#5PAPERS – Week 3 Day 2

by Nivek K Thompson

  1. Reference to the Article 

Marsh, D., & Akram, S. (2016a). Political participation and citizen engagement: beyond the mainstream. Policy Studies, 36(6), 523-531. doi:10.1080/01442872.2015.1109616

Marsh, D., & Akram, S. (2016b). In conclusion. Policy Studies, 36(6), 640-643. doi:10.1080/01442872.2015.1113246

  1. What attracted me to this Article?

These two articles are the opening and concluding articles in a Special Edition of Policy Studies focused on new forms of participation. I’m interested to see how this lines up with the chapters in the book Democratizing Inequalities about New Public Participation.

  1. What is it about? (Problem / Purpose / Research Questions)

The introductory paper to this special edition focuses is on providing an overview of the current issues in this sub-field. And the concluding paper on identifying the challenges ahead.

  1. Where does this come from? (Literature / Theoretical Framework)

This paper is principally an analysis of current literature in the context of the other papers in this edition.

  1. What did they do? (Methodology & Method)

The authors’ intention is to outline ‘the main concerns of the recent critical literature’ (2016a: 523), with a focus on four crucial issues:

  1. conceptualisation of ‘political’ in context of ‘political participation’
  2. links between connective and collective and online and offline political activities
  3. ‘relationship between duty norms and engagement norms and between project identities and oppositional or legitimating identities’ p.523
  4. rise of Everyday Makers (Bang)

6. What did they learn? (Results / Discussion)

Marsh and Akram discuss the changing nature of political participation and the varying views on its causes. They start by noting that even the definition of political participation is contested with some academics excluding the particular activities that others use as evidence of the changing nature of participation. This definition issue is fundamental to whether scholars view participation to be in decline or not.

They set out in brief Bang’s view that individuals no longer identify with set groups e.g. the working class and that this fluidity there has been a related change from a politics-policy framework to a policy-politics framework which focuses more on engaging people (broadly) in policy development rather than policy development being the primary domain of political elites.

Looking at the four issues they conclude:

  1. conceptualisation of ‘political’ in context of ‘political participation’ – there are two broad schools of thought ‘arena’ vs. ‘process’ definitions, with arena definitions including a focus on the impact of action in these arenas and whereas process definitions can be too broad excluding nothing. The authors support a broader understanding, such as suggested by Rowe et al (2015) of a continuum rather than a yes or no concept. They suggest that ‘the interaction between “politics” inside and outside the political arena is an interactive and iterative one… a duality, not a dualism.’ p.525
  2. links between connective and collective and online and offline political activities – here they consider the traditional view that political activity by its nature is collective comparing this with growth in connective activity facilitated by the internet, with allows people (particularly younger people) to choose which issues to become involved with and which ones to ignore. They make a nice distinction saying ‘contemporary political participation is not individualised, rather it is personalised.’ p.526 With individualised action being focused on the self whereas personalised action can be focused on shared goals. Again the authors don’t support a dualistic approach to connective vs. collective action, in particular because online connective action can, and often does, lead to collective action in the physical world.
  3. ‘relationship between duty norms and engagement norms and between project identities and oppositional or legitimating identities’ p.523 – do citizens participate because they feel duty-bound to do so or do they participate because have a strong views on a particular issue and if the latter does this change how they relate to political elites i.e. rather than supporting or opposing them in general they support or oppose in relation to their views on the issues of importance to the citizen. And again the authors see these distinctions as too rigid.
  4. rise of Everyday Makers (Bang) – Bang has identified what he considers two new types of political participators i.e. the Expert Citizen (EC) and the Everyday Maker (EM). Both of these types are focused on projects i.e. issues of importance to them rather than broad ideological positions, with ECs use their skills both inside and outside the system to influence outcomes. EMs act only in regard to issues of concern to them, usually at the local level, with no particular focus on collective action. They review recent empirical work aimed at confirming Bang’s categorisations and find that it isn’t as clear-cut and certainly not a duality.

In their conclusion to this special edition they focus on how, in their view, ‘the changes in contemporary forms of political participation… represent significant challenges for democracy’ p.640. These changes are the decoupling of citizens from the institutions of democracy. They suggest that the path to solving this problem begins in recognising that policy-making needs to be more considered, recognising that there may be not ‘right’ answers.

  1. What did I learn?

I wonder about the causal direction of changes in political participation – have people changed leading to changes in how they participate or have opportunities for participation changed resulting in changes to how people participate or are there other explanations for these changes (perhaps that relate to power relations and control)?

The authors don’t really make it clear why the decoupling they identify is necessarily a bad thing (even noting that Bang would disagree with them on this). The view that people aren’t apathetic they simply prefer new to old ways of participating doesn’t really support this conclusion.

If we look beyond the online and informal participation identified by these authors we can find other collective means of participation e.g. deliberative mini-publics, where otherwise unengaged citizens actively participate. Other literature suggests that they participate because they were invited and believe that their participation won’t be tokenistic. So maybe it’s not just changes in how people respond to politics or the availability of online avenues, but also that people are disillusioned with how politics operates and so can be enticed back into more formal collective processes in the right circumstances. And these type of processes certainly address the concern raised by the authors that ‘citizens do not recognize the problems of governing.’ p.642

Looking back to my reason for reading these articles – whilst the authors mention critical literature, the literature they review is critical a different way to the critique in Democratizing Inequalities.

And once again there are a lot of usual references I need to follow up. I think I’ll have to move the #10Papers or more to keep on top of all this reading!