces a significant critique, namely that it is too
functionalist in its conceptualization of different pieces of a deliberative puzzle fitting together.
For some, deliberative systems are not only a matter of achieving stability and legitimacy, picking
up each other’s slack due to varied deliberative qualities. In fact, there might be no public
deliberation taking place in certain settings; instead, political, and economic actors, might use
communicative processes in an instrumental way (Owen and Smith 2015). Thus, deliberative
systems thinking is encouraged to outline how systems entail instantiations of productive or
coercive power (Curato et al. 2019).
Power gets to the heart of a tension within the field because for some, deliberative
democracy is not a theory of power (Warren 2017). There are debates as to whether deliberative
democracy is a supplement to representative democracy or a countervailing force to neutralize
powerful actors and fundamentally change the character of politics (Fung and Wright 2003). While
we can find some that lament the convergence of deliberative liberal constitutionalism and critical
deliberative theory (Rostbøll 2008), the literature being produced is overwhelmingly divested from
the world of capitalism, corporate multinationals, a rapacious financial sector, and policy elite
wedded to neoliberalism (Wagenaar and van der Heijden 2015).
This was not always the case. Twenty to thirty years ago there were vibrant discussions
about capitalism and democracy, as well as how redistributive paradigms could reconcile the
problems of economic inequality with other underlying factors of social injustice (Young 1990).
The deliberative turn was marked in one regard by its recognition of the fact that capitalism’s
contradictions and crisis tendencies suppress popular interests and appropriates public wealth. In
in a more inclusive discursive system, this would not hold up to deliberative reflection (Dryzek
1996). For Cohen and Rogers (1983), the instrumental rationality of the capitalist organization of
society does not admit of the discussion of all affected, and the welfare of workers remains
structurally secondary to the welfare of business and capital who seek greater material gain. A
genuinely democratic order sets requirements on the structure of formal arenas of social
deliberation, and on the material background of those formal arenas (Cohen and Rogers 1983).
Beyond the 1990s and early 2000s, there has been limited discussion of how a deliberative
economy can function across nations, regions, city-regions, urban and rural spaces, in firms and
workplaces, in sectoral and collective bargaining, in public private partnerships, in industrial and
financial policies and regulations, in clustering and agglomerations, housing supply, wages and so
on. To be clear, there is a great deal of critical analysis motivated by democratic norms, but
relatively little empirical research or theoretical work that explicitly takes deliberative democracy
to be central to (economic) geography (Barnett and Low 2004). Of course, democracy plays a large
part in spatial/territorial construction, particularly the types of political architectures and policy
mechanisms that uphold private accumulation and contributes to displacement, poverty, and
inequality. A deliberative systems approach that seeks to increase opportunities for serious and
plural public debate, requires holding powerful actors accountable, is connected to institutional or
policy outcomes, and directly addresses structural social and economic inequalities through
transformative democratic strategies across space (Young 2004). One way to move forward is to
outline how economies vis-à-vis the division of labour are structured across space and time, and
then situate where they might benefit from alternative, inclusive, and overlapping, deliberative
Critical Geography and the Spatial Division of Labour
Critical economic geography builds upon heterodox (Marxist, Gramscian) interpretations
of the problems of economic, spatial, and political divisions of labour in capitalist society. A
common view is that the economy is mediated by power-filled social relations (Brenner 2004;
Massey 1995). In one sense, the starting point is that society depends on labour within capitalist
production, which is taken to be something social (Marx 1978). The implication is that at a
collective level, people are not simply relying on their own labour to survive. Moreover, the
division of labour in capitalism is tied to processes of social structure, social reproduction, and the
production of goods and services, across places and spaces. Thus, the division of labour consists
of productive processes and people within urban centres, suburbs, and rural areas. Inequality is
found within processes of production that materially rewards certain types of labour and
ownership, and variations in the distribution of standards of living, education, and types of areal
employment that cluster in unequal ways. Therefore, all labour (across geography) contributing to
the whole of society, demands in return some chosen level of social and political equality.
