Deliberative or Performative? Constitutional Reform and the Politics of Public Engagement in New Zealand

Shore, Cris and Williams, David. 2018. Deliberative or Performative? Constitutional Reform and the Politics of Public Engagement in New Zealand. In: Ron Levy; Hoi Kong; Graeme Orr and Jeff King, eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Deliberative Constitutionalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 989-1033. ISBN 9781108289474 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

A key assumption that shapes debates over deliberative constitutionalism is the idea that ‘deliberation’ versus the wielding political power based upon partisan influence somehow represent different poles of the constitutional-deliberative coin. This dualism is problematic. While the term ‘deliberation’ means careful consideration and purposeful and dispassionate decision-making, its adjectival form ‘deliberate’ may also imply ‘calculated’, ‘premeditated’ and ‘controlled’. How democracies deliberate is arguably an empirical and political question rather than a theoretical or normative one. This paper sets out to explore these themes in the context of New Zealand, a country that has had three major constitutional deliberations since 2005. Framed by government as ‘national conversations’ on ‘the future of New Zealand’, these include two initiatives aimed at engaging the public’s views on constitutional reform and a recent consultation over proposals to change the national flag. What is striking about these popular constitutional initiatives, however, is the lack of public engagement or serious government interest. We argue that these ‘non-event’ deliberations highlight one of the key challenges for deliberative constitutionalism: how to prevent instrumentalism and performativity from overshadowing the substantive.

In developing our argument we draw on anthropological fieldwork on the role of the Crown in New Zealand and the Commonwealth. As we aim to show, the New Zealand case study highlights yet another problem for deliberative constitutionalism in practice: the difficulties of creating a meaningful public consultation when the main terms of reference (‘Crown’ and ‘Constitution’) are so ambiguous, amorphous and poorly understood.

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April 2018Published

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14 Oct 2020 11:16

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11 Jun 2021 01:02


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