Participation and Representation

A Comparative Study of Linkage Mechanisms between Citizens and the Political System in Contemporary Democracies (PartiRep-2)

Democratic governance requires mechanisms and actors that link citizens to the state. Citizens should be able to voice their demands and political outputs need to be congruent with these demands. It is precisely over the manner in which this desired match between citizens’ preferences and the state’s policies can be produced that discussions about the functioning of democracy in contemporary Europe voice concern. Traditional forms of participation and traditional partisan frames giving meaning to the democratic exchange appear to be under pressure. Both the institutional environment and the societal norms and values in which political actors have to make their choices have been evolving. The democratic dialogue has become more complex and more fragmented. Changing patterns of participation and representation was already the theme on which the PartiRep network has focused in the course of the past five years (2007–2011). As in the first phase, PartiRep-2 is large-scale collaborative project initiated and funded by the Belgian Science Policy Office Belspo for a five your period starting in 2012. All Belgian Departments of Political Science participate in the project whereas the University of Leiden and the MZES collaborate as partners. The network has set up a variety of projects on patterns of political participation, political trust, political protest, political parties, political deliberation and political representation. Starting point was the assumption that changing patterns of participation and representation were to be analysed and explained within a frame of decline and, therefore, increasing pressure on the good and legitimate functioning of democracy. The results of this research have however shown that this ‘decline’ angle is, at the least, very incomplete and probably quite biased. Research seem to point at a variety of strategies by which both citizens and politicians adapt to the changing context of participation and representation.