Dr. Dannica Fleuss
Research Fellow / Lecturer


My research in political theory deals with conceptualisations of democratic legitimacy. I particularly focus on deliberative democracy and consider the role of society-wide argumentative exchanges for democratic quality. These theoretical enquiries are complemented by empirical studies that measure political systems' deliberative quality and assess the impacts and contributions of deliberation in democratic policy-making.

Theoretical and empirical research should complement each other and normative theorising must do justice to ever changing societal contexts. Determining the precise relationship of theoretical and empirical findings poses serious challenges. I am applying philosophy of science-concepts to address these challenges.

Research interests

Theories of political legitimacy

Theoretical and empirical research on deliberative systems

Philosophy of science

Measurement of deliberative quality

Critical theory with a focus on Jürgen Habermas

Political philosophy of liberalism, Kantianism, and proceduralism

Digitalization-induced challenges for democratic societies


Let's Democratize Theorizing About Democracy: Conversation Starters for Democratic Renewal

In recent years, Western democracies’ legitimacy has been heavily under attack. On the one hand, declining public support and rising citizen distrust or apathy vis-à-vis representative democratic institutions  point towards peoples’ estrangement from political elites. In consequence, many scholars demand to strengthen peoples’ voice and to implement more means for bottom-up participation. At the same time, increasing political complexity is associated with the rise populist and post-truth politics. These developments inspired scholars to propose “expertocratic” models of democratic governance and to strengthen the role of experts in political decision-making. 

Democratic politics depend on citizen participation, trust and support. While this support in democratic institutions and political elites is declining, public and scholarly discourse frequently suggests counteracting the challenge by strengthening the role of experts in political decision-making, yet such reform proposals convey a paternalistic threat that contravenes fundamental democratic principles.

Proposing an alternative, ‘radical proceduralist’ understanding of democratic legitimacy and institutional reform, Radical Proceduralism argues that there is no such thing as ‘political truth’ or ‘correctness’ that could justify experts wielding political power. Rather, the only criterion for democratic legitimacy is the fair and equal inclusion of all affected citizens.

Radical Proceduralism bridges the gap between political philosophy and practical institutional experimentation asking us to bring citizens back in and to engage them in a dialogue about ‘the rules of the democratic game’ and proposing institutional devices that figure as ‘conversation starters’ and facilitate such dialogues. 


Praise for the book

“Dannica Fleuss calls on us to resist the lure of epistocracy, in favour of a radical proceduralism that trusts in the collective capacity of citizens to govern their societies. In this powerful and provocative book, she reinvigorates democratic theory and restores faith in democratic politics.” 

William Smith, The Chinese University of Hong Kong


“Dannica Fleuß attacks her subject with a philosophical precision that is grounded in an awareness of the importance of context. But rather than meekly giving in to coext and saying ‘it depends’, she boldly grasps the proceduralist horn of the democratic legitimacy dilemma. Her arguments will be important for anyone wanting to do serious, thoughtful work on legitimacy, democracy and expertise.

John Parkinson, Maastricht University

"What is the role of the political theorist?, Dannica Fleuss asks. The answer, given through a detailed and comprehensive explanation of radical proceduralism (an impressive collation and analysis of literature that stands on its own as an original contribution), is to embrace humility, to understand oneself as an equal member of one's local community(ies), and to ultimately deliver the role of the interpreter, of guild master, to one or more procedures of democracy. It is not for the theorist to control the substance of a community's focus but rather to "start and facilitate open ended conversations [...] not to deliver their conclusion". Fleuss offers political theorists a way out of the cloister, a thoroughly justified and well-argued position for getting one's hands dirty, a professional destiny that sees one's place of work as not the lecture theatre, nor cluttered desk, but rather the street, the dining table, the cafe, the online forum, and countless other spaces and places where so many of us meet, greet, talk and continue figuring out our place in the world and what we want from this life.”

Jean-Paul Gagnon, University of Canberra


In a nutshell, I argue that we must 'democratise' not only political decision-making, but also the design of institutions - and make political norms and institutions a subject of citizen deliberation and contestation. 

!! Let's democratise democratic theory: Forthcoming projects will be devoted to integrating 'lay citizens' perspectives into normative theorising! 


Research project: Bridging theory and method in measuring macro level deliberativeness: a systemic framework 

Democratic deliberation is not only relevant for democratic theorists. Increasingly, measures of democracy try to integrate this fluid and emergent phenomenon and attempt to examine the deliberative performance of states. Up until now, there is no comprehensive approach that measures not only the quality within deliberative fora, but also the connection between them and their integration in the political system as a whole. 

