For me, democracy is…

In August 2o18, I have presented a paper at a writer’s conference on ““Measuring Understanding of Democracy: Discussing Solutions for Methodological Fallacies” at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlinorganized by Norma Osterberg-Kaufmann, Toralf Stark and Christoph Mohamad-Klotzbach.

In this article, I argue that narrow, standardized, quantitative instruments might miss to assess this broad variety of individual understandings of democracy, as there is a much broader variety than can be measured by standardized tests. I argue that research in understandings of democracy beyond survey research should address four major issues: First, if we use open questions in surveys as well as qualitative methods we need a theoretical and methodological basis on how people construe their basic concepts, or “everyday life philosophy”. Phenomenology offers basic theoretic and methodological assumptions that can be used for this purpose and is outlined. Rooted in a Schutzian phenomenological perspective and empirical insight of 389 qualitative episodic interviews, we argue that developing more sophisticated instruments to assess understandings of democracy in large-n studies can only be derived from and complemented by open, qualitative assessments. Second, I argue that simply asking for understandings of democracy may lead to a confusion of concepts, as people often compound the meaning of democracy with other issues. This should be considered carefully if one investigates in understandings of democracy. Third, I advocate a qualitative multi-dimensional analysis that separates democracy, politics/polity and actual use of democracy. This can be used to develop a typology of individual, but collectively shared, political lifeworlds. Based on two qualitative studies in Baden-Wuerttemberg I find three groups of life worlds – distant, delegative, and participatory – with different patterns and concepts of Democracy and Politics, as well as different levels and forms of participation. Finally, I argue that insights from this research could be used to develop a comprehensive instrument to assess the variety of understandings of democracies in a more comprehensive way.

If you are interested in more information, please contact me.

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