There is power inherent in the very different kinds of jobs done by those who work in
different regions, which means that geography matters because it affects the economic and social
trajectory of people across different parts of a country. Spatial divisions of labour forms of
economic uneven development are thorough (re)workings of the social relations which construct
economic space. The benefit of this perspective is that it looks to investigate the relations between
these underlying structures and their empirical form, investigating spatial forms of social
organization, dimensions of inequality and relations of domination and dependence. This means
that production is intimately tied to space and place, and the geographical distribution of economic
activity across a country is actively being structured through social processes, conflict, and
deliberation (Massey 1995).
The organization of industry is not simply a matter of inserting business in physical (ailing)
areas, but the entire strategy of how economic, social, educational, environmental activities are
spatially integrated. The spatial division of labour thus consists of geographical conglomeration
and separation of types of workers and managers, training and skills, employers and unions,
manufacturing/financial capital and industrial sectors that have changed with time and are still
influenced by historical patterns of production, development, and policy. The patterns of labour
distribution have shifted from hierarchical divisions within manufacturing to service and financial-
based sectors, and this has not only created new forms of inequality and gaps in employment within
regions traditionally attached to primary and secondary sectors, but it asks questions of whether
and how these gaps have or must be filled over time. It also asks what lengths society must take
toward a just transition.
Presently, carbon-based energy, banking, and finance, privatized or contracted-out public
services, and information technology constitute main motors of the economy but is associated with
steep differences in earnings and concentration of power (Crouch 2015). New geographies of jobs
include a decline in employment and relative income or manage to retain dynamic income and
employment creation (Iammarino et al. 2019). Thus, regions across the industrialized world face
potential development traps that require interventions to improve the living conditions of residents
(Diemer et al. 2022).
One issue is that economic geography has outlined different development trajectories but
has a circumscribed understanding of policymaking and institutionalism. Usefully, we have
learned that fiscal decentralization can help struggling localities and regions address economic
pitfalls, which means that a missing link in inequality across space and place is institutional quality
(Pose 2013). While diffusion mechanisms to the wider economy are needed for spreading
prosperity more equitably, institutions also play a role in shaping the conditions in which diversity
acts as a geographical productivity-enhancing public good, such that cities with strongly inclusive
institutions provide the base for immigrant diversity and cultural interaction (Kemeny and Cooke
2017). But we are missing accounts of how existing institutions and practices might become more
deliberative, which is relevant given the various democratic deficits (transparency, accountability,
inclusion) that representative and regulative decision-making bodies suffer from. This means there
is a gap in conceptualizing interconnections between political economy and participatory and
deliberative decision-making across space and place. Not just in any direction, but by identifying
emancipatory possibilities that involve normative legitimacy and political efficacy that accounts
for geographies of affectedness and through process in which democratic contention is usefully
embedded (Barnett 2014).
Considering that social relations are constructed within and across space, there are
opportunities to reimagine spatial politics and sectoral change, which takes the enduring
inequalities between places and regions as the motivation for deliberative problem-solving
concerning geographical divisions within the workforce and the economy. Who ends up informing
this change will determine the extent to which political-economic decision-making is democratic,
deliberative, and inclusive.
In so far as deliberative democracy and deliberative systems have a significant overlap with
this interpretation, it is how amorphous discursive spaces can develop within and across
geography. Thus, a deliberative system can overlap with existing or incipient geographical
processes, networks, institutions, the public sphere, and community fora. Moreover, what matters
is that there are inclusive forms of decision-making that entail elements of accountability and
transmission between deliberative processes and forums, which is not limited to stable imaginaries
regarding traditionally empowered institutions (Dryzek 2010). In some form, this needs to be
connected to the territorialization and reterritorialization of political-economic authority and,
spatial economic processes. Setting up this connection means bringing into focus how the division
of labour consists of political-economic deliberation and decision making at local, city-regional,
sub-regional, regional, national, and international levels.
