Recent studies on democracy often emphasize a paradox: as the number of democracies in the world continues to rise (from 39 in 1974 to 90 in 2008), citizens' satisfaction for "actual democracies" has been decreasing. In order to make sense of this apparent contradiction one must distinguish between different concepts of democracy. "Liberal" democracy is based on the assumption that there exist identities that were shaped before the initiation of the democratic process and that the latter's only goal is to safeguard such identities' free interplay. "Participatory" democracy also assumes the existence of collective interests that are external to the democratic system, but it acknowledges conflict and promotes forms of citizen involvement that go beyond voting. On the other hand, "deliberative" democracy, in its many variants, focuses on how preferences are formed within democratic institutions: democracy does not coincide with the principle according to which the majority prevails over the minority, but rather aims to provide opportunities for discussion and changing one's mind, or at the very least acknowledge the legitimacy of others' opinions, in public debate.
Donatella della Porta teaches Sociology at the European University Institute in Florence.