Thursday, 2 May 2013

Wrestling with Democracy – the audience


Who is the primary audience for this book?  Academics?  Activists?  The general public?  Personally, I think anyone interested in democratic struggle will find something of interest in this book.  Obviously, as it is published by a university press, it is intended to engage with scholars, and the fine detail of scholarly debates and disputes.  But most of the scholarly tussles play out in the introduction or primarily in the endnotes to each chapter.  Most of the book then is free of academic jargon and makes its case through fairly straightforward narrative and argument.  A general public interested in where democracy comes from or how it has taken shape will find in this book a lively story, featuring all the usual players in any political drama: political parties, politicians, unpredictable events, vested interests, and public spirited organizations and individuals.  Activists too will find this treatment of democratic struggle and reform relevant as it argues that political activism in many forms has been crucial in influencing the shape of institutions, though not always in ways that activists might have wished.

Academically, the book has many potential audiences.  The most obvious is the group of scholars who study why voting systems change.  More broadly, the book is relevant to those analyzing why and how any democratic or governing institutions change.  The book makes a contribution to the cross disciplinary field of democratization studies, both in terms of the origins of western democracies but also the continuing struggle over their substance and parameters thereafter.  Clearly then the book fits into the comparative politics subfield of political science in many ways.  Yet it is not limited to this field.  In approach, utilizing a comparative historical method and what I am calling ‘critical institutionalism’, the book draws from historical sociology, historical institutionalism, and comparative history.  It is also relevant to the subfield of political theory that is attempting to advance what it calls a ‘realist’ theory of democratic origins and development, as the book could be seen as empirical support for their project.  Finally, the book attends to class as a key political force and factor in twentieth century political struggle, one that decisively influences both the resistance to and final victory of democracy, but also the struggles over just what the rules of democracy may be in any given time or place.  As such, it should interest scholars of the organizational left in terms of mass parties and social movements, and those focused on class identity, formation, and struggle.

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