Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Notes on Grugel

On Jean Grugel's Democratisation: A Critical Introduction.

Democratisation’s many definitions: “a discourse, a demand, a set of institutional changes, a form of elite domination, a political system dependent on popular control, an exercise in power politics and a demand for global solidarity” among others (Grugel 2002: 4).

Studies range from transition to consolidation.

A minimalist definition is the holding of elections. The author favours a more substantive definition: “introduction and extension of citizenship rights and the creation of a democratic state (Grugel 2002: 5).”

This definition means more than being able to jot down names on a piece of paper, but whether the “people” are endowed with power to hold the governing body (the state) accountable.

While democracy is a political order, its efficacy depends on certain preconditions. In the developing world some modicum of citizens’ economic stability directly impinge on their ability to exercise their democratic rights and duties. Operating on “one-cannot-eat-one’s-right-to-vote” principle, “citizens” are more than willing to trade the sanctity of the ballot for a week’s worth of grocery money.

Globalisation shapes contemporary democratization in various ways:
1. Culturally, through the creation of a global communications network and a global culture
2. Economically, through the establishment of a global capitalist economy
3. Politically, through the establishment of institutions of global governance

Globalisation is inherently an uneven process, its impact is much greater on developing states than on developed ones. This means that it is possible for global forces to push this form of restricted democratization more strongly in the underdeveloped world. It is not an unambiguous support for democratisation, as it has sometimes been assumed.

Some of the philosophical and political questions for which democratic theory posits tentative (contingent) answers are – who constitutes the people, in which ways can their interests be aggregated and articulated in public governance, what kinds of rights do they possess and how are these rights to be safeguarded, who sets the agenda to which the people respond, how to balance individual and collective rights.

Liberal democracy = infusion of liberalism with democracy, the best way to safeguard democracy is through the individual.

Marxist critique: “Democracy was stunted by its marriage to capitalism, and political rights without economic equality were meaningless because they could never become real. At the same time, the exploitation and alienation generated by capitalism prevented people from realising their potential and society as whole to live in harmony (Grugel 2002: 16).”


“Structural power explains why policy-making is not democratic, even where elections are free and air and civil liberties are respected. Secrecy and elitism in government are also important mechanisms for the reproduction of non-democratic forms of policy-making (Grugel 2002: 21).”

The end of the Cold War resulted to a “hegemonic” definition of democracy, that of the liberal model in the industrialised “West.”

The scholarship on democracy saw a move form a discussion of the concept as a philosophical one to one of “descriptive” democracy. Grugel posits Schumpeter’s democracy as one of competition between elites – “Democracy means only that the people have the opportunity of accepting or refusing the men who are to rule them (Schumpeter quoted by Grugel 2002: 19).”

Another problem of empirical democratic theory is its Western bias. In many ways, the conditions in mature capitalist societies are vastly different from those elsewhere. Also, it concentrates on the observable (measurable) facts of democratic process and thus “promotes a procedural understanding of democracy (Grugel 2002: 21).”

Making political rights real = ensuring economic rights

“By tying democracy to actually existing democracies, empirical democratic theory managed both to establish the idea that there was a dichotomous distinction between democracy and other forms of government, and to set out transparent criteria for measuring democracy…Democracy was taken to mean simply the creation of procedures for free and fair elections and the alternation of political leadership…Culture, society and the economy were, by and large, ignored (Grugel 2002: 30).”

Motor of democratisation in the 19th century – class. 1980s onwards, a mix of social conflict, state-building and external influence.

Rueschemeyer, Stephens and Stephens: the contradictions of capitalism generated pro-democratic forces.

In Britain gradual opening of political spaces followed the social upheavals of the industrial revolution and consequent compromises of various actors/classes.

Chances for democratisation are great when:
1. capitalism is the dominant national mode of production
2. civil society groups are active and politicised
3. class and other social conflicts are resolved through political enfranchisement and the incorporation of new social groups into polity rather than through their exclusion
4. the state is relatively autonomous and has not been captured exclusively by a small elite
5. the state has sufficient resources for redistribution and to enforce the rule of law
6. the international order promotes and encourages democratisaion and ostracises non-democratic regimes (Grugel 2002: 45)

Three main theories of democratisation : modernisation, historical sociology and transition.

Modernisation theory – capitalism equals democracy. Critiques include its ahistoricity (that a set of conditions in one context can be easily replicable somewhere else). Markets and the bourgeoisie are not necessarily always pro-democratic. Agency is taken for granted and replaced with economic determinism.

Historical sociology – a critique of modernisation theory’s simplistic framework as well as an effort to bring politics (the state) back in.

Transition studies – democracy is created by certain agents – self-conscious actors. Democracy can be created independent of context.
- pact-making between political elites, “pacted transition”

Grugel’s alternative approach – draws from historical sociology and the importance of structures, but also from transitology and the importance of agency.

Grugel’s three concepts (Grugel 2002: 65)
1. the state
2. civil society
3. globalisation

Rueschemeyer et al see democracy as the reform of the capitalist state, that is no just working in the interest of certain classes. The role of subaltern classes is important.

The State

Full democratisation of the state includes:
- institutional change, representative change, functional transformation (what the state does, what are its functional responsibilities)

Some obstacles to the democratisation of the state – national identity, issues on sovereignty, poor state capacity, authoritarian legacies, political fallout from economic reform (Grugel 2002).

“…introduction of elections and the writing of new constitutions do not, in themselves, challenge non-democratic state cultures and practices. Nor do they transform power relations within society (Grugel 2002: 91).”

Civil Society (see ch. 5)


Until the 90s, democratisation was largely seen as developing domestically, with little attention to the role of external events (Grugel 2002: 116).

External support for democratisation only plays a complementary role to domestic pressures.

Pressures of global political economy are not necessarily pro-democratic. They generate patterns of exclusion and in many ways exacerbate poverty. They weaken the state apparatus on account of liberalisation and prescriptions of global governance bodies. The West also has ideological power over the definition of what constitutes “democracy.”

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