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Luciano Bardi and Peter Mair, "The Parameters of Party Systems," Party Politics, 14 (March, 2008), 147-166.

First paragraph:
This article addresses the problem of variation in party systems. We seek to identify the relevant parameters that can be used in the definition of a party system and in the explanation of party system change. We argue that party systems are best understood as multidimensