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Removing the intermediaries? Patterns of intra-party organizational change in Europe (1970–2010)

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Abstract

The aim of this article is to place the recent debate on the concept of disintermediation—intended as the process of change in political representation towards more direct forms of political mediation—within the broader literature on party change, to assess its actual usefulness in the field. We maintain that the potential of this concept applied to party organization is mainly heuristic, as it describes a number of intertwined changes observable in parties’ resources, representative strategies and structures. Our expectation is that contemporary parties have progressively adopted disintermediated organizational profiles, by weakening the intermediate organs while favouring both the parliamentarization of the leadership and the opening of their membership. These assumptions are empirically verified through a diachronic analysis of the party changes registered in nine European democracies, from the beginning of the 1970s to 2010. All in all, we argue that parties' internal disintermediation has increased in most countries, in the passing from the 1990s to the New Millennium.

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Notes

  1. More precisely, the original meaning of the term was ‘the diversion of savings from accounts with low fixed interest rates to direct investment in high-yielding instruments’ (Merriam-Webster 1967).

  2. See: www.britannica.com/topic/disintermediation.

  3. See: www.jamieparfitt.com/blog/2014/5/4/disintermediation-reintermediation-and-cybermediation

  4. The pluralist approach, for example, identified the role of parties with that of financial brokers, i.e. professionalized actors paid to deliver services to more than one principal (Katz 1997).

  5. This is why, in general, the agency theory applied to political parties (Koeble 1996; Kitschelt 2000) proves rather ineffective (Katz 2014).

  6. Put in the most simplified (and rather normative) version, the party in central office is expected to act as an agent of the party on the ground, by supervising the activities of the party in public office and providing party members with selective and collective incentives. The party in public office is considered the party's external agent: its main goals consist in promoting party's electoral programme into the institutional agenda and in channelling State resources to the party on the ground, via the policy making process (Katz 2014).

  7. A number of socio-economic, cultural, political as well as technological factors contributed to the weakening of the segmental solidarity towards parties and to the lowering of partisan identification and alignment, as well as party mobilization. See Dalton, Wattenberg 2000; Cain et al 2003.

  8. The cartel party thesis has been criticized by several specialists because of its excessive emphasis on parties’ departure from civil society (Koole 1996; Poguntke 2006).

  9. This ‘unexpected generosity’ has been interpreted differently: as a by-product of party preferred model of democracy (Scarrow and Gezgor 2010), also in line with the democratic principles at the heart of their political systems (Caul Kittilson and Scarrow 2003); as a response to citizens’ increasing participatory demand (Dalton et al. 2011); and/or to counterbalance the growing deficit of parties’ legitimacy (Ignazi 2014; Borz and Janda 2018). Furthermore, since the half of the 1970s, in an increasing number of European Liberal-democracies the reform of party organizational templates has been formally regulated by the State (van Biezen and Piccio 2013), to the aim of enhancing the overall quality of the democratic society (Teorell 1999).

  10. See Rahat 2009; Rahat and Hazan 2010; Detterbeck 2012; Ignazi 2014.

  11. We consider the following party families: Christian Democrats/Conservatives; Social Democrats; Liberals; Greens; Left Socialists; Right-wing (populists); Far right (extreme right); Regionalist; Not applicable.

  12. We refer to T. Poguntke's analytical proposal to consider as new all those parties which were founded in 1951 or later.

  13. For the period dummy, the 1990s; for the country dummy, Netherlands; for the party family dummy, right-wing parties. These three dummies are excluded from the analysis and therefore constitute the baseline category.

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Pizzimenti, E., Calossi, E. & Cicchi, L. Removing the intermediaries? Patterns of intra-party organizational change in Europe (1970–2010). Acta Polit 57, 191–209 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-020-00180-6

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