Draft Literature Review: Introduction

Sections: Introduction ->  What is Political Participation? -> The Causes of Political Participation ->  Inequality and Privilege -> Interim Observations ->  Privilege and Capital ->  Adapting Capital -> Reconciling Privilege and Political Participation ->  The Importance of Perception ->  Conclusion

 

From the minister proclaiming that election turnout is important to the anti-cuts campaigner recruiting to their local group there is recognition that democracy, however envisaged, cannot function without public involvement. As such the concern about declining participation amongst those who practice politics has been matched by the piquing of academic interest in the topic.[1] That interest has been additionally keen because of the mixed effects of rising levels of education, which had been anticipated to deliver a participatory dividend, on levels of political activity.[2] However, the focus on those topics is only a contemporary manifestation of one of the key motivating conundrums of political behaviour research: why do people participate or not in political activity?[3]

The idea that politics in the United Kingdom is dominated by those with inherited advantage, supported by the unrepresentative prevalence of privately educated white men in Parliament, is commonplace.[4] It may frequently be filtered through class narratives in public discourse but the idea of privilege is highly relevant to the context of the United Kingdom.[5] Beyond being folk wisdom, though, it is possible that such sentiments point to an answer to the above conundrum. Indeed, research has suggested that despite the emergence of new forms of political activity there remains ‘very little evidence of a more level participatory playing field’ in politics.[6]

Answering the question of why people do or do not participate in politics with the refrain that ‘it’s all down to privilege’, however, is hardly satisfactory. This is not least because the status of that sentiment as folk wisdom suggests that holding such a belief, or perceiving the importance of privilege, is itself an important factor in people’s approaches to politics. Thus, perception of privilege, as well as privilege itself, can be seen to have an important impact on individual political participation. These key concepts of privilege, perception of it, and political participation are each complex in their own right, and it is the job of this chapter to introduce some of the key literature relating to them.

It will begin by presenting a broad definition of political participation and adapting existing typologies to fit with that definition. It will move on to present a convincing account of the processes that lead from background characteristics to unequal political participation, and suggest the link from that work to the concept of privilege. The literature on the various effects of privilege will be presented before the first half of the literature review is rounded off with an identification of the flaws of the preceding literature. In particular it will be noted that a holistic theory of privilege is needed and, crucially, that accounting for objective privilege alone provides an insufficient account of its workings. It will be argued that any fuller account of the concept must also accommodate its subjective component, which is based on perception of privilege.

In addressing the above flaws the second half of the chapter will begin by presenting a convincing and rich holistic theory of the workings of privilege, which is argued to function through economic, social, and cultural capital. It will then adapt that theory to render it applicable in the context of the contemporary United Kingdom before reconciling it with the focus on political participation and the approach to causality adopted in the first half of the chapter. Finally, it will introduce the concept of perception of privilege to address the absence of internal considerations in previous research on the concept. In positing that new concept it will be argued that the chapter lays the groundwork for hypotheses that link the independent variables of privilege and perception of it to the dependent variable of political participation.

Sections: Introduction ->  What is Political Participation? -> The Causes of Political Participation ->  Inequality and Privilege -> Interim Observations ->  Privilege and Capital ->  Adapting Capital -> Reconciling Privilege and Political Participation ->  The Importance of Perception ->  Conclusion

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[1] John Curtice and Ben Seyd, ‘Is there a crisis of political participation?’, in Alison Park, John Curtice, Katarina Thomson, Lindsey Jarvis, Catherine Bromley (eds.), British Social Attitudes, The 20th Report (2003/2004 Edition): Continuity and change over two decades (London, Sage Publications, 2004), pp. 93-104; Susan E. Scarrow, ‘Declining memberships, changing members? European political party members in a new era’, Party Politics, Vol. 16, No. 6 (May, 2010), pp. 823-843; Peter Mair and Ingrid van Biezen, ‘Party Membership in Twenty European Democracies, 1980-2000’, Party Politics, Vol. 7, No. 5 (2001), pp. 5-21.

[2] Curtice and Seyd, ‘Is there a crisis of political participation’, p. 93; Russell J. Dalton and Hans-Dieter Klingemann, ‘Citizens and Political Behavior’, in Russell J. Dalton and Hans-Dieter Klingemann, The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 3-26, p. 14; Henry E. Brady, Sidney Verba, and Kay Lehman Schlozman, ‘Beyond SES: A Resource Model of Political Participation’, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 89, No. 2, (Jun., 1995), pp. 271-294; Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman , and Henry E. Brady, Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1995), pp. 73-74.

[3] Max Kaase, ‘Perspectives on Political Participation’, in Dalton and Klingemann, The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior, pp. 783-796.

[4] ‘The Educational Background of Members of Parliament 2010’, The Sutton Trust, Monday 10 May 2010, viewed at http://www.suttontrust.com/our-work/research/download/29 on 27.08.2013; Afua Hirsch, ‘UK Election results: Number of minority ethnic MPs almost doubles’, The Guardian, Friday 7 May 2010, viewed at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/may/07/black-minority-ethnic-mps-2010 on 27.08.2013; Kira Cochrane, ‘Election results for women to celebrate – and worry about’, The Guardian, Friday 7 May 2010, viewed at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/may/07/women-parliament-election-losses-wins on 27.08.2013.

[5] Nadia Gilani, ‘Snobbery is in a class of its own’, Metro, Monday 07 October 2013, viewed at http://metro.co.uk/2013/10/07/are-you-a-snob-4134407/ on 25.10.2013; Jonathan Freedland, ‘British stereotypes: do mention the war, please!’ The Guardian, Thursday 26 January 2012, viewed at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jan/26/british-stereotypes-please-mention-war on 27.08.2013; Stephanie Flanders, ‘Do we really want more social mobility?’, BBC, Monday 24 June 2013, viewed at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23040308 on 27.08.2013, and accompanying programme listened to at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b02yjf15 on 01.07.2013.

[6] William A. Maloney and Jan W. van Deth, ‘Conclusions: Professionalization and individualized political action’, in William A. Maloney and Jan W. van Deth, New Participatory Dimensions in Civil Society: Professionalization and individualized collective action (London, Routledge, 2012), pp. 231-242, p. 241.

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