Liberal Democracy

Crafting liberal democracy through self-determination: the case of women’s health care choices  (Elise Richter Project, 2019 – 2023, FWF V-761 ).

A central component of any liberal-democratic and modern social order is the orientation towards the value of self-determination, which enables the individual to shape collective action through autonomy, plurality and protest. The project deals with one of the key dimensions of self-determination – the public debate on health choices – and focuses specifically on women’s health. While patient participation in decisions on health measures is increasingly taken for granted, public debates on home birth or refusal of mammography screening highlight the need to better understand the relationship between self-determination and the references to emotions through which self-determination is articulated in public controversies. With its analytical focus on concrete references to emotions in public debates and its interdisciplinary approach, CLIDE is the first project in political science to provide an interpretative study of self-determination.

The CLIDE project conceives of liberal democracy as a political order that posits democratic decision-making processes as value-free, but nevertheless contributes values to public debate by legitimizing some references to emotions as „rational“ and stigmatizing others as „irrational“. While emotions of some actors are presented and accepted as legitimate in public debates, others are discarded or considered irrelevant. Building on critical policy studies and cultural sociology, the CLIDE project suggests that in order to understand the current affirmation and rejection of the liberal-democratic paradigm, we need a new way of understanding self-determination: as framed, controlled, and challenged by special references to emotions in public debates. The project therefore proposes the investigation of self-determination through the interpretative analysis of emotions.

CLIDE will provide material from two particular controversies – the debate on home birth in France (since 2013) and the rejection of mammography screening in Austria (since 2014). Document analysis, media review, expert interviews and biographical-narrative interviews are used to filter out specific references to emotions in these questions. This methodological approach enables to reveal how concrete points of view and practices are framed as „rational“/“irrational“ or „legitimate“/“illegitimate“ in the debate. With this rich set of data, the project focuses on the discursive capacity of references to emotions to legitimize collective action. The analysis re-orients the understanding of self-determination in the liberal democratic paradigm. CLIDE combines the policy-oriented research focus of the host institution with the academic expertise of the researcher in the fields of health, sociology of emotions, and public policy in order to conduct innovative analyses in current areas of health care and at the same time provide up-to-date empirical material for the pressing discussion about the future of liberal democracy.