Civil Society and Deliberative Democracy: Have Voluntary Organisations Faded from National Public Politics?
Article first published online: 20 MAR 2012
© 2012 The Author(s). Scandinavian Political Studies © 2012 Nordic Political Science Association
Scandinavian Political Studies
Volume 35, Issue 3, pages 246–271, September 2012
How to Cite
Öberg, P. and Svensson, T. (2012), Civil Society and Deliberative Democracy: Have Voluntary Organisations Faded from National Public Politics?. Scandinavian Political Studies, 35: 246–271. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9477.2012.00288.x
- Issue published online: 5 AUG 2012
- Article first published online: 20 MAR 2012
The political context of civil society in Western Europe has changed dramatically in recent decades. These changing circumstances may produce a decline in the integration of civil society into political life – especially deliberative activities at the national level. This article discusses how serious these alleged threats are to a hitherto vital civil society – that of Sweden. It focuses on fours indicators of organised civil society's contribution to deliberative democracy. First, have efforts to contact politicians, public servants and the media, as well as participation in public debates, decreased? Second, has civil society directed interest away from national arenas and instead concentrated resources in local and/or supranational arenas? Third, is there any evidence of a withdrawal from public activities, such as public debates and media activities in favour of direct contacts with politicians and public servants? Fourth, has civil society become more professionalised in the sense that interest groups are increasingly hiring professional consultants? Two surveys conducted in 1999 and 2005 show that Swedish organised civil society has not faded from national public politics. However, growing public participation is almost exclusively connected to increasing communication via the mass media and direct contact with politicians. Taking part in open public debate has not increased. The national arena has marginally lost some importance. Moreover, there is an increasing tendency to hire professional lobbying consultants. This might improve the quality of civil society's contributions to public deliberation, but a more elitist civil society might also develop, which is uninterested in social dialogue.