Associations, active citizenship, and the quality of democracy in Brazil and Mexico

Abstract

In many Third Wave democracies large classes of people experience diminished forms of citizenship. The systematic exclusion from mandated public goods and services significantly injures the citizenship and life chances of entire social groups. In democratic theory civil associations have a fundamental role to play in reversing this reality. One strand of theory, known as civic engagement, suggests that associations empower their members to engage in public politics, hold state officials to account, claim public services, and thereby improve the quality of democracy. Empirical demonstration of the argument is surprisingly rare, however, and limited to affluent democracies. In this article, we use original survey data for two large cities in Third Wave democracies—São Paulo and Mexico City—to explore this argument in a novel way. We focus on the extent to which participation in associations (or associationalism) increases “active citizenship”—the effort to negotiate directly with state agents access to goods and services legally mandated for public provision, such as healthcare, sanitation, and security—rather than civic engagement, which encompasses any voluntary and public spirited activity. We examine separately associationalism’s impact on the quality of citizenship, a dimension that varies independently from the level of active citizenship, by assessing differences in the types of citizenship practices individuals use to obtain access to vital goods and services. To interpret the findings, and identify possible causal pathways, the paper moves back-and-forth between two major research traditions that are rarely brought into dialogue: civic engagement and comparative historical studies of democratization.

Citation

Houtzager, P.P.; Acharya, A.K. Associations, active citizenship, and the quality of democracy in Brazil and Mexico. Theory and Society (2010) 40 (1) 1-36. [DOI: 10.1007/s11186-010-9128-y]

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