Parties, movements, and the making of democracy

Nancy Bermeo, Deborah J. Yashar

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


What sorts of civilian collectivities promote and sustain democratic regime change? How do these collectivities emerge? Much of our most influential scholarship answers these questions with a focus on stylized classes and on the economic conditions that shape class preferences. Highlighting the effects of particular patterns of economic development and the role of “the rich,” “the poor,” and the “middle classes,” our most vibrant debates are often less about who the key players in regime change are than about which configurations of income, wealth, and inequality most shape their preferences for democracy or dictatorship. This volume proposes that we move beyond the singular focus on economic and class structure and widen the lens we use to study democratization, especially in the developing world. In particular, we highlight the need to focus our theoretical energies on the specific collective actors that are doing the hard work of demanding, forging, and sustaining democracy. Drawing on empirical material from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, we argue that the domestic collectivities at the core of the democratization process are not necessarily classes per se. Though we do not deny that classes may often be powerful actors, we argue, instead, that political parties and social movements (i.e., political collectivities with mixed-class constituencies and their own organizational incentives) are usually key to democratization's fate. These collectivities are pivotal because they can mobilize across a diverse set of societal cleavages; because class cleavages may not always trump other cleavages; because no group's preferences can translate into enduring democratic institutional change without collective action; and because elites associated with movements and parties have drafted our constitutions and designed our democratic institutions for centuries. Because parties and movements stand center stage in the drama of successful democratization and because they mobilize along a range of historically and contextually contingent cleavages, an exclusive focus on either abstract class actors or material conditions leaves us ill-prepared to understand democratization in the developing world. By democratization we mean the additive process through which a regime changes from an autocracy (where unelected leaders rule) to a democracy (where elected leaders rule and are made accountable through institutions that provide channels for broad citizen participation, on the one hand, and guarantees for freedom of thought, expression, and association, on the other.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationParties, Movements, and Democracy in the Developing World
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781316661581
ISBN (Print)9781107156791
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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