The Disenfranchisement Complaint

Kielty, Colin, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
White, Stephen, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Balfour, Katharine, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Rubenstein, Jennifer, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Wahl, Rachel, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

This dissertation develops disenfranchisement as a conceptual and normative rubric for analyzing democratic injustice extending well beyond the ballot box. Unlike the conventional stock of terms scholars use to describe the condition of normative injury (from exclusion and exploitation to oppression and, especially, domination) disenfranchisement captures a species of disempowerment that is distinctively objectionable in democratic contexts but that can be obscured by these alternative complaints. This dissertation, accordingly, first situates disenfranchisement alongside its competitor concepts to clarify and motivate its meaning and appeal. Second, the dissertation develops a broader meaning for the notion of enfranchisement, the normative aspiration that inspires disenfranchisement complaints and that is at once more general and more robust than vote possession alone. Third, the dissertation shows how an analytic framework centered on disenfranchisement can illuminate non-electoral domains of political life. To show this, the dissertation reinterprets “deliberative democracy” as just one expression of the disenfranchisement framework (responding to specifically “discursive disenfranchisement”); reconceives the political public sphere as a site where attention, and not just discourse, is a medium of political involvement such that citizens can be “attentionally disenfranchised”; and similarly recasts political memory as a field of contestation in which citizens can demand democratic involvement and can also complain about being “mnemonically disenfranchised.”

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
disenfranchisement, domination, republicanism, deliberation, digital technology, Habermas, memory, attention, archive
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