Democracy as Revisability

Organizations trying to make a better world from the bottom up often try to “prefigure” the just, democratic society they aim to bring about. They reason that, if their organization itself is not truly just and democratic today, it won’t be able to create a just and democratic society in the future. But what does it mean for an organization to be ‘truly’ democratic? Anarchist-inspired movements, like the Occupy Movement, experiment with a perhaps extreme form of democracy – democracy as revisability – whereby all norms and hierarchies are open to critique and revision by any community member at any moment. This form of democracy maximizes respect for individual (negative) liberty, as it refuses to bind individuals with rules they themselves do not accept. The most common critique of this understanding of democracy is that it makes getting things done impossible, since we need to be able to rely on complex layers of norms and hierarchies to effectively coordinate to achieve social goods and expand our options for action (positive liberty). This research project explores whether internet communication technologies can be intentionally designed to permit the simultaneous achievement of democratic revisability and effective coordination, drawing on an ethnography of an online democratic organization.


Shanahan, Genevieve. (2021, July). Democracy as revisability: The role of internet communication technologies in defining the ‘current version of the truth. 37th European Group for Organizational Studies Colloquium (EGOS), Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Shanahan, Genevieve. (2020, June). The local prefiguration of a global sustainable food system: Reconciling radical democracy and scale through technology. 4th Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI) Conference, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Shanahan, Genevieve. (2020, January). Defining the ‘current version of the truth’ while maintaining provisionality in prefigurative organizing. CleRMa workshop, Université Clermont Auvergne, France.