From parliaments to political parties: cracking political institutions

This year we published the anthology “Sociology of Parliaments” (series Political Sociology Springer VS), now I am setting out – together with Jasmin Siri – on a new collective publication project: We want look for new sociological perspectives on parties with a book on “Sociology of the Parties”! We think that this is a good time to do just that. As with the book on parliaments, we want to lure sociology out of its reserve, as it traditionally concerns itself only marginally with political institutions, and even the dialogue with political science is rather sporadic. There’s more to it, we think – let’s see what comes next!

You can read our Call for Papers on the project here:

Currently, national and European party systems are experiencing drastic changes, even disruptions. Those changes may be attributed to phenomena such as the success of populist and nationalist tendencies, but also to the rise of new democratic movements. Such developments pose new challenges to classic approaches to political parties. At the same time, we have witnessed many interesting attempts to scientifically grasp the current developments: in studies on right wing populism; on newly established parties; on new ways to categorize political parties; and on which consequences these developments imply for elections and election campaigns. Nevertheless, one important voice has been marginalized in these debates: the sociological voice. Over the last couple of years, for the most part, sociology appears to have been disinterested in studying political parties.

This anthology aims to uncover the potential of sociological approaches to the study of political parties.[1] The current political developments appear to be an appropriate occasion to do so: recent changes, at least in part, show that we can no longer restrict ourselves to common research questions and approaches. Although the importance of and legitimate interest in the analysis of specific political parties – their leadership, culture, strategies, electorate, potential for development, and also the specific relation to other parties – cannot be denied, this dominant way of thinking about political parties appears to have reached its limits. Fundamental changes call for new forms of analysis, and sociology, with its broad theoretical and methodological repertory, has the potential to make important contributions to answering the important question: which role do political parties play in the political system and beyond?

We are looking for contributions to this anthology that show and discuss the potential of sociological analysis for a better and more detailed understanding of political parties. Therefore, we are especially interested in contributions focusing on fundamental questions regarding the functional role and embedding of political parties in modern societies. We look forward to receiving manuscripts that give us an idea of what a theoretically as well as methodologically creative sociology of political parties might look like. Examples of what the contributions may address could include, but are not limited to, the following issues and questions:

  1. Which role do political parties play in modern, globalized societies? Do they contribute to the integration of complex societies? How do the decline of modern mass media and the rise of new digital media affect political parties? How can we describe the relation between parties and their societal environment? Can we look beyond aggregation of interests? These and similar questions might be addressed by referring to differentiation, modernity, governance, or globalization theoretical means.
  2. How important are political parties as political organizations? What role do parties play as organizations for the political system? How does party organization affect political participation? Are political parties different from other forms of organization? What is the impact of globalization on the organization of interest in parties? Apart from organization theoretic approaches, the use of network theories and methods – hitherto only rarely used in studies on political parties – appears promising.
  3. Which specific political practices can we observe in political parties? How is political practice transformed by party membership? How can we describe practices of political appearance, speech, and use of power in parties? Do they differ from political practice in parliaments, for example, or from everyday life? Again, many approaches – from practice theoretic to pragmatistic to ethnomethodological – appear promising in taking on such questions.
  4. How should we think about the relation between political parties and democracy? The question regarding whether political parties are a specifically democratic institution appears to be of special (sociological) relevance. Do western European investigations into political parties even display some sort of ‘democracy bias’? What is happening in parties that do not adhere to western European norms of democracy? What insight might result from investigating them for sociological endeavors? Constructivist and performative approaches, respectively, seem to be especially interesting when it comes to such democracy theoretic questions.

If you are interested in contributing to this project of stimulating a contemporary sociology of political parties, we look forward to receiving your extended abstracts (8,000-12,000 characters including spaces). Extended abstracts should include a specific research question, methodological as well as theoretic approaches and general results.

Submission deadline for extended abstracts (please send to j.siri (a) is 15 Dec 2018. If your abstract is accepted, full papers must be submitted by 1 June 2019.

[1]             We follow the idea first introduced by an anthology on ‘Sociology of Parliaments’ that was edited for the same book series on Political Sociology in 2018 (eds. Brichzin, Jenni; Krichewsky, Damien; Ringel, Leopold; Schank, Jan).

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