Transformation of political participation
I start with an optimistic claim, that we are not necessarily witnessing the crisis of democracy due to the diminishing of peoples’ participation. Some theorists in fact argue that citizens are not ignorant or apathetic – a critique which has often been used for labelling young people – but that political participation shifted from official political channels, to other ways of expressing civic concerns and care for community. Terms such as subpolitics (Beck, 1994), lifestyle politics (Giddens, 1991), self-actualising citizenship (Bennett, 2003) have been coined to refer to new forms of political participation. The validity of traditional indicators of political participation is questioned, especially with the ‘digital generation’, who use the interactive potential of new communication technologies on a daily basis, not just for entertainment, but also for civic and political practices. The main objective of my PhD project is to analyse new modes of democratic participation furnished through communication technologies – specifically web 2.0 applications – used in a large extent by younger generations: YouTube, Myspace, discussion forums, blogs and other, still emerging, online communication platforms. My aim is to build a wider conceptual and theoretical map of political participation, which would take the link between the broader social processes in the global society and communication technology, and its relation to political and economic systems into account. I assert that two meta-processes – globalisation and individualisation – are transforming citizens’ participation on two dimensions. These dimensions are political versus civic action, and coordinated versus individualised action. I claim that traditional indicators of political participation are measuring coordinated citizens’ actions within the political system, when in fact participation has, due to processes of individualisation and globalisation (and also with the help of new communication technologies), shifted to individualised actions outside the political realm. The question which needs to be answered empirically, while analysing different modes of citizens’ participation on web 2.0 applications, is to which extent these actions are individualised and civic, but also what do these transformations mean when analysed and evaluated on the basis of criteria such as the collective good or empowerment.