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Durham e-Theses
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Towards a re-composition of democratic participation in regions: the role of consultative forums

Firholz, Danielle (2008) Towards a re-composition of democratic participation in regions: the role of consultative forums. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Following the decentralisation of governmental processes in many European countries, a number of political decisions are now being made by regional instances of government. As they gain more political autonomy, regions also take on a renewed significance as places in which to convene a number of democratic debates between a number of actors. At the same time, the democratic trends in regions have also been characterised by the introduction of participatory elements which complement the more traditional channels of representative democracy. Modern democracies are often "hybrid democracies" in which citizens and groups delegate power by electing representatives, but simultaneously retain the possibility to raise issues or participating in decision-making between elections. This thesis is specifically concerned with the contribution of the various particularistic groups in regional decision-making processes. Within this broad area of research, my project focuses on the involvement of particularistic groups through "consultative forums". Consultative forums are relatively formal participatory structures which aspire to deepen the ways in which people and groups can effectively participate in and influence the policy-processes prior to legislation being considered. They are purposely designed to help groups get their message across to government by nurturing their voices, organising a level of interaction between the various groups, and channelling the groups' message across to government. The thesis provides an in-depth exploration of the functioning of two such consultative forums: the Scottish Civic Forum and the French Regional Economic and Social Council. Based on observations collected during thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, the thesis critically examines the extent to which these two organisations can promote the sort of dialogue and democratic debate which could lead to an effective re-composition of political action in devolved democratic processes. Theoretically, the thesis draws from a number of contemporary debates relative to the participation of particularistic groups in modem liberal democratic processes. These debates address the commonly accepted prevalence of representative democracy, the quality of regional public spheres and the in-house functioning of participatory organisations such as the consultative forums. The thesis concludes that, while the consultative forums might not necessarily be the primary means of democratic expression in the regions, each of them fulfils a very important function. One model seeks primarily to empower smaller, vulnerable groups within policy processes. The second model foments an intensive level of interaction between key regional stakeholders. I argue that both these objectives are eminently worthwhile and that the consultative forums are able to fulfil important functions in regional public spheres.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2008
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Sep 2011 18:33

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