Classic pragmatism laid the foundations for a practice-based notion of citizenship that views democracy as a fragile accomplishment in need of constant self-actualisation. This article revisits this heritage to explore different notions of pluralism and democratic participation developed over the last century. Drawing on James and Dewey, the article interrogates how different understandings of democracy deal with pluralism and the meaning of democratic life. The focus is on three prominent models in contemporary democratic theory and practice, namely: representative, participatory and deliberative. The purpose is to review different ways of thinking and enacting citizen participation and explore key distinctions, overlaps and productive tensions. The conclusion argues that a vibrant democratic ecology requires combining the practices that underpin these models in order to develop deeper, and more sustainable, forms of citizenship and democratic life.