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Adele Webb

Public ambivalence towards democracy has come under increasing scrutiny. It is a mood registered perhaps most clearly in the fact populist figures, from Trump to Orbàn to Duterte, appear to carry strong appeal despite the fact, or perhaps because of the fact, they pose a threat to democratic institutions and processes of governance. Are ambivalent citizens the grave threat to democracy they are often portrayed to be in media and academic discourse on populism? In this article, I contend that citizens’ ambivalence about democracy is a more complex, spirited and volitional idea than is acknowledged in the current discussion of populism. Drawing on psychoanalysis and critical social thought, I embrace a conception of citizens’ ambivalence in a democracy as both immanent and desirable. I argue ambivalence can be a form of participation in democracy that is crucial to safeguarding its future.

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Nexus Politics

Conceptualizing Everyday Political Engagement

Matthew Flinders and Matthew Wood

Existing research on alternative forms of political participation does not adequately account for why those forms of participation at an “everyday” level should be defined as political. In this article we aim to contribute new conceptual and theoretical depth to this research agenda by drawing on sociological theory to posit a framework for determining whether nontraditional forms of political engagement can be defined as genuinely distinctive from traditional participation. Existing “everyday politics” frameworks are analytically underdeveloped, and the article argues instead for drawing upon Michel Maffesoli’s theory of “neo-tribal” politics. Applying Maffesoli’s insights, we provide two questions for operationally defining “everyday” political participation, as expressing autonomy from formal political institutions, and building new political organizations from the bottom up. This creates a substantive research agenda of not only operationally defining political participation, but examining how traditional governmental institutions and social movements respond to a growth in everyday political participation: nexus politics.

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On Intentionality and Motivation in Digital Spaces

A Response to Flinders and Wood

Max Halupka

Wood and Flinders posit that intentionality and motivation are critical sites of analysis when determining whether an act is, or should be made out to be, political or apolitical. I agree with this assertion—both the intention behind an actor’s act, for example, what motivates the action, must be taken into consideration before such classifications are made. Yet, intentionality and motivation are more complicated and problematic than the authors make them out to be—especially online.

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Dennis Masaka

In this article, I argue that individuals could be entitled to rights, outside those that are communally conferred, as part of the primary requirement of being ‘persons’ in the African communitarian set-up if the terms ‘person’ and ‘personhood’ are understood differently from the way they are currently deployed in the communitarian discourse. The distinction between these two terms is the basis of my thesis where clarity on their meanings could be helpful in establishing the possibility of ascribing rights outside those that are communally conferred. I argue that ontologically, a ‘person’ is prior to ‘personhood’ (understood in the normative sense) which is considered to find its fuller expression in a community and by virtue of this, I think that he or she is entitled to some rights outside those that are defined and conferred by the community. This is my point of departure in this article.

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Benjamin Moffitt

While the rise of populism in Western Europe over the past three decades has received a great deal of attention in the academic and popular literature, less attention has been paid to the rise of its opposite— anti-populism. This short article examines the discursive and stylistic dimensions of the construction and maintenance of the populism/anti-populism divide in Western Europe, paying particular attention to how anti-populists seek to discredit populist leaders, parties and followers. It argues that this divide is increasingly antagonistic, with both sides of the divide putting forward extremely different conceptions of how democracy should operate in the Western European political landscape: one radical and popular, the other liberal. It closes by suggesting that what is subsumed and feared under the label of the “populist threat” to democracy in Western Europe today is less about populism than nationalism and nativism.

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Practitioner’s Note

MASS LBP and Long-Form Deliberation in Canada

Spencer McKay and Peter MacLeod

Deliberative forums, such as citizens’ assemblies or reference panels, are one institutionalization of deliberative democracy that has become increasingly commonplace in recent years. MASS LBP is a pioneer in designing and facilitating such long-form deliberative processes in Canada. This article provides an overview of the company’s civic lottery and reference panel process, notes several distinctive features of MASS LBP that are relevant to addressing challenges to democratic deliberation, and outlines possible areas for future research in deliberative democracy applied in both private and public settings.

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Bernard Matolino

In classical African communitarianism, individual rights have tended to be accorded a secondary status to the good of the community. What is prioritised are the duties and obligations the individual has to the whole as opposed to the entitlements one can expect to derive from a community qua individual. I seek to show that this view, by its own standards and assumptions, is erroneous in framing rights as secondary to the good of the community. I attempt to show that individual rights are an inherent component of classical African communitarian accounts. Further, I seek to argue for a non-communalist view of African communitarianism which takes into full account the multiple factors that constitute modern African communities. Such a view, I suggest, will avoid the unnecessary dichotomisation of rights which has become synonymous with the classical African communitarian account.

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Unambivalent about Ambivalence in the Politics of Mourning

David McIvor’s Mourning in America and Simon Stow’s American Mourning

Greta Fowler Snyder

What does a democratically-productive form of mourning look like in America? David McIvor’s Mourning in America and Simon Stow’s American Mourning argue that it entails the embrace of ambivalence about self and other. Democratically-productive mourning pushes against the tendencies toward idealization and demonization. Embracing ambivalence enables us to move to more effective political engagement in the context of both collaboration and conflict. It allows us to understand that the process of mourning must be ongoing both to protect us from political excesses to which we are prone and to push society toward justice.

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What is “Political” Participation

Beyond Explicit Motivations and Oppositional Actions

Sadiya Akram and David Marsh

Wood and Flinders re-center political participation on the idea of “nexus politics.” The effort is laudable because it contributes to other ongoing efforts at broadening our understanding of the nature of ‘political’ participation. Unfortunately, in our view, the authors misspecify new forms of political participation that have emerged by: (1) failing to take Henrik Bang’s work seriously; (2) focusing exclusively on motivation/intention, so that an action is “political,” only if the person acting sees it as “political”; (3) seeing all political participation as necessarily oppositional.

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What is populism? Who is the populist?

A state of the field review (2008-2018)

Jean-Paul Gagnon, Emily Beausoleil, Kyong-Min Son, Cleve Arguelles, Pierrick Chalaye, and Callum N. Johnston

Both “populism” and “populist” have long been considered ill-defined terms, and therefore are regularly misapplied in both scholarly and popular discourses.1 This definitional difficulty is exacerbated by the Babelian confusion of voices on populism, where the term’s meaning differs within and between global regions (e.g. Latin America versus Western Europe); time periods (e.g. 1930s versus the present), and classifications (e.g. left/ right, authoritarian/libertarian, pluralist/antipluralist, as well as strains that muddy these distinctions such as homonationalism, xenophobic feminism and multicultural neonationalism). While useful efforts have been made to navigate the vast and heterogeneous conceptual terrain of populism,2 they rarely engage with each other. The result is a dizzying proliferation of different definitions unaccompanied by an understanding as to how they might speak to each other. And this conceptual fragmentation reinforces, and is reinforced by, diverging assessments of populism which tend to cast it as either “good” or “bad” for democracy (e.g. Dzur and Hendriks 2018; Müller 2015).