Part of how the conversation can move forward is to historicize deliberative contexts, using
descriptive outlines of instantiations of power to situate the precise locations of how to transform
power and inequality. Periodization need not simply be a matter of recounting events without
normative implications, but rather appreciating how conjunctures lead to social transition and
transformation. If deliberative democracy does need a sufficiently theoretical and empirical
understanding of political and economy geography, it needs to appreciate how politics and
democracy co-evolves with respect to assemblages that regulate job placement, investment, public
infrastructure investment, labour market training, redistribution, anti-austerity measures, fostering
diversification that elevates the hinterlands, and various other public policies.
Appreciating Deliberative Systems through an Historical Outline of the Spatial
Division of Labour in Britain
Britain faces deep disparities of wealth, power, and social status across the country, with
some of the worst spatial inequalities across the OECD (McCann 2020). The inter/intra-
regional/local differentials include productivity, growth, income, employment, and assets. These
inequalities are further reflected in disparities in health, life expectancy, quality of work, and civic
engagement (Pabst 2021). The problem is that this has been the scenario since the post-war era.
The reality is that as one of the most unequal countries in the industrialized world for such an
extended period, the types of dislocation and disconnection that people’s lived experiences have
with political responses, contributes to a polarized geography of discontent as observed in Brexit.
Getting to the root of economic problems and establishing an empirical agenda for how a
deliberative system might address the spatial division of labour, requires an historical approach
that is able to empirically outline context specific features of spatial relations and the
territorialization of political power that influences economic life.
The spatial division of labour in the UK is based on regional sectoral specializations.
Spatial patterns of production combine and are mediated through public policy, region/nation-
based, social struggles in civil society (Massey 1995). Leading into the post-WWII era, traditional
industry in the North (Scotland, Wales, and Northern England) was shipbuilding, iron and steel,
heavy engineering, coal, cotton, jute, and woollen textiles. North in this conceptualization is meant
to capture a spatial power dynamic between centre and periphery, inner versus outer. The territorial
structure of the British economy was, and still is, demarcated by the most prosperous region of the
South and Southeast, and specifically London (Morgan 2008). The spatial organization of industry
and production shifted when international competition accelerated, and Britain as a world Empire
began its processes of decline and decolonization (Leys 1984). There was a marked political
transition away from certain types of economic development, i.e., shipbuilding and especially the
coalfields, which left vast number of labourers out of work. Unemployment and poverty radically
appreciated, along with the slow degradation of the manufacturing base (Rowthorn 1986).
Arguably, deindustrialization has never been properly rectified despite certain attempts at
regional industrial development. Patterns of spatial economic displacement required gaps to be
filled, and instead communities with strong working-class jobs, faced industrial dereliction, and
urban decline. The economic restructuring that did take place during the post-era experienced
several notable shifts, particularly in terms of the location and types of jobs along with where
investment occurred. British capitalism shifted to towards branch-plants and export-related
industry, fueled by international shifts in gas-powered manufacture. The location of branch-plants
had two features, one of labour, and one of management, with the location of the latter’s decision-
making functions located both in London and the Southeast, and in international headquarters.
There was a level of precarity involved in not having domestic rather than externally determined
economic development (Firn 1975). Simultaneously, levels of capital disinvestment took place
nationally (in R&D, upskilling and technological advancement), and moved internationally (in
equities and other capital markets), which is partly a result of the shift in power to the financial
sector backed by the Treasury. A second, and radical political-economic process took place
primarily in the 1980s, when the New Right and monetarism took root. Denationalization,
privatization, curbed spending, and austerity coincided with a strong transition towards the tertiary
For a comprehensive discussion of this section, see Vlahos (2020).
services-based sector, removing regulatory controls leading to the financialization of the economy
(Moran 1994). All of this overlapped with the fall of Bretton Woods, and the Europeanization of
transnational treaties and economic trade.
