Over the past two decades, there have been dramatic changes in how people participate in politics. Increasingly, people are turning away from political institutions in favour of more informal and unconventional modes of political participation. These modes are often facilitated by networked communication and allow for more 'participatory' forms of political culture. As a governing ideology that operates on multiple levels, neoliberalism has been central to these transformations. By influencing the values, practices, and institutions in Western democracies, it has transformed ideas of citizenship, publicness and democracy by weakening public institutions and privileging a focus on selfimprovement, private life, individualism, and market-oriented actions. In this dissertation, I focused on emerging forms of political culture in Canada with a concern for the relationship between neoliberalism, the theoretical work on participatory politics and developments in practice. Through a series of three case studies, the aims of my project are to: 1) Demonstrate the diversity of this expanding field of practice in Canada and investigate the key characteristics, practices, and contradictions associated with initiatives; 2) Explain how patterns of participatory politics relate to and sometimes contest patterns of neoliberal governance; 3) Assess the degree to which emerging forms of participatory politics represent consequential approaches to public action. While political participation has changed dramatically over the past two decades, we still lack empirical data on how the dynamics of neoliberalism have reshaped political culture in paradoxical ways that both constrict and widen the opportunities for political efficacy. This is the case despite the urgency to develop new ideas that address younger generations whose retreat from traditional methods of public participation, threatens the legitimacy of formal democratic institutions. There is a need to better understand how participatory politics provides avenues for agency that are currently unavailable through institutionalized politics in neoliberal societies such as Canada. In identifying the similarities, differences and limitations of the case studies, this dissertation will assist in assessing competing claims regarding participatory politics and help to inform interventions in policy and education that aim to foster a more robust democracy.
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Thesis advisor: Poyntz, Stuart
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