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Socio-historical foundations of citizenship practice: after social revolution in Portugal

Abstract

This article shows how macro-historical processes of change can activate robust and enduring forms of citizenship practice, providing both survey-based evidence for this claim and a theorization of the causal mechanisms involved. Focusing on the case of Portugal, where democratization followed the historically unusual path of social revolution, we examine survey data on civic practice covering twenty countries and find Portugal to be a world leader in public participation in the electronic public sphere. When we examine the subsection of the population socialized politically in the country’s post-revolutionary democracy, we find another important indicator of lively citizenship practice. The article takes the examination of this specific national case as the basis for developing an argument of broad theoretical relevance on the social underpinnings of lively and participatory citizenship practice. With an empirical foundation for our claims in survey data and other sources, our analysis of Portugal offers an interpretation of the case, leading to substantial revision of assumptions in the extant literature. More importantly, through our examination of this case, we show how large-scale macro-historical processes of change can encourage lively civic practice manifested at the individual level. Our argument highlights the importance of hierarchy-challenging collective experiences that reconfigure cultural frameworks and reorient the character of institutional practice. We take up the implications of this argument for cases lacking a history of revolution and find certain parallels with national cases shaped by movements of social reform as in the social democracies of Scandinavia.

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Notes

  1. We refer in the text to vibrant, robust, expansive, inclusionary and egalitarian forms of citizenship practice. In our usage, the meaning placed on these (and closely related) terms overlaps substantially if not fully; we rely on this broad range of terms for largely stylistic reasons. By robust and expansive forms of citizenship practice we understand types of citizen involvement in public life that extend beyond the bare minimum of core civic duties such as voting and that concern broadly defined issue terrains and public processes. By lively and energetic citizenship practice we understand forms of citizen involvement that require substantial effort on the part of those involved and that help to create a vibrant public sphere – one that is full of life. We use the terms inclusionary and egalitarian citizenship practice to refer to the breadth of involvement in civic behavior. Our paper is concerned with all of these phenomena and understands them to be interrelated.

  2. We use the term inclusionary here to refer to a public sphere in which shared understandings welcome the involvement in public discussion of relatively poor and socially marginal actors – and their concerns.

  3. Obviously, the extent to which the news media – including television – report the news in a way that exposes listeners to a wide array of information sources varies significantly by country and television network. In the Portuguese case, television news does provide listeners with a wide array of viewpoints.

  4. See the remarks of José Soeiro, representative of the Bloco de Esquerda, at the commemorative session of parliament on April 25, 2008. The Portuguese revolution, frequently referred to simply as ‘April’, is commemorated annually in a special session of parliament and in numerous other events located both within official institutions and in public venues.

  5. Interview with Arsenio Reis, July 21, 2011.

  6. This point was stressed to us by Arsenenio Reis in our interview with him.

  7. See, for example, the principles articulated by journalist Estrela Serrano (2006) in Para Compreender o Jornalismo, especially page 193.

  8. We discuss these interviews in Fishman and Lizardo (2013).

  9. Interview with Sara Fernandes, February 6, 2008, Lisbon.

  10. Interview with Luis Costa, February 1, 2008, Queluz.

  11. Clearly most social revolutions have not ended in democracy which is precisely why this case holds such theoretical importance.

  12. We are indebted to Gosta Esping-Andersen for discussions on the Danish case.

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Acknowledgments

We wish to thank Alice Ramos and Catia Nunes for data analysis and Suzanne Coshow for assistance with tabular analysis and other matters. The Theory and Society reviewers and Editors provided valuable feedback on an earlier version. Fishman also acknowledges the funding support received through the CONEX program from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program for research, technological development, and demonstration under grant agreement 600371, Spain’s Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (COFUND2013-40258), and Banco Santander. Our greatest debt is to all the interviewees whose willingness to answer questions made this research possible.

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Fishman, R.M., Cabral, M.V. Socio-historical foundations of citizenship practice: after social revolution in Portugal. Theor Soc 45, 531–553 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11186-016-9281-z

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Keywords

  • Citizenship
  • Civic practice
  • Democratization
  • Portugal
  • Public sphere
  • Social revolution