This means that capitalist development has involved the patterning of the organization of
the processes of production and the spatial distribution of these activities. It should be noted that
economic decline overlapped with a welfare regime that was significantly different than other parts
of Europe (McEwen 2002), and Britain’s public-private mixture heavily impacted
regional/nationalist and racial protest towards unequal standards of living. This spatial structure
was and still coincides with enduring, dismantled and newly established political and institutional
frameworks, where decisions and policies are implemented and/or enacted, much of which are
now under the banner of devolution agreements. As a result of this process, the UK has seen the
mobilization of strong nationalist movements, culminating in the regionalization of the state and
prospective secession of its respective nations on the horizon (Scotland in particular). This political
economic institutional trajectory interconnects to partisan and ideological attachments to how jobs,
investment and regional supports should be pursued. The decision-making matrix that oversees the
political economy in Britain consists of both centralized and decentralized structures in the nation’s
capital and within the various regions and nations that comprise the country. In Britain, this
centralization-decentralization divide revolves primarily around parliamentary sovereignty in
Westminster and its bureaucratic counterpart in Whitehall (Richards and Smith 2015).
At the same time, certain institutional supports were granted to local councils and regional
economic development organizations during the post-war era, largely supported by the Labour
Party. In the case of Scotland and Wales, their administratively decentralized Offices were fully
developed into devolved legislative assemblies at the end of the 20th century. In England, no such
political authority exists at the regional level to the same degree, making political and public policy
asymmetrically distributed. Nonetheless, English regional development agencies survived until
2010 when the Conservative-led coalition government shifted towards business-led partnerships.
Coinciding with a business-first agenda, new forms of institutional decision-making networks
were established under the banner of devolution. The current Conservative government’s regional
and local agenda is termed ‘levelling up’ the regions. Overall, the flagship infrastructure of the
Conservative’s has been Local Enterprise Partnerships, Business Improvement Districts, Devolved
Agreements, Combined Authorities, and the Northern Powerhouse. Much of the decision-making
infrastructure has lacked significant authority regarding revenue generation versus central grant-
in-aid dependency, which coincides with budget cuts and austerity measures, involves selective
policy responsibilities, and no coordinated regional/national planning and development strategy
(Shaw and Twedwr-Jones 2017).
Devolution, which is a form of decentralization that consists of degrees of distributed
authority over select jurisdictions (rather than being merely administrative), allows for a
redistribution of regional/sub-regional decision-making capacity without constitutional re-design.
Most of the decentralized and devolved partnerships that have unfolded over the past two decades
have been taking place at the city-regional level, in-between local and regional levels of political
activity. These contain the potential for significant deliberative subsidiarity. Yet, devolution of
powers exists to the degree that the centre still retains significant control over the national agenda,
and how much oversight and decision-making capacity it is willing to cede to sub-regional
arrangements regarding key economic portfolios. The centre primarily controls policies
concerning fiscal policy and taxation, monetary policy and currency, and the inter-regional grants
(Barnett) formula. The UK’s structure of government revenue generation ranks low compared to
other OECD countries which impacts public investment and fiscal support for weaker places and
is compounded by how intraregional inequality stunts local growth (Carrascal-Incera et al. 2020).
Simultaneously, devolved arrangements do represent new forms of decision-making, with
different degrees of public and private inclusion in developing economic and spatial plans (Beel
et al. 2018). Still, analyses have noted limited public involvement as well as demographic under-
representation in devolved arrangements and negotiations, and a more powerful role given to
business organizations (Lowndes and Sullivan 2004).
This case-study briefly outlines the relationship between economic geographies of
disadvantage and its implications on people across space and place, along with how decision-
making at productive and legislative levels operate. Recent British elections have highlighted a
commitment to addressing uneven development via new funding vehicles like Towns Funds,
Community Renewal Fund, and a Levelling Up Fund, which suggests a new economic geography
settlement. Yet, academics still note the limited spatial or regional and industrial strategy, and how
money is allocated disproportionately across constituencies (Leyshon 2021). By contrast, there are
calls for an inclusive devolution process with more fiscal powers, including extended county deals,
regional tier government, further economic powers to city regions and non-metropolitan areas, a
reformed central-local relationship, as well as granting authority beyond political leaders at
different policy/political scales, and mobilizing the opportunity for something more deliberative
and participatory (Bua et al. 2017).
