What we are reading: The continuous expansion of citizen participation: a new taxonomy

What is this about?

Every long, dark, depressing winter term (mid-October to mid-February, thank you very much), I run a reading class for/with my MA students. The rules are simple: I pick a broad topic (in this year’s instance: participation), then I select 12-14 peer-reviewed articles that have been published over the last 20 months or so. Each week, we read one article. One student is responsible for guiding us through the text, which we collectively pick apart to see what its strengths and weaknesses might be.

What we are reading: The continuous expansion of citizen participation: a new taxonomy 1

The aim of this exercise is twofold. On the one hand, students are exposed to cutting-edge research in at least one (fairly narrow) domain of political science. It’s an obvious point, but authors are usually standing (and sometimes tip-toeing) on the proverbial shoulders of giants. Trying to make sense of a recent and often very specific contribution is a roundabout but still interesting (I hope) way to learn more about the received wisdom in a (sub)field. But, ideally, students also acquire an understanding of how political scientists and the discipline work, warts and all. In many cases that means that they learn how to deduce test and empirically interesting hypotheses, and how to effectively communicate results, all in 8,000 words or fewer. In other cases, they learn (to their silent horror) that peer-reviewed research sometimes gets away with stuff that would earn them a massive bollocking if they did this in their coursework or thesis. Either way, it’s instructive.

I always urge my students to make copious notes about the readings, both at home and in class, so that we can take stock at the end of term. Needless to say that I do not always (cough) follow my own advice. But this term is different: I’m teaching from behind my laptop, from the safety and comfort of my private study/home studio/spare bedroom, and I can download the content of the very virtual whiteboard in four different digital formats with a single click. So I’m rather good (by my standards) at keeping notes of our sessions at the moment, and I thought I might as well put them here as a sort of public log. Like, you know, a web-log?

So what is this about?

We kicked off this term with this one:

Theocharis, Y., & van Deth, J. W. (2018). The continuous expansion of citizen participation: a new taxonomy. European Political Science Review, 10(1), 139–163. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1755773916000230

This article does two things: First, it presents a re-cap of van Deth’s (2014) new typology for classifying various acts of political participation, which also covers online participation. Second, it applies this framework to a representative and fairly recent (2015) sample of about 1,000 German adults.

What we liked

Shining a light on social media and internet use as one form of political participation obviously appealed to my students (all of them digital natives). More generally, we found the structure of the article very clear and the general rationale behind the new typology convincing. Last not least, the substantive findings were interesting. The take home message (in my students’ view) was that social media may be getting more and more important, but are still seen as an add-on by many Germans.

What we did not like so much

The students would have been interested in a slightly more thorough discussion of said empirical findings. They also suggested that the article might have benefited from more figures. Perhaps too much space was devoted to discussing respondents’ replies to an open question. And they would have liked to hear more about the intensity/frequency of political participation.

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