IDP2016 (VIII). Lance Bennett: The Democratic Interface: Communication and Organizational Change in Movements and Parties

Notes from the 12th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Building a European digital space, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 7-8 July 2016. More notes on this event: idp2016.

Keynote speech. Chairs: Rosa Borge.

Prof. Lance Bennett. Professor of Political Science and Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor of Communication, University of Washington, Seattle, USA.
The Democratic Interface: Communication and Organizational Change in Movements and Parties

(Keynote co-authored with Alexandra Segerberg and Curd Knüpfer).

The democratic interface: the capacity of electoral communication and organization processes to engage citizens and produce equal democratic representation. Does the interface work equally well for everyone? Is it working better for the right? Why? Has a change in participation logic disrupted the traditional party interface with voter on the left?

40 years of neoliberal globalization, resulting in a breaking up of common social institutions (unions, schools, media, health care, etc.) and more political polarization.

Power has moved from states to businesses and markets. Most parties are embracing neoliberal policies and parties have hollowed themselves as spaces for citizen engagement (Mair). There is a legitimacy crissi of liberal representative democracy (Della Porta), a relocation of politics in the everyday (Band) and a personalization of politics (Bennett).

Does the reactionary right have increasing electoral advantage? Those who identify on the right are more likely to follow rules, respect traditions and customs and, in general, to follow what constitutes the model of a political party in neoliberal democracies: hierarchy, leadership, command, etc. So the right may have more electoral success because their voters have preferences for authority, strong leadership, rules, common traditions, etc.

Why the deficits on the left? There are fewer angry citizens on the radical left than on the radical right? there is more trust or confidence in politicians and parties on the left? Both hypothesis are not validated. Same happens with satisfaction with democracy, the economy, etc. And same with participation: the left participates as much or even higher than the right.

So it has to be a different logic of participation on the left.

The connective party: communication and organization for participatory democracy. There is a discontent with neoliberal globalization since 90s, leading to flexible identities and multiple issues, “meta ideologies” of diversity and inclusiveness, mistrust of parties and leaders and the representative process, and a preference for direct or participatory or deliberative democracy.

There is a shift in participation logic at the left interface. And this may be the reason why left parties are having issues to connect with their partisans and sympathisers.

Can parties on the left mobilize more voters with connective action?

Requirement for a connective party:

  • Central party open to feedback from peripheral networks.
  • Peripheral networks deliberate and share positions across networks and with central organization.
  • Scale requires digital platforms.

Podemos was initially more decentralized, but went under a process of centralization and strong leadership, quite abandoning the círculos. This left aside many people that were in for the participation.

Barcelona en Comú created a whole participatory network with different spaces, times, tools. It is by far the least centralized in Barcelona municipality.

Alternativet (Denmark). Founded in 2013, entered parliament in 2015 with 5% vote. Called itself both a party and a political movement, socially open, networked online platform, living everyday democracy, organized through communication between citizen “labs” and party leadership.

Can socially mediated participation be coordinated? Can it scale? Can such organization be sustained? Can party leadership share power? Can technology developers design participatory and deliberative platforms in collaboration with core leaders and local activists who may undervalue technology?

Discussion

Modern democracies are over. They were done when neoliberalism replaced Keynesianism as a way to manage society and public issues.

Can Kurban: does right and left still explain the state of politics? Bennett: it is true that it is increasingly difficult to explain things using these axes, but they still somewhat work, especially for the right that still cluster well.

Juan Roch: what is the role of technology, of digital platforms? Bennett: they are only instrumental, but they are definitely very important. But it is worth noting that there still is a lot of doubts about intensive use of technology, and even refusal to see technology replacing face-to-face meetings.

12th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2016)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2016) “IDP2016 (VIII). Lance Bennett: The Democratic Interface: Communication and Organizational Change in Movements and Parties” In ICTlogy, #154, July 2016. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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