Vanessa Boese, Matthew C. Wilson | 2022

A Short History of Contestation and Participation

in: V-Dem Working Paper 130

Contestation and participation are commonly viewed as the two constituent dimensions of electoral democracy. How exactly have these two dimensions been conceptualized and measured in the literature? Are they empirically observable and do they matter for democratic development and stability? This paper answers the first of these questions and considers their implications for the second by reviewing the literature on democracy’s dimensions. We highlight three issues that affect conclusions about dimensions of democracy and their relevance for understanding democratic development: First, conceptual ambiguities — substantive overlap between the two concepts — obscure the meanings of each of the two dimensions. Such ambiguities led to a second issue, which is concept-measurement mismatch. The conceptual contributions were never really met with an empirical equivalent that would allow us to properly measure the two dimensions. Scholars continue to invoke theoretical understandings from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, however, but represent them using measures that were not explicitly concerned with measuring them, which presents the third issue of concept reification. As a result of these three issues, inference about how democracy has developed and their relevance for democratic stability or for transitions to democratic rule has been difficult. Based on these issues, we provide three suggestions for future research on dimensions of democracy.

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