Communicative capacity: how public encounters affect the quality of participatory democracy

Bartels, Koen Pieter Robert (2012) Communicative capacity: how public encounters affect the quality of participatory democracy. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The main goal of this thesis is to explore how the encounters between public professionals and citizens affect the quality of participatory democracy. Participatory democracy was introduced as a radical alternative to representative democracy, but has often not lived up to its promises. Among the great variety of factors that have been found to matter, questions have arisen about the added value of public encounters: are problems and failures of participation because of or despite public professionals and citizens coming together? Despite a growing body of research on this subject, public encounters have so far not been adequately understood on their own terms. Building on recent contributions to the communicative turn in participatory democracy, this thesis develops a relational, situated, performative approach to analyze the communicative “in-between” of public professionals and citizens. In order to examine their communicative practices, a narrative analysis has been conducted of the stories public professionals and citizens tell about their daily experiences. Through a grounded theory process of analyzing 59 intensive interviews conducted in Glasgow, Amsterdam, and Bologna, the research formulated a theory of communicative capacity.

The research shows that when public professionals and citizens meet, they develop and sustain dominant patterns of communication that limit their ability to solve local problems. Each case was characterized by a distinct communicative pattern, because local actors focused more on the substantive issues at hand rather than on the way they communicated about these. This was difficult to change because three inherent processes of participatory practice were drawing public professionals and citizens into dominant communicative patterns. Therefore, the thesis argues that the quality of participatory democracy depends on the communicative capacity of public professionals and citizens to recognize and break through these dominant patterns by constantly adapting the nature, tone, and conditions of their conversations to the situation at hand. The main contribution of this thesis is that it provides a more grounded and rounded understanding of the nature and importance of the communicative “in-between” (interaction or encounter) of public professionals and citizens for the quality of participatory democracy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: participatory democracy, communication, government-citizen relationships, interpretative methods, narrative analysis, policy analysis, grounded theory, urban governance, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JS Local government Municipal government
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Politics
Supervisor's Name: Hastings, Ms. Annette and Kollman, Dr. Kelly
Date of Award: 2012
Depositing User: Dr. Koen P.R. Bartels
Unique ID: glathesis:2012-3517
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2012
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 14:08

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