Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
RN32_03b_H: Local Politics
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
6:00pm - 7:30pm

Session Chair: Alison E. Woodward, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Location: HB.2.17
HAROKOPIO University 70 El. Venizelou Street 17671 Athens, Greece Building: B, Level: 2.

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Decreasing voter turnout as a threat to democracy in metropolitan areas

Guenter Warsewa

University of Bremen, Germany

In Germany, shrinking voter turnout seems to be a particularly dramatic tendency in big cities and metropolitan areas where the quote of non-voters raised since the end of the 1970s. This is increasingly seen as a threat to social coherence and democratic quality. Alt-hough there are different reasons for abstinence in elections on local, regional and national level, this does not give an explanation for the higher rates of voter turnout in big cities. The paper will argue, that in big cities the complexity of requirements and interests in urban alldays live and postfordistic social structures overstrains the capabilities of traditional political institutions and procedures. Therefore, the difference between steering and problem solving capacity of policy on one hand and the demand for problem solutions on the other is higher than in other types of regions. Citizens do perceive this in their allday live and rou-tines but, this is also the place where the conditions for their identification with the communi-ty and the commitment to democratic participation must be created. The paper will analyse the social conditions for identification, civil engagement and democratic participation more in detail and conclude, that by far not only deprived and subproletarian milieus have good reasons for refusing to vote. There is also an increasing number of average and well-situated middle-class people which from several reasons lose more and more their commitment for democratic elections. The contribution will also discuss approaches to solution, especially deliberative forms of citizens’ participation.

Local political elites in Russian small industrial cities

Mikhail Manokin

Higher School of Economics (Campus in Perm), Russian Federation

Following report addresses the issue of recent changes in political practices, power structures, disposition of the agents in the political field (here interpreted within P. Bourdieu's field theory). To delve in the issue the report looks at the results of 72 anonymous interviews of representatives of the local elite in small industrial cities of Russia's Perm region such as Krasnokamsk, Chaykovsky, Kungur, Oktyabrski etc.

Interviews allow to describe power structures formed by elite groups in these small cities. Elite groups, usually comprised of local politicians, business owners and administration officials, can be divided into three major types. The first type is built of temporary political “alliances” formed among elites for achievement of specific goals, for example, for elections. The second type consists of long-term “official” structures, usually based on local offices of the largest Russian political parties, businesses or governmental organizations. The third type consists of anachronistic clan structures with informal, but strict familial and economic ties between their members. Conflicts and alliances between these forces shape political space of the small cities.

The study shows that these three types of elite groups may have probably take over the role of the main political subjects in the small industrial cities, as the interviews show how representatives of small cities elites see themselves as such. These tendencies may be result of decreasing interest of the population of these cities in politics, happening because of the general bureaucratization of political field and its high demand for cultural and social capital required for entrance. Under these conditions local elites may become the only political subject in small Russian cities or, perhaps, in country in general.

The future of local democracy: Are the demands for citizen participation changing local governance and political culture? The case study of Turku, Finland.

Ritva Salminiitty

University of Turku, Finland

Despite the good reputation of democratic state, Finland´s trend of descending voter turnouts is faster than in other Nordic countries and Finnish voter activity is within the lowest third among the world´s established democracies. Public trust in politics has hit rock bottom and prior research has noted clear distinction between citizens´ and decision-makers´ opinions on citizen participation. It seems that demands for more direct participation have not been taken seriously and implementations of new procedures of citizen participation are proceeding in Finnish municipalities rather slowly. Coincidently, local democracy has been challenged by the major changes in municipal operating environments. These trends have driven participation into discussion in substantially new aspect.

My research attempts to shed light on the current discussion focused on the “participatory turn” and the future of local democracy from the perspective of decision-makers. It is based on the case study with two surveys and the recent interviews of city councilors. The survey results indicate rather clear polarization in councilors´ attitudes towards citizen participation. Support for participatory democracy has grown simultaneously with the strengthening trend of minimalist democracy. To this trend I try to find some understanding from the interviews by asking where this support for minimalist democracy stems from, and how councilors´ attitudes of participation are connected to their conceptions of representation.

Municipal Size and Location Matters: Diversified Characteristics and Behaviour of Czech Mayors

Daniel Cermak, Renata Mikesova, Josef Bernad

Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic

We can find 6,258 municipalities with the average population of 1,682 inhabitants and the median of 426 inhabitants in Czechia at the present. The context of different municipal sizes is an important topic in Czechia because of the high degree of fragmentation of the municipal system. The location of a municipality on urban-suburban-rural gradient is also important. For instance, a location of a small village in a suburban area affects the attitudes, opportunities, and network placement of its mayor in a different way compared to a location in a rural area. This paper presents who the mayors are and how they operate in such a diversified environment.

We use representative data from a survey conducted among Czech mayors in the years 2015 and 2016 (N=506). Mayors representing municipalities of different sizes, from small villages with less than 200 inhabitants to cities with more than 50.000 inhabitants, are included in our sample.

Our main aim is to show the impact of the context of municipal size as well as the position of municipality on urban-suburban-rural gradient on mayors’ characteristics and behaviour. We concentrate on three main dimensions in our analysis.

With respect to the above mentioned contextual effects, three key hypotheses are tested:

1) Socio-demographic characteristics (age, sex, education) vary in relation with size and location.

2) Professionalization of mayors and their partisanship vary in relation with size and location. The first one concerns the cumulation of mandates and mayoral professionalization. The importance of mayoral partisanship is growing with the municipal size.

3) Notions of democracy vary in relation with size and location. We concentrate on mayors’ perception of various democratic procedures, e.g. referendum, participatory budgeting.

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