Theory with Comparative Intent
Democracy, Agency, and the State aims to contribute to a comparatively informed theory of democracy. Professor O'Donnell begins by arguing that conceptions of 'the state' and 'democracy', and their respective defining features, significantly influence each other. Using an approach that is both historical and analytical, he traces this relationship through the idea of legally sanctioned and backed agency which grounds democratic citizenship. From this
standpoint he explores several aspects of the democratic regime and of the state, distinguishing four constitutive dimensions (bureaucracy, legality, focus of collective identity, and filter). He goes on to examine
the role played by the idea of 'the nation' or 'the people', and the ways in which the state represents itself to different sections of society, especially in countries marred by deep inequality and pervasive poverty. Drawing on the examples of democratic and non-democratic regime, he discusses the dialogical spaces congenial to democracy, as well as examining the options that may or may not enable agency, and the complex comparative and ethical issues raised by the intersection of agency with
globalization and legal pluralism.Throughout these discussions several comparative vistas are opened, especially but not exclusively toward Latin America. The book concludes by offering a justification
of democracy, even of the flawed democracies that nowadays abound.