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In Search of Ordinary People: The Problematic Politics of Popular Participation


Corresponding author: John Clarke; e-mail:


In this article, I explore the contemporary political and governmental enthusiasm for the participation of ordinary people in fields of economic, social, and political life. I sketch some examples of this growing enthusiasm, beginning with the transformation of welfare states. I then explore different accounts of the centrality of ordinary people to contemporary political and governmental strategies, considering the emergence of advanced liberal efforts of construct “responsible” subjects; the role of popular participation in neoliberalism's de-politicizing tendencies; and the ambiguous place of the people in authoritarian populist politics. I consider the capacity of the idea of “ordinary people” to connect different sites of political and governmental innovation—and the failure of ordinary people to live up to their idealized status.

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