IAP "Participation and representation. A comparative study of linkage mechanisms between citizens and the political system in contemporary democracies"

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.

This IAP network is focused on three research themes : Substantive representation: partisan and electoral political representation is at the core of democratic politics. It is the key mechanism by which citizens' preferences enter the processes of decision making and by which policy outputs can be made to match citizens' preferences. Whether this model still holds, and whether and to what extent it is being replaced by other frames and other channels of representation and communication is a key question to be answered ; Personalization of politics : the underlying idea is that individual politicians are becoming more important in politics at the expense of traditional social and political groups. The state of our knowledge in this respect is clearly not satisfactory for the moment. Researchers will attempt to gain a better insight into the scope and types of personalization of democratic politics ; Democratic innovation : more open consulting procedures are being tried out; deliberative assemblies are invited to discuss about major decisions; more referenda aim at involving more citizens into the decision-making process. Political parties have also been trying to reorganize themselves in a way that might restore or strengthen the linkage with voters and with activists. A crucial question is however the extent to which these democratic innovations do indeed have an effect on participation, on trust and legitimacy and - coming back to the question of policy congruence - on the degree to which citizens' demands and policy outputs match.

The coordinator is VUB. The network involves teams of VUB, ULB - Pascal Delwit, Centre d'étude de la vie politique, Faculté des Sciences sociales et politiques -, UA, KULeuven, UCL, UL (NL), UM (D).

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