Whether called pressure groups, NGOs, social movement organisations or organised civil society, the value of ‘groups’ to the policy process, to economic growth, to governance, to political representation and to democracy has always been contested. However, there seems to be a contemporary resurgence in this debate, largely centred on their democratising potential: can groups effectively link citizens to political institutions and policy processes? Are groups an antidote to emerging democratic deficits? Or do they themselves face challenges in demonstrating their legitimacy and representativeness? This book debates the democratic potential and practice of groups, focusing on the vibrancy of internal democracies, and modes of accountability with those who join such groups and to the constituencies they advocate for. It draws on literatures covering national, European and global levels, and presents empirical material from the UK and Australia.
This chapter examines a case where a group capable of representation, but not practising democratic enfranchisement of its constituency, transformed its practice. In so doing, it establishes that this process is possible, but is complicated and lengthy. It challenges scholars to take a historical perspective on group practices, looking to how potential may come to be fulfilled. It challenges the teleological element in much group scholarship — both interest group and social movement strands. Groups, via political processes within and without, are agents in the co-evolution of their democratic practices.
This chapter asks whether there is cause for pessimism or optimism regarding groups as democratic agents. It rehearses the main findings from the book and suggests areas where further work may be carried out. It also ponders how we might explain and then deal with the finding that most groups do not wholly fulfil representative potential. It argues that the paradox of representation — claiming to speak for what is absent — means that all groups confront a ‘gap’ in terms of demonstrating democratic accountability and authorization. The key question is how this gap is assessed. The discussion argues that modes of representation are institutions, and, as such, the appropriateness of a form of representation will change over time and be contested.
This chapter scrutinizes the dominant lens through which the democratic expectations of groups are viewed. It argues that group scholars have implicitly, but sometimes explicitly, viewed groups as though they were all engaged in democratic representation. In turn, this has informed expectations that groups should be democratically accountable to their affiliates. Where group practices have not conformed to this picture, this is read as a group deficiency. The orthodox frameworks and lenses used to appraise groups have supported a rather pessimistic view of the potential for groups to be agents of democracy, because they do not practise it themselves. The chapter reviews a range of arguments that seek to weaken or outright challenge this representation account. It concludes that group theory is poorly served by an insistence on a relatively constrained account of representation.
This chapter challenges the period-based arguments which suggest obliquely that democratically inferior ‘mass-membership’ groups are a modern phenomenon — and that they may also be the result of hollowing out processes among formerly more democratic groups. In the UK, the ‘protest business’ thesis pursued by Jordan and Maloney (1997) has served as a touchstone for this broader thesis. However, based on historical case studies of three such ‘protest businesses’, the chapter argues that these groups hardly constitute internally hollowed out groups. They have, since very early in their group careers, pursued a passive mass-supportership base to fund ‘good works’. This work has broader implications for the study of group change.
This chapter scrutinizes the argument of Mancur Olson regarding collective action. His thesis has been instrumental in fostering pessimism about the democratic potential of groups. This chapter argues that while his predictions are right, for representation groups, his reliance on a dominant and wide-spread self-interested rationality is a weakness in his framework. Instead, this chapter argues that the reason they work is not to do with the rationality of joiners, but the way the group constructs and legitimizes a passive form of group affiliation. Thus, Olson works as much because of a supply-side, as a demand-side, phenomenon.
This chapter examines the ‘orthodox’ case of representative groups that under-perform. It makes the point that a major source of pessimism about groups as democratic agents is not the lack of democratic practices constitutionally within representation groups, but with the lack of this constitutional promise being implemented. The hollowing out of the UK Federation of Small Businesses and the NSW Farmers' Association, in Australia, was a choice made by groups who needed to balance the active engagement of members with a desire to grow the group such that it had the resources for a research-based policy advocacy. They chose a pathway to group growth that necessitated a substantial increase in resources. Small businesses or farmers would and did join for policy related reasons, but just not in big enough numbers to build the resources desired by leaders to engage in resource-intensive research-based advocacy.
This chapter argues that the reason why groups are gaining more renewed interest is their ‘democratizing’ qualities. Does their incorporation into governance structures help democratize those structures? This book examines interest group organizations against the backdrop of this ongoing debate. Groups are important vehicles for injecting ‘voice’ into the public sphere and keeping the ‘conversation’ going. Much of the disagreement over whether groups are agents of democracy can be traced back to differing starting points. This chapter identifies several separate threads in the literature which have converged to focus scholarly attention upon groups.
This chapter tackles the question of group definitions and labels. On the one hand, new arrivals import elastic labels, and on the other, group scholars steadfastly defend interest group conventions. In both cases, scholarly progress is the casualty. The chapter starts by reviewing the labels in use and examining the ways in which they are deployed in the literature. Looking across disciplinary literatures, the chapter argues that one can find a core definitional base. And further, it argues that interest group scholars should be more ready to engage with their new intellectual neighbours operating in allied social movement, voluntary sector, global politics, and civil society literatures. The chapter settles on a ‘group’ definition, and then addresses areas of difference with other key terms used by social scientific scholars.
This chapter establishes how the solidarity versus representation distinction can be applied to empirical cases. Moreover, it illustrates that while the conceptual categories have some currency in practice, there is not always direct conformance between the democratic promise of groups and their practices. These are scholarly categories that help us calibrate our expectations better, and with more clarity. But this is not the same as suggesting groups will or do in fact meet these expectations.