Democratic deliberation is not only relevant for democratic theorists. Increasingly, measures of democracy try to integrate this fluid and emergent phenomenon and attempt to examine the deliberative performance of states. Up until now, there is no comprehensive approach that measures not only the quality within deliberative fora, but also the connection between them and their integration in the political system as a whole.  

Based on conceptualisations of systemic deliberative theory (Habermas, Dryzek, Mansbridge), the research project fills this gap and combines deliberative theory and the measurement of deliberation to develop an instrument for assessing and comparing nation states’ deliberative quality.


Core publications 

**Fleuß, D. & Helbig, K. (2021): Measuring Nation States' Deliberative Quality: Systematic Challenges, Methodological Pitfalls, and Strategies for Upscaling the Measurement of Deliberation. In: Political Studies 69(2), 307-325.

**Gagnon, J-P. & Fleuß, D. (2020): The Case for Extending Measures of Democracy in the World. 'Beneath', 'Above', and 'Outside' the National Level. In: Political Geography (online first). 

**Esau, K., Fleuß, D., & Nienhaus, S.-M. (2020): Different Deliberative Arenas, Different Deliberative Quality? Using a Systemic Framework to Evaluate Online Deliberations on Immigration Policy in Germany. Policy & Internet 13(1), 86-112. 

**Fleuß, D., Helbig, K. & Schaal, G.S. (2018): Four Parameters for Measuring Democratic Deliberation: Theoretical and Methodological Challenges and How to Respond.” In: Politics and Governance,6(1), 11-21. 

*Fleuß, D. (2019): “Zur Balance von Transparenz und Verborgenheit: das komplementäre Verhältnis von öffentlicher und nicht- öffentlicher Kommunikation in Jürgen Habermas‘ Demokratietheorie.” [Balancing Transparency and Secrecy. The Relationship Between Public and  Non-Public Communication in Habermas’s Democratic Theory.] In: „Staat und Geheimnis – Der Kampf um die (Un)Sichtbarkeit der Macht“. (Ed.: Jörn Knobloch). Baden-Baden: Nomos,  115-140. 


Presentations and Working Papers

Fleuß, D. & Schaal, G.S. (2018): The Integrity of Deliberative Procedures – A Research Agenda for Measuring Deliberative  Quality with a Systemic Framework. Working paper, presented at IPSA World Congress 2018, Brisbane. 

Fleuß, D. & Helbig, K. (2018): Measuring the Embeddedness of Democratic Innovations and Representative Democracy with a Systemic Framework. The degree of transmissions as an indicator for the problem-solving potential of democratic innovations. Working paper, presented at the ECPR Joint Sessions 2018, University of Nicosia.

"'Flows of Communication‘ in Deliberative Systems: A Theory-Driven Concept of Transmissions for Evaluating Democratic Innovations“ - Presentation, ECPR General Conference, Panel „Democratic Innovations and the Systems Turn“, Wroclaw, September 5, 2019.

"Let’s Talk About It: Reconciling Deliberative and Populist Analyses of Democratic Discourses“ - Presentation, ECPR General Conference, Panel „Deliberative Democracy and Populism“, Wroclaw, September 6, 2019. (with Saskia P. Ruth-Lovell)

"Assessing Transmissions: An Empirical Framework for Evaluating Democratic Innovations’ Impact on Collectively-Binding Decision-Making“ - Presentation, ECPR General Conference, Panel „Evaluating Democratic Innovations“, Wroclaw, 6. September 2019. (with Christoph Deppe)

“Evaluating Deliberative Procedures from a Systemic Perspective. Different Participatory Arenas, Different Deliberative Quality?”  - Presentation, Workshop “Political Online Participation and its Effects: Theory, Measurement & Results”, Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, November 20, 2018. (with Katharina Esau)

“Measuring Democratic Deliberation at the Macro Level: Addressing Conceptual and Methodological Challenges with a Systemic Framework” - Guestlecture, Leuphana-University Lüneburg, Centre for the Study of Democracy (ZDEMO), November 13, 2018.

 



Previous research project participations

2015: Research Assistant, Research Project “Wie zentral ist die Mitte? Mittelschichtsdiskurse und wohlfahrtsstaatlicher Politikwandel im internationalen Vergleich“ (Funding DFG, directed by Prof. Michael Haus, University of Heidelberg)

2014: Research Assistant, Research Project “Regulation and Self-Regulation” (Field of Focus 4 at the University of Heidelberg).

2012: Research Assistant, Research Project “Problemdiskurse in Städten” (Funding DFG, directed by Prof. Michael Haus, University of Heidelberg).

2008-2009: Research Assistant, Interdisciplinary Project “Human Dignity” (Institute for Philosophy at the University of Heidelberg).