Participatory Society

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Michael Albert and Robin Hanhel's theory of Participatory Economics (parecon) and Stephen Shalom's theory of Participatory Polity propose complementary visions for a Participatory Society. They and other scholars have collaborated and elaborated on this vision in a number of works, often on the website ZNet.


The Participatory Society would aims for "an end to systematic violation of women, gays, children, and the elderly."[1] Moving beyond the norm of the patriarchal family, parents would evenly share parenting labor and people would live in a variety of individual and collective living arrangements according to their preferences. People of all ages could engage in consensual sex without stigma.[2]

The Participatory Society would value cultural diversity and local autonomy, with communities federating into intercommunal networks that seek to abolish hierarchies based on religion, and ethnicity, and "race."[3]


In Participatory Polity, nested councils make decisions, striving for consensus and resorting to majority vote when consensus is not reached. From the the local councils upward, councils send immediately recallable, rotating delegates to coordinate affairs among regions. Delegates are not mandated to vote for the position favored by their council, since such an arrangement would prevent them from reaching a more informed decision based on deliberation with members from other councils. The higher councils only vote on relatively non-controversial matters. When there is a close vote, or when enough lower councils demand it, matters are returned to the lower councils for a vote. Each council above the local level has a council court, made of randomly-selected, rotating citizens, who overrule decisions they deem in violation of the rights of minorities.[4]


In Participatory Economics (Parecon), workers' councils and consumers' councils would coordinate with each other in order to optimally allocate materials to workplaces and goods to consumers. Workers' councils would ensure that each worker has an interesting variety of tasks and rotation between workplaces, called a balanced job complex. Workers would be remunerated based on their effort and sacrifice.[5]


Parecon theorists do not agree on specific pedagogical methods, but Michael Albert elaborates on the general goals of education in parecon:

Students should be assisted to discover their capacities and potentials, explore them, and fulfill them, while simultaneously becoming broadly confident and able to think, reason, argue, and assess in ways needed to function effectively among socially aware and caring adults.[6]


A variety of mechanisms in Parecon would allow people to structure an ecological society if they desired one. Michael Albert explains:

In sum then, parecon removes capitalism’s accumulation drive for corporate profit which compels behavior that hurts and even decimates other species. It puts in its place a concern for human well-being and development that doesn’t forcefully a priori preclude harming other species, but which is receptive to and respectful of governmental or other social or ecological restraints on behalf of other species. If other species had votes, in other words, they would vote for parecon.[7]


The Participatory Society would aim first and foremost to get rid of the poverty and alienation that drive people to engage in anti-social activities. Albert writes:

So, in a parecon, equitable social roles and the socially generated values of solidarity and self-management, plus stable and just conditions, all make it unnecessary for people to try to enhance their lives through crime. To deter crime rooted in pathology, or to deal with social violations stemming from jealousy or other persistent phenomena, a good society would of course want to have fair adjudication and sensible practices that continually reduce, rather than aggravate, the probability of further violations.[8]

Michael Albert and Stephen Shalom argue that there a Participatory Society still be some limited police force and that this force will operate according to the Parecon structure and be accountable to the participatory political system.[9]


Albert proposes the formation within capitalist society of workers' councils, consumers' councils, and aligned radical organizations that would collaboratively wage "non-reformist struggles." In such struggles, people fight for short-term gains while educating people about the larger vision of a radically transforming society.[10] He elaborates:

There will be pareconist efforts to win immediate reforms, and then more reforms, and still more reforms, but all these efforts will not only continually respect the limits and contexts of current conditions, but also self-consciously lead toward future revolutionary goals.[11]

Neighboring Societies

  1. Michael Albert, Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism (London: Zed Books, 2006), 35.
  2. Albert, Realizing Hope, 36.
  3. Albert, Realizing Hope, 44-49.
  4. Stephen R. Shalom, "A Political System for a Good Society," ZNet, 31 December 2008,
  5. Michael Albert, Parecon: Life After Capitalism,
  6. Albert, Realizing Hope, 96.
  7. Albert, Realizing Hope, 76.
  8. Albert, Realizing Hope, 127.
  9. Albert, Realizing Hope, 29.
  10. Albert, Realizing Hope, 138.
  11. Albert, Realizing Hope, 139.