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Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester PART III: Levels and Forms of Protest ‘Who Cares?’ Political Participation and.

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Presentation on theme: "Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester PART III: Levels and Forms of Protest ‘Who Cares?’ Political Participation and."— Presentation transcript:

1 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester PART III: Levels and Forms of Protest ‘Who Cares?’ Political Participation and Apathy Lecture 7

2 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester In this lecture… 1.Context of Contemporary Debates on Political Participation and Apathy 2.Theories for explaining differential participation in politics (why some people participate and why others don’t): i.Non-participation due to Apathy? Habermas’s ‘indifferents’ ii.The Resource-based Model of Participation iii.The Social Capital Argument Workshop: : Debate: Are young people politically disengaged? Finding and interpreting survey evidence for ourselves.

3 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester From mid-1990s – talk of a ‘Crisis of Democracy’ in Britain and America Surveys of participation in political science indicated a general decline in political participation in conventional democratic politics in Britain (Parry et al 1992) and America (Verba et al 1995) 2001 UK General Election – 59% voted, lowest turnout since 1918 (so 4 in 10 people didn’t bother). Up to 65% in 2010 but still lower than (when 70%+). 1. Context of contemporary debates on political participation and apathy UK General Election Turnout

4 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester Non-participation led to concerns about ‘apathy’ (which periodically rears its head in democratic societies when people fail to live up to ideals of participation) Apathy defined as a lack of interest in politics, an indifference (‘not bothered’). Apathy is described in attitudinal/social psychological terms Contemporary concerns over apathy amongst young people in Britain in particular, who are especially disengaged from formal politics i. Non-participation due to ‘apathy’?

5 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester 2005 UK General Election – 37% of 18-25s turned out to vote (61% overall) (down from 39% in 2001). Electoral Commission Research Report (July 2002) on Young People and Voter Engagement argued that apathy amongst young people was a considerable factor in lack of turnout in 2001 General Election. BSA Survey conducted in 2008 found that only 41% of under 35s thought that it was your duty to vote. Young people today less likely to have sense of civic duty compared to 20 years ago But then students flood polls that couldn’t cope in 2010.

6 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester BUT: what produces political ‘apathy’? Marshall (2001) argues that formal politics alienates young people, is not meaningful. ‘Apathy’ could actually be ‘positive abstention’. Not ‘turning out’ of politics, but being ‘left out’ of politics (O’Toole) Also, how you define political participation (e.g. relative to some ‘democratic ideal’) shapes your interpretation of what counts as political participation. Not apathy but participation has shifted to other forms? So we need to know why people do not participate – is it a lack of interest, or a lack of meaningful opportunities? If they are disinterested, why is this?

7 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester Non-participation/apathy related to the decline of the public sphere (as an arena for rational-critical debate) Public sphere has become commercialised - a platform for advertising, entertainment, little room for genuine moral and political debate/engagement See also Eliasoph Avoiding Politics 1998, we do not talk about politics, a ‘shrinking circle of concern’. Our contact with the state becomes narrowed to a ‘client’ of state services. We have an unpolitical, indifferent and demanding attitude towards the state The ‘new indifferents’ (term from Riesman 1950) i.e. political ‘consumers’ Why are people apathetic? Habermas and the ‘indifferents’ (1989)

8 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester …they are not devoid of political opinions…But….these political opinions are connected neither with direct political self-interest nor with clear emotional ties to politics…For the indifferents do not believe that by virtue of anything they do, know, or believe, they can buy a political package that will substantially improve their lives. And so, subject to occasional manipulations, they tend to view politics in most of its large-scale forms as if they were spectators’ (Riesman, The Lonely Crowd 1950).

9 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester BUT: at election time, parties need us to vote, especially floating voters and previous non-voters So according to Habermas, they have to ‘stage’ or ‘manufacture’ a public sphere for the election campaign The best way to sway these voters is to use the same methods used to sway consumers – advertising, PR Politics is sold to us ‘in an unpolitical way’ – e.g. leaders packaged as ‘personalities’, celebrities used to market parties, TV and radio adverts, a popularity contest

10 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester ii. The resource model of political participation The model adopted by the key political science surveys of participation (Almond & Verba; Verba et al; Parry et al; and explained by Brady et al 1995 on reading list). Surveys found clear patterns in participation by age, class, gender, income. So why do some participate and not others? Roots in Rational Action Theory and Olson’s Collective Problem (remember lecture 2!): - Rational actors calculate costs and benefits of their action in relation to their goals and preferences - Olson argued that it was ‘rational’ not to participate in collective action for ‘public goods’. Why incur costs when you can ‘free-ride’ (Dahl – so the question is why would you participate?) - Those that do participate in collective action do so to gain ‘selective incentives’ (benefits only they receive)

11 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester E.g. political science studies of participation adopt idea of the ‘rational activist’: To answer Q. ‘why do some people choose to participate in politics and others do not?’ we need to….  Look at the costs of participation (benefits are so varied that we should not focus on them)  And ask, ‘what would be the costs of participating for this person?’ (i.e. what are the limits on their choice)  Their argument relates resources to participation

12 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester 3 types of resources are key (Brady et al, 1995): Can/Can’t – the resources you need to participate, e.g. money, time Want to/Don’t want to – engagement, motivation, civic attitudes (rooted in prior resources) Asked/Not Asked – networks, recruitment, social connection (also types of resources) Example: a middle class person participates in conventional politics more than a working class person. Why? They have more resources available for participation (so less costly). Having more resources means you also have more to lose through the political system. So you have more rewards to gain through participation (can achieve your goals).

13 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester iii. The ‘Social Capital’ Argument Robert Putnam (US Sociologist), Bowling Alone (2000) Direct engagement in politics in America has fallen sharply over the last generation Why? Political disengagement due to a decline in SOCIAL CAPITAL (young people esp. lack social capital) What is social capital? ‘refers to features of social organisation such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit’ (Putnam) Where does it come from? Community groups, voluntary organisations, church, bowling leagues, Scouts (i.e. civil society organisations). Why is it important? Social capital helps people work together collectively, it solves the Collective Action Problem – e.g. through fostering norms of reciprocity and trust. Without it people become privatised and disengaged.

14 Combining the strengths of UMIST and The Victoria University of Manchester ‘There is reason to believe that deep-seated technological trends are radically ‘privatising’ or ‘individualising’ our use of leisure time and thus disrupting many opportunities for social-capital formation. The most obvious and probably the most powerful instrument for this revolution is television…Television has made our communities (or rather what we experience as our communities) wider and shallower…’ (Putnam)  Does community disconnection / lack of trust / lack of norms of co-operation / TV etc. explain disengagement with politics? Reasons for declining social capital?


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