Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsBuilt in 1727, Teatro Valle, literally the Valley Theatre, has an important place in the cityscape of Rome. It is a beautiful theatre located a few streets away from Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. Teatro Valle also stands at the centre of Italian and European cultural identity. It is the oldest Italian theatre. It was one of the first public theatres in Europe. It is the stage where Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author was first performed some 90 years ago. Rossini, Donizetti, but also many other great Italian contemporary authors have performed here. In 2011, Teatro Valle redefined the role of culture in public life, and de facto, the link between culture and politics.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 secondsOn June 13, 2011, Italian citizens in a referendum declared water to be a common good. A day later, more than 100 artists, directors, and technicians stated that culture is also a common good. It should neither be governed by a public institution, nor should it be private. In response to the risk of privatisation, budget cuts, and an uncertain future, they occupied the theatre. Teatro Valle became Teatro Valle Bene Comune, Theatre of the Commons. The goal was, therefore, to establish a theatre open to citizens. The theatre becomes a place where citizens are able to enact, articulate, and deliberate new ideas and values about public life. The theatre also becomes a laboratory for new ideas about participatory democracy.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 secondsIt imagines new forms of self-governance and non-hierarchical decision making, based on public assemblies, consensus, and deliberation. The story of Teatro Valle ended with the occupants leaving the theatre in 2014. But for us, the event provides a good discussion point. The question that we should answer first is the role of aesthetics in politics. Political imaginaries, nation states, for instance, are represented and legitimised through aesthetic productions in ceremonies, symbols, paintings. Think of the role of Wagner or Verdi in German or Italian nation building. At the same time, aesthetics reminds us that political imaginaries are not stable or permanent. Theatre, paintings, or street art challenge the established forms of political representation and expose power relations behind them.

Skip to 3 minutes and 2 secondsArt can become a new space of public interaction and articulate new forms of political representation. In that sense, Teatro Valle is essential for our debate on democracy in a post-national polity. Now pause for a bit and think about Teatro Valle experience in the context of your readings on radical and deliberative democracy, and our discussion on the new forms of democracy and citizen participation in public life. Is Teatro Valle an example of a new European democracy in the making? What forms of democracy does Teatro Valle articulate? Is bottom-up citizen participation an answer to the existing problems of post-democracy? And what kind of questions does the example raise, and what kind of questions does it solve?

Skip to 4 minutes and 1 secondProponents of the deliberative turn in democracy studies suggest that political participation should be practised in a public sphere, should take place in an open public debate, and be based on principles of equality and symmetry. Accordingly, legitimacy of decisions is based on the principle of rational consensus. The deliberative democracy turn would see Teatro Valle as an example of the emerging cultural public sphere and a transnational one. It is an attempt to redefine theatre as a public sphere that has also, through internet and social media, expanded beyond the boundaries of Rome or Italy into a transnational discoursive arena. Critics of deliberative democracy, mostly from the radical democracy turn, would argue that free and unconstrained public debate is impossible.

Skip to 5 minutes and 2 secondsRather, they would suggest Teatro Valle is a space for confrontation. It represents a radical answer to the existing forms of political organisation, the neoliberal project, in particular. It exists and should be understood as a radical alternative to representative democracy. The relevance of Teatro Valle lies in the fact that it articulates an alternative form of political organisation based on sovereignty of the commons and the accompanying reforms, including free access to knowledge and cultural production. The relevance of such movements is precisely that they articulate an idea of a political Europe that is alternative to the existing one. But what do you think? Can we achieve a better form of democratic representation within the existing institutional contours, hence the EU?

Skip to 6 minutes and 5 secondsOr alternatively, do we need to radically rethink and reform the existing political institutions, the nation state and the EU, and how?

Alternatives for democracy in Europe

In this video, Dr Senka Neuman-Stanivukovic explains deliberative and radical democracy as alternative forms of governance in a postnational Europe.

Proponents of deliberative democracy suggest that political participation should be practiced in a public sphere: it should take place in an open public debate and be based on principles of equality and symmetry. Critics, mostly from the so-called radical democracy turn, argue that free and unconstrained public debate is impossible. Rather, they would suggest, democracy is a practice of confrontations. Democracy is to be found in alternatives to the existing forms of political organisations, the neoliberal project in particular.

What do you think? Can we achieve better forms of democratic representation within the existing institutional contours – hence, the EU? Or, alternatively, do we need to radically rethink and reform the existing political institutions – the nation state and the EU? And how?

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European Culture and Politics

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