Ultimately, political organization is important to the political economy of the spatial
division of labour because it contains the decision-making power that controls the geographical
distribution of growth and is important to be designed in a more distributed way (Coyle and Sensier
2016). The public wants to be put in the driving seat for decisions about levelling up and how
government money is used (Glover and Phillips 2021). Thus, there is the need for a deliberative
system that is coordinated and inclusive of public decision-making. Such a system will require
expansive deliberative inputs into existing institutional arrangements, along with the creation of
new arrangements, all of which focus on problem-solving, justification and collective agreement.
Nonetheless, we need to reflect on the reality that devolution does not automatically lead to more
democracy. It can reinforce inequalities if democratic renewal does not go beyond administrative
practices. Going beyond the status quo democratic institutional framework requires settings in
which citizens come together to learn, discuss in formative, open, fair interactive processes and
outcomes be taken seriously, but it also means that structured forums are not the only forms of
democratic expression and aspiration needed (Ercan and Hendriks 2013).
The polysemy of the notion of participation and deliberation means that formalized
procedures in policy processes might not be congruent with democratic aspirations where the
bureaucratization of participation does not extend engagement beyond basic requirements, along
with dissimilar ideological applications of public decision-making devices (Papadopoulous and
Warrin 2007). Here, participatory, and deliberative subsidiarity might not automatically mean that
substantive communication is placed at the heart of politics, which highlights the need for
alternative forms of participation in power struggles and redistributive politics. Embracing this
tension means soliciting diverse forms of public involvement that can cumulatively alter the
existing model of capitalism.
Discussion: Thinking about Where Public Deliberation is Needed to Address the
Spatial Division of Labour
While an objective of deliberative democracy is to pursue public empowerment, this paper
has inserted political economy, and specifically geography, into the conversation. A deliberative
systems approach in this interpretation recognizes that unequal labour is spread across places and
spaces, which is impacted by decision-making that overlaps with asymmetrical layers of political
activity. What is needed then is a specific spatial and integrated orientation for the deliberative
system to solve economic problems. This means supplying various public fora with distributive,
coordinating authority, over geographical spaces, and in connection to multiple repertoires of local,
devolved and national spatial capacities and responsibilities.
Economic theory advocates for building agglomeration economies because of the benefits
accrued to places due to the clustering of diverse economic activities. However, this lacks a social
dimension (Ettlinger 2007). If we were to design a spatially inclusive economic democracy, we
must recognize that markets fail on their own. Thus, democratic reforms and innovations are
required to establish new societal goals that pursue both social and environmental justice. The goal
is not only to generate more growth but challenge existing frameworks and how capitalism works,
which includes alternative economic models. To achieve these goals there is a need for active
measures that improve the democratic legitimacy of collective decisions not only within
institutions but also within the public sphere.
A deliberative political economic system will have to encompass local, city-regional,
regional, and national level (as well as inter/supranational) considerations and be aimed at
addressing the endemic concentration of power and wealth. The specific layers of deliberative
activity and decision-making will need to involve at least three discussions, building on Thorpe
and Gaventa (2020). The following are meant to be illustrative of a broader need for normative
and empirical investigation into how we can make it more possible to deliberate about the
economy, economic development, and economic governance. The focus here is less on the
democratization of work or worker-driven supply chain governance. While vital to the agenda,
these are being extensively discussed elsewhere. Moreover, there is a need to go beyond only
collective action in the realm of paid employment, to develop a fuller and deeper sense of
democracy in the broader economy (Cumbers et al. 2019).
i. Land planning and development (both private and public investment in infrastructure).
