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Alexander Wohnig

Since the 1990s, political apathy among young people has been a recurrent issue in political science. This article examines, on the basis of a survey of the current debate about political apathy in Germany and an analysis of civic education textbooks for the lower secondary level in Baden-Württemberg, how contemporary German textbooks reflect young people’s interest in politics. This article will show that, while political apathy in textbooks can be explained as the result of either an individual deficit on the part of the reader or a structuralist deficit of the political system, the latter explanation is more likely to encourage critical political thinking among young people in Germany.

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Crisis of Democracy?

Recognizing the Democratic Potential of Alternative Forms of Political Participation

Brendan McCaffrie and Sadiya Akram

According to the mainstream literature on political participation, declining rates of voting and party and interest group membership reflect a crisis of democracy in Western democracies. In this article, we challenge this view by highlighting the rise of alternative forms of political participation that operate outside formal arenas. We suggest that the mainstream approach ignores such forms of political participation for two reasons: First, it operates with a narrow arena definition of politics; second, it is based on the assumption that non-participation in arena politics results from political apathy. We suggest that there is not a crisis of political participation, but there is a growing crisis in engagement resulting from an uncoupling between citizens and the state. Halting this form of democratic decline through a recoupling process will require changes on the part of governments and citizens.

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Digital Natives

Making Sense of the Digital Political Landscape and Assessing the Potential for Mobilization versus Apathy

Patrick Readshaw

Those aged 18 to 25 are frequently cited in political rhetoric and scientific literature as one of the most apathetic demographics in Britain. They simultaneously constitute the prime users of new digital media. The assumption of apathy is based on traditional conceptions of political engagement—attendance at rallies, membership in political parties, and voting—that don’t consider a phenomenon like political consumerism, which is estimated to account for 22 to 44 percent of political engagement in the United States and Europe. This article explores youth involvement in politics by drawing on a series of interpretative phenomenological analysis interviews regarding social media usage and its suitability as a medium for facilitating political and civic mobilization. It argues that social media enables people to obtain political knowledge and generate feelings of solidarity, and illustrates how internal belief systems act as predictors of trust in the existing political structure and the media systems surrounding it.

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Pascal Perrineau

Nicolas Sarkozy's victory in the 2007 French presidential elections represents a true rupture: rupture with years of political apathy, rupture with what was an escalating rise of political protest, rupture with a "law" that since 1981 seemed to require that every outgoing majority be beaten. Sarkozy's electoral victory was substantial. It was built on a notion that what the French were looking for was a strong sense of direction, and it gave rise to a dynamic of striking change right after the election (a political opening to the left, a shift in presidential style, disarray in the Socialist Party, and the marginalization of the National Front).

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Susanna Trnka

Twenty years after the end of communist rule in Czechoslovakia, numerous public and private acts of remembrance both hail the end of state socialism and rally Czech society to be on guard against its possible return. This article compares three sets of remembrances-official commemorations sponsored by the state and/or private corporations, activists' alternative memory acts, and personal accounts of Czech citizens-to reveal how each of these give voice to fears and anxieties over the possibilities of “forgetting“ communism. Promoting a vision of the nation as united in ensuring that the future remains “communist-free“, widespread concerns over social amnesia and civic apathy become, I argue, a means of bonding citizens together and to the state. What, however, exactly characterizes a “noncommunist“ society is left necessarily ambiguous.

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Ben Berkowitz and Jean-Paul Gagnon

SeeClickFix began in 2009 when founder and present CEO Ben Berkowitz spotted a piece of graffiti in his New Haven, Connecticut, neighborhood. After calling numerous departments at city hall in a bid to have the graffiti removed, Berkowitz felt no closer to fixing the problem. Confused and frustrated, his emotions resonated with what many citizens in real-existing democracies feel today (Manning 2015): we see problems in public and want to fix them but can’t. This all too habitual inability for “common people” to fix problems they have to live with on a day-to-day basis is a prelude to the irascible citizen (White 2012), which, according to certain scholars (e.g., Dean 1960; Lee 2009), is itself a prelude to political apathy and a citizen’s alienation from specific political institutions.

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Matthew J. Sherman

Ideations of corporeality are situated at the crux of "muscular Judaism" in early twentieth- century Europe. The sporting event was viewed as a battlefield for equalization. In the ideological context of Muskeljudentum, the apathy of Talmudjudentum (Talmudic Judaism) was replaced by exercise, in which the strengthening of the corporeal would rejuvenate the psychical. Jewish strongman Siegmund Breitbart capitalized on his masculine feats of strength and aesthetic appeal by creating public performances, which displayed not only militarized corporeality, but also provided a stage for the promotion of "muscular Judaism," through both symbolic and literal representations of Zionist ideology. Breitbart reappropriated masculine Jewish corporeality, embodied corporeal notions of reciprocity at the core of Muskeljudentum, and found individual agency through the militarized aesthetic and motion of his body.

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Jakob Norberg

Hannah Arendt and Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich produced influential accounts of the postwar West-German population's silence or inarticuleteness. The Mitscherlichs claimed that this silence was symptomatic of a blocked process of mourning; Arendt saw it as a legacy of brutal totalitarian rule. However, both viewed the rapid economic recovery as evidence of the German inability to engage in discursively mediated therapeutic and political processes. Frantic busyness was a form of silence. This paper presents a critical reassessment of these approaches. By drawing on Albert Hirschman's theory of exit and voice, it argues that economic activity possesses a communicative dimension. The alleged retreat from politics is not a symptom of muteness but rather indicates people's preference for an alternative mode of communication. Arendt and the Mitscherlich may be right in assuming a correlation between the postwar economic recovery and ostensible political apathy, but lack the conceptual means to clarify the relationship.

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Steven Weldon and Andrea Nüsser

Although characterized by widespread public apathy and record low voter turnout, the 2009 Bundestag election solidified a stable, but fluid five-party system that will likely be a defining feature of German political life for the next generation. The three minor parties each achieved historical bests at the polls with steep losses for the two traditional Volksparteien. Drawing on data from the German Longitudinal Electoral Study (GLES), this article examines the nature of this new five-party system with a closer look at each party's voters in the 2009 election. The analysis shows the breadth and stability of the five-party system—each party draws significant support across all sixteen Länder; and, despite a growing number of swing voters, each party has a core group of committed voters that alone exceeds the 5 percent national electoral threshold. We also find evidence that the increased volatility and fluidity of the party system is structured along the left-right ideological spectrum with the parties divided into two major camps and vote-switching much more likely within the respective camps rather than between them.