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Towards Voice in the Public Sphere – Deliberation and Innovation in Muslim Participation
Jenny Eschweiler

Last modified: 2012-10-19


The current interest in social innovations stems from two insights: First, that innovations meet pressing social demands directed at or expressed by vulnerable groups. This is the outcome perspective. Secondly, they create new social relationships that should meet certain standards of democratic governance and participation by involving and empowering citizens. Similar to the democratising potential generally ascribed to civil society, the process perspective on social innovation opens a view on society as a participatory arena, equipped to integrate the pluralist voices and concerns of the various constituencies in contemporary democracies and creating more active citizenship in civil society. A crucial aspect of social innovation is its embeddedness in a social-political process that can be either, supportive or obstructive.

The proposed paper offers deeper insights in the process dimension of social innovation in their political context, based on my PhD thesis submitted earlier this year. A study of Muslim civil society participation in deliberative venues and cooperation with local administration in Berlin, guided by an interest in Muslim civil society organisations as agents of social change sheds light on the inter-relatedness of internal and external process dimensions on innovation outcomes: Involvement in deliberative processes contributes to Muslim civil society organisations in Berlin addressing group-specific needs and gaining a voice in the public sphere. This is particularly interesting considering the largely negative public discourse on Muslim integration in Germany. It also outlines the learning process both inside administration and organisations, investigating how deliberation and advocacy of ‚social innovators’, but also representatives of the Berlin administration, has paved the way for more inclusive and participatory integration policy approaches.

The theoretical framework for this research consists of normative theories like deliberative democracy theory based on Jürgen Habermas and aspects of citizenship in the spirit of Hannah Arendt, as well as insights from social movement theory and new theory of representation. The empirical insights are based on qualitative interviews with Muslim organisations and policy makers in different districts of Berlin. Analysis shows how initial top-down nurturing and the institutionalisation of deliberative process can stimulate organisational innovation and participation, provided innovative processes follow certain procedural requirements that strengthen Muslim civil society in their advocacy skills and networking, helping them to gain voice in public discourse on integration. It also shows to what extent process and outcomes of innovation still depend on individuals, both inside administration and civil society organisations, making the case for the institutionalisation of deliberative and participatory procedures.

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