Challenges and Prospects
New Horizons in Public Policy series
Edited by John Fenwick and Janice McMillan
Chapter 8: Everyday Makers and Expert Citizens: Active Participants in the Search for a New Governance
* Henrik P. Bang INTRODUCTION Since Robert D. Putnam published his article about how Americans were increasingly ‘bowling alone’ (1995), one has continuously asked whatever has happened to civic engagement in the US and the rest of the Western world? As Russell J. Dalton recently noted (2008: 76) there is ‘an apparent consensus among contemporary political scientists that the foundations of citizenship and democracy in America are crumbling’; ‘Citizens participate in public affairs less frequently, with less knowledge and enthusiasm, in fewer venues, and less equally than is healthy for a vibrant democratic polity’ (Macedo et al., 2005: 1). However, after having witnessed how millions of volunteers helped Barack Obama to win the American Presidency through a very spectacular and novelty-creating political campaign, it is time to ask: how could mainstream political science possibly overlook the shifts in political orientation and participation that made so many of those whom Putnam described as having ‘forsaken their parents’ habitual readiness to engage in the simplest act of citizenship’ (1995: 69) invade ‘the political’ as new volunteers and voters? Why is it that those in the mainstream did not detect this significant political potential for participation and change? Those studying participation outside the formal institutions of government have for at least a decade been claiming that such a potential for revitalizing people’s engagement in ‘big’ politics exists (Bang, 2003a; Corner and Pels, 2003; Hajer and Wagenaar, 2003; Heffen, Kickert and Thomassen, 2000; Marsh, O’Toole and Jones, 2007; Newman, 2005). Then why is it that...
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