New research by Professor Paul Chaney has been published in the leading international academic publication Journal of Civil Society (Routledge, T & F, Impact factor 1.22). It argues that existing studies generally fail to systematically examine the way that contextual factors shape political representation outside of political parties, government and the formal business of electing parliamentarians. In response, and focusing on women’s voice, the paper explores how representation takes place in everyday communities, leisure and voluntary organisations – collectively known as ‘civil society’.
It develops social theory on the substantive representation of women—or, the process by which women’s concerns are advanced in policy and politics. The term ‘social theory’ here alludes to a partial view or conceptual way of looking at the complexity of social processes such as representation, in order to gain a closer understanding of how they work. To do this the research proposes a new analytical model showing how political representation in civil society is what’s dubbed “a contingent process” -whereby the motives of individuals and civil society organizations are translated into different ways of placing demands on those in government (“action repertoires”). In turn, this is shaped by three different categories of factor (“non-discrete spheres”). These are political, socioeconomic, and organizational. Such factors include: the prevailing level of ‘social capital’ in society (in other words, collectively how sociable people are, whether people network and whether they trust each other); the skills, leadership and expertise in voluntary organisations; and the health of the economy and income levels.
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The significance of the research is in shining a new light on how future empirical (or data-gathering) research on women’s representation needs to look beyond the formal structures of government and the work of political parties and instead explore how representation also takes place in – and through – the communities in which we live; in other words, civil society.
The paper can be downloaded here