Political participation under conditions of (democratic) duress

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Politics, 2019
Issue Date:
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© The Author(s) 2019. Drawing on Amartya Sen’s concept of agency and capability, this article explores political participation in three dimensions: individual dispositions, opportunities for participation, and processes of participation. It presents an analytical approach that examines these dimensions in relation to practices of participation as interactions between the State and citizens within and outside of political institutions. Two examples are used to illustrate the utility of this approach in states where democratic institutions are deficient. The first example historically traces the evolution of tribal informal institutions in Jordan to demonstrate how and why they mediate people’s participation in the public sphere. The second example uses narrative inquiry to explore community activists’ aspiration for and commitment to political expression through social media in Vietnam. Both examples suggest that a country’s political institutions and its rule of law may shape political cultures and societal values of participation, but it is the individuals’ recognition and response to these structures that ultimately create their motivations and the opportunities for them to participate. The article emphasises the importance of understanding the contexts in which the respective tradition of political participation takes place in order to understand the outcomes as well as the conditions for participation, especially in contexts that theoretically qualify as authoritarian.
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