This book analyses talking, voting and fighting among citizens, in an attempt to understand why and when ordinary people engage in these activities or combinations of them. Political activity defies traditional boundaries. Sometimes political activists use arguments, at other times they vote—and occasionally they resort to violence; in other words: talking, voting and fighting. This chapter notes that the politics of participation involves all three forms. We endorse talking and voting because they are activities based on peaceful and reasoned arguments, and we condemn violence because we know that might is not right.
This chapter develops an account of what is required for the study of political phenomena. Using a largely qualitative method, drawing on writers like C. Wright Mills, Richard Fenno, Clifford Geertz and Hannah Arendt, it argues that political participation cannot be understood from an objective perspective only, and that one needs to study the phenomenon from the inside. An understanding of citizen politics requires that we adopt the perspective of the citizens in question and take seriously their grievances and concerns. It aims to combine the various perspectives of what has been called the ‘sociological imagination’.
This chapter turns to historical debates about citizen politics. Throughout the history of civilised society, citizen politics has been the exception rather than the norm. Most societies through the ages have been based not on citizen engagement but on more or less despotic rule. Why, then, should citizens be involved in politics and, indeed, take a direct part in the process of governing? Beginning with the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, the chapter presents a general account of the defence of citizen politics provided by Machiavelli and Marsilius of Padua, Rousseau and Mill, but also an introduction to the elitist critics of democracy, e.g. José Ortega y Gasset and the federalists.
This chapter focuses on the central issues concerning citizen politics. Adopting an empirical approach, it presents a typology of different forms of citizen politics, from activities initiated by the people themselves to actions prompted by the elites; similarly, citizen politics can be divided into conservative or progressive effects. Based on this typology, this chapter examines different forms of politics.
This chapter considers the ‘illegal’—but not necessarily illegitimate—aspects of citizen politics, including terrorism. It considers a number of different forms of political engagement, all of which share the feature of being unrelated to representative democracy. Citizen government and involvement include a broad range of activities, legal as well as illegal, new as well as old. The discussion turns to the mechanisms through which the citizenry can be consulted other than the ballot box.
e-democracy, citizens’ juries and designer politics
This chapter focuses on novel means of political engagement that have emerged in recent years, including teledemocracy and the internet, deliberative democracy, political parties' use of designer politics, and political marketing. It argues that the increased use of political consultants can in some cases strengthen democratic legitimacy by ensuring that citizens' preferences are acknowledged in policies.
This chapter considers theories of electoral choice in an attempt to explain why people vote and what determines their preferences; the chapter considers also the influence of the mass media. What determines the way people vote? Why do some vote for the Tories while others vote for the Labour Party? The answer traditionally has been class. Today the answer is less clear-cut, for class is no longer what it used to be. Another answer is psychological attachment. This chapter also looks at elections and electoral systems, considering various electoral systems, which can be divided into three families: majoritarian, proportional and mixed systems.
This chapter is an excursus on the UK Parliament. It is often argued that politics should be left to (elected) experts and that Parliament is the proper forum for democratic deliberation. The question is, however, whether that is an accurate description of the reality of Parliament. To answer this question, this chapter considers the procedures and powers of the UK Parliament. Britain may have one of the oldest Parliaments in the world, but not one of the strongest. If the health of a democracy is measured by its legislature's ability to hold the executive to account, the so-called mother of all parliaments may have a lot to learn from her daughters. Moreover, the weakness of the UK Parliament and its modest role as a deliberative chamber means that some of the claims regarding the superiority of representative democracy are exaggerated.