The practice of democratic citizenship is undergoing a multifaceted transition. There are fundamental changes in conceptions of democratic citizenship and in its practice as well as the targets of citizen action. Scepticism about representative democracy as a system of governance is growing and citizens across established democracies are withdrawing from politics. Their perception about the political world is impacted by transformations in the news media practices and by online content, including social media. Voting and party politics have been the basis of conventional interpretations of citizenship, but there is ample evidence that this conception is much too limited. New forms of communication are providing citizens with novel ways to gather information and to engage in politics.
THEME 2.1: Making Choice in Public Life
The notion that voting is a civic duty has long been at the heart of citizenship norms. Elections are usually seen as key mechanisms for linking citizens and politicians, ensuring that citizens’ views are represented in government and offering a way to hold government accountable (Przeworski et al. 1999). Given their central role in representative democracies, elections provide one of the main opportunities for exercising democratic citizenship. However, several developments are challenging the role of elections as a central mechanism in democratic systems. In many advanced democracies, citizens’ opinions and political preferences appear to be polarizing and radicalizing (Iyengar &Westwood, 2015). The recent rise of populist parties is indicative of citizens taking more radicalized political positions, both to the left and right (Kriesi, 2014; Norris, 2005). We will explore whether Canada or Quebec are likely to follow this path.
THEME 2.2: Perceiving the Public World
Many of our political opinions and attitudes are determined by how we perceive the political world. Some claim that we live in the “post-truth era” (Keyes 2004), where facts are often trumped by gut-level feelings and perceptions. These perceptions are driven in part by messages and rhetoric emanating from the mass media and political actors (Zaller 1992, 1996). But political perceptions also have roots in a variety of understudied processes such as people’s physiological responses and brain physiology (Oxley et al. 2008; Amodio et al. 2007).
THEME 2.3: A Changing Media Landscape
The media landscape is changing radically. The news media authoritative voice is eroding as technological, economic and political transformations increase the range of competing stakeholders (Williams and Delli Carpini 2011). These changes drive citizens to increasingly use a wide range of social media and online resources to get information about politics. Moreover, politicians and parties have integrated online technologies into their election campaigns (Stromer-Galley 2014; Vaccari 2013). In this theme we explore how these transformations shape the character of political information and communication and the practice of democratic citizenship.
THEME 2.4: Varieties and Transformation in Citizen Engagement
Beyond information gathering, digital technologies also change how citizens engage in politics. Electoral and partisan participation are on the decline, but citizens are finding new ways of expressing their political opinions as communication technologies facilitate novel forms of political engagement. Citizens are also using creative protests such as flash mobs, political consumerism, and culture jamming. As the repertoire of political action is expanding (van Deth 2014), do inequalities that have traditionally characterized conventional forms of political action similarly shape digital and other forms of citizenship?
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