Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent: How Liberal Democracy Limits Popular Participation
Creative Commons, Feb 2013
ed. Rebecca Fisher
Corporate Watch UK are self-described as producing “information for action”. Founded in 1996 – for 16 years they have produced research and journalism that provides a critical analysis of corporations and their effects.
A culmination of such efforts has been published in their new book: “Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent”. Published under the Creative Commons license, it is a collection of essays by various academics, activists and campaign groups. Structured thematically, the anthology seeks to go beyond the veneer of what is understood as the ‘political process’ and participation within a liberal democracy.
Political participation in the UK is commonly understood as the following: an affiliation with a political party, campaigning upon their behalf and seeking the election of said party. The electorate is then given a set of policies by which to select and vote for. It then follows, that if the elected party’s policies are unfavourable, then it is ‘democracy in action’.
It is here that the book imparts its critique: to define democracy purely because of procedural aspects: such as regular elections, and the separation of powers ignores how such structures manifestly limit democratic participation.
An example given is the prohibitive cost of entering political elections and campaigns. A more participatory process and funding would ensure for wider access across different socio-economic backgrounds.
For those who act outside the political legitimacy of Westminster as activists find their actions are sharply curtailed. Democracy then, is by our rules only. The twenty essays are collected together thematically, looking at the funding of NGOs, towards the entertainment and media industry. Such a wide a scope allows Corporate Watch to reaffirm their argument of a ‘managed democracy’.
The contributors of ‘Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent’ are global in their reach – and subsequently focus upon the politics within their locale. I found the anthology to be at its weakest due to this; the international contributions distracted from the cohesion of the other essays that were UK-focused.
Information to Corporate Watch then, is not for consumption as the tone throughout promotes engagement and discussion. Overall, the book is optimistic about the future, invoking the playwright Bertolt Brecht: “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.”