Private and speculative development at the local level has a direct impact on affordability
and standards of living. Planning in England specifically through the Localism Act 2011
introduced neighbourhood planning and forums comprising citizens which sets out measures
with the potential to shift power from the centre to local levels. Impacts for community
governance are still being examined but there is a need for involvement at early stages of
planning to have an impact on how places develop. Planning has hardly changed over
decades but there is a push to move away from corporate-driven interventions in cities with
more socially inclusive solutions. For example, Newcastle City Futures has developed a
collaborative platform for cross-sectoral projects for a future vision of the city, which is a
former industrial hub facing socio-economic challenges. This builds upon the Urban Living
Labs model that seeks to facilitate interactions between end users and private actors. In the
case of Newcastle, anchor institution and local universities serve as an intermediary for civic
engagement activities (Vallance et al. 2020).
ii. Social economies/enterprises (including community finance and wealth building). If we aim
to base the economy on civic relations, we use reciprocity as the moral foundation for making
exchanges, using civic conversations to ensure economic systems are more redistributive
(Brown 2020). In a more participatory economy, there is social ownership of the productive
commons, involving open-source networks, co-learning communities, artistic commons,
community economic development, community land trusts, and cooperative finance
institutions. This is connected to decommodifed deliberation and participation that sees the
public taking control of the provisioning of basic needs rather than debt driven lending and
production (Vlahos 2023). The Next Systems project and the Democracy Collaborative are
examples of this being pursued successfully in the UK via Preston’s inclusive social
procurement, decent work and living wage practices (Bollier 2016).
iii. Sectoral and industrial development (including jobs training and education) and balance
versus financial clustering and agglomeration and public ownership. Developing alternative
and more democratic economic structures will require a more spatially balanced industrial
strategy, but also, new and diverse forms of public ownership that overlap with privately
owned firms. This would include developing a political economy in which decision-making
powers and knowledge formation are functionally and geographically dispersed among
different actors rather than concentrated. Enterprises in economic democracy differ because
people have different types of rights in how decisions can be made, who gets a share in
profits and where capital investment is allocated and controlled. Public refers to both state
and collective ownership and non-state forms like cooperatives and worker owned
enterprises. Publicly owned industries operate in contradistinction to private equity firms
and scan serve distributional justice across territory. (Cumbers 2021). In addition, going
beyond traditional sectors that only supply a growth regime, like R&D technology or high
value-added exports for national competitiveness, there is a need to mobilize social
innovation agendas in the foundational economy like health, education, and food services
which employ 40% of the workforce but low wage (Bentham et al. 2013).
iv. Monetary and fiscal policy (including debt, taxes, unemployment, currency, and financial
regulation). The neoliberal push to insulate markets from democratic control is a large factor
in the current state of inequality in capitalist democracies. Here, democratizing finance
means configuring it in a way that it avoids reproducing income and wealth disparity by only
enabling the powerful to borrow money at favourable rates for investment. In one way this
requires altering forms of credit and financing for education and business, but it also means
subjecting institutions that provide financing to democratic input and accountability (Block
2022). There are adjacent considerations being discussed in terms of how taxpayer dollars
can be spent using democratic innovations like the TaxTrack conceptual model (Vlahos
These elements of the economy are important for addressing the spatial division of labour.
As noted, they also traditionally align with levels of state political activity (locally, sub-regionally,
regionally, and nationally). Systemically, there is an ongoing need to reveal the potential inducers
of empowered connectivity that can stitch parts of a system together in a meaningful way
(Mendonça 2013). However, as argued here, for a deliberative system to achieve what is arguably
its primary objective, which is attenuate the inequality generated by the spatial division of labour
in capitalism, it must (re)integrate democratic politics and economics across geography. For Bua
and Bussu (2020), embedding the economy in civic decision-making structures requires
democracy-driven governance, which consists of liminal processes that straddle between social
mobilization and political institutions. Here, the ability to get things done within and across places
and spaces requires network structuration (Bakker et al. 2012), where regional civic
‘confederacies’, or entities can connect local and national citizen involved initiatives and
governance across places and spaces to a larger project (Horlings 2018). Achieving the
prioritization of public, rather than primarily private interests and goods will require accountable
forms of discretionary autonomy that avoid the capture of enclave power reinforcement (Fung
2004). The terms and formation of these processes are up for discussion, and the research agenda
presented here encourages further normative and empirical conversations about how to address the
spatial division of labour through participation and deliberation in economic matters.
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