The Contemporary Crisis of Representative Democracy

in Democratic Theory
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  • 1 University of Sydney simon.tormey@sydney.edu.au
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This article looks closely at the “crisis of representative democracy,” noting that this crisis is evident across the main variables of interest to political scientists (voting, party membership, trust in politicians, and interest in mainstream politics). The argument here is that the crisis is located not only in short term or contingent factors such as financial crisis, the decadence of the current generation of politicians or the emergence of New Public Management—which often appear as the villains of the piece. It is also located in long term and structural factors linked to the types of social and political interaction associated with “first modernity.” With the displacement of this temporality under post-Fordist, reflexive or “second” modernity, we are witnessing a different set of dynamics shape the terrain of politics. Globalization, individualization, and the proliferation of communicative platforms is taking us away from “vertical” interactions in which representative politics is typical, toward more distributed, flatter, or “horizontal” modes of sociality, working, and organizing—leaving us in a “post-representative” political moment.

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