Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
RN32_03a: Citizenship and Civil society (II)
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Carlo Ruzza, University of Trento
Location: GM.338
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road

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Citizens in Training - Youth Participation and Civic Styles in Public Decision-making

Georg Mikael Boldt

Tampere University, Finland

Citizens are increasingly offered opportunities for democratic participation. One typical case, youth participation, is intended to offer young people a chance to voice their concerns and train them in civic skills. However, little is known about the practices, interaction and use of power in these spaces.

This paper is based on an ethnographic study on youth participating in public decision-making processes in the Helsinki metropolitan area. It proposes that successful navigation of the fields of democratic participation is dependent of pre-existing civic skills, capacities and imagination.

Although participatory opportunities in this research were designed by local authorities to be easily accessible for young people, participation turned out to be curtailed by gatekeepers controlling whose voices were heard and which ideas were put forwards. Where some participants found a safe harbour for their burgeoning interest in civic action, others realized their opinions were not respected, opting to leave the participatory process, consequently reducing its pluralism.

Moreover, the study shows that initiatives relating to the repair of infrastructure and the lack of services are prevalent in disadvantaged neighbourhoods while abstract political claims are typically voiced in well-to-do neighbourhoods. While this reflects the inversion of public spending priorities that often results from participatory budgeting, it also points to the problems of implementing the empowerment style of participation on a city-wide scale.

The study shows that, civic imagination is affected by material wealth and political opportunity. It also identifies how differences in civic skills, repertoires and modes of engagement affect participation. Additionally, the research underlines the necessity and reasons for offering different modes of participation from top-down empowerment projects to participation through channels of formal politics.

The Depoliticization of Civil Society. A Theory-Driven Empirical Analysis

Sebastiano Citroni

University of Milan Bicocca, Italy

The reduced ability of civil society actors to take political action and adopt critical positions toward public institutions is often ascribed to the “marketization” of the local welfare systems in which non-profit and third sector organizations act. Such a reading risks assuming civil society actors as simply passive agents, that are subjected to depoliticization mechanisms external to their everyday practices and impacting them from above. Instead, this paper explores how civic organizations - proactively though generally unintentionally – engender depoliticization dynamics that shrink their critical strength. The proposed analysis is both theoretically informed and empirically grounded, with the adopted categories that aim at shedding new light on a complex governance strategy chosen as case-study.

Drawing on Gramsci notions of civil society and politics, this paper analyze a variety of empirical evidences collected between 2012 and 2015, principally through the author’s participant observation in the selected case-study. This is V’Arco Villoresi Green System, a complex governance strategy for managing and developing the vast area crossed by the Villoresi canal (695.80 sq. km and 1,480,401 inhabitants), sponsored by Italian Lombardy Region and other public institutions with the involvement of heterogeneous civil society actors (voluntary organizations, environment local mobilizations, farmers’ associations). The main research findings highlight a specific depoliticization mechanism engenderd by CS actors and an opposing tendency towards politicization, surprisingly encouraged by the expert figures involved in the chosen case study.

Civil Society In Flux: Trends In Religious And Secular Volunteering Across The US, 2002-15

Dingeman Wiertz1, Chaeyoon Lim2

1University College London; 2University of Wisconsin-Madison

Since the 1990s, trends in the vitality of civil society have been a topic of intense scholarly and public debates. Some pundits have pointed to declining rates of civic engagement as indicator of an overall decline in social capital; others have countered that civic life has changed rather than declined. This study presents new evidence on how American civic life has evolved in recent decades.

Focusing on volunteering for civic organizations, we decompose nationwide and area-specific trends in volunteering into their component parts. We distinguish between volunteering for religious and secular causes, and between volunteering rates and volunteering hours. These decompositions paint a more nuanced picture of how the civic landscape is transforming.

Nationwide, we find that volunteering hours per capita dropped by 20% over the period 2002-2015. The decline is largest for secular volunteering, because although secular and religious volunteering rates have declined in parallel, the decline in the latter has been partly offset by a recent upsurge in volunteering hours among religious volunteers. This intensified involvement among religious volunteers has stalled the overall decline in volunteering since 2013.

We further dissect these trends by decomposing them by socio-demographics (age, education) and for different metropolitan areas. Among other things, we find steeper civic declines in areas that used to rely more heavily on religious volunteers – even though religious volunteering itself seems more resilient than secular volunteering. This suggests that American civic life is increasingly centred around dedicated believers who are highly committed to religious volunteering yet only sparingly get involved in secular civic activities. We discuss the implications of our findings in terms of the changing character of American civic democracy.

(Dis)Empowerment of “We the People” in Contemporary Russia from a Perspective of Its Constitutionalism

Irina Leonidovna Nedyak, Artemy Michailovich Kuchinov

Federal Center of Theoretical and Applied Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Federation

Post Soviet constitution was established without sufficient adjustment to entrenched social practices and social norms. That has been causing the constant informalization of the formal norms and delegitimation of the basic law. It’s also worth noting historically short experience of democratic representation, political participation, political and property rights These features resulted in extending the scope of arbitrary power at the cost of the political order of lawfullness and self-government along with fostering processes of deinstitutionalization, depolitization, erosion of civic virtues. Hence the specificity of constitutionalism development is intimately linked to the processes of disempowerment of “We the People”.

One of the aim of state-wide survey (Federal Center of Theoretical and Applied Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 2018,) was to define most appropriate institutional structures of executive and legislative power that help to provide rule of law and universalization of norms and yet can enforce popular sovereignty. Measurement of the potential to interiorize the two competing models of republican political order - democratic vs legal constitutionalism -revealed a very special entanglement of incoherent and controversial values and reasons of their adherents. We take this entanglement as a pivot of the analysis of the institutional environment and moral order most likely to empower people and to customize the meaning of virtues of both vita activa and vivere libero.

The research is supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (project No.17-03-00446).

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