Designing for Democracy: How to Build Community in Digital Environments

Designing for Democracy: How to Build Community in Digital Environments


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Designing for Democracy addresses the question of how to “fix” digital technologies for democracy by examining how the design of the built environment (whether streets, sidewalks, or social media platforms) informs how, and whether, citizens can engage in democratic practices. “Democratic spaces”—built environments that support democratic politics—must have three characteristics: they must be clearly bounded, durable, and flexible. Each corresponds to a necessary democratic practice. Clearly bounded spaces make it easier to recognize what we share and with whom we share; they help us form communities. Durable spaces facilitate our attachments to the communities they house and the other members within them; they help us sustain communities. And flexible spaces facilitate the experimental habits required for democratic politics; they help us improve our communities. These three practices—recognition, attachment, and experimentalism—are the affordances a built environment must provide in order to be a “democratic space”; they are the criteria to which designers and users should be attentive when building and inhabiting the spaces of the built environment, both physical and digital. Using this theoretical framework, Designing for Democracy provides new insights into the democratic potential of digital technologies. Through extended discussions of examples like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, it suggests architectural responses to problems often associated with digital technologies—loose networks, the “personalization of politics,” and “echo chambers.” In connecting the built environment, digital technologies, and democratic theory, Designing Democracy provides blueprints for democracy in a digital age.



Publication Date



Oxford University Press


Oxford, United Kingdom


democracy, social media, political theory, online communities, communities, digital technologies


Models and Methods | Other Political Science | Political Theory

Designing for Democracy: How to Build Community in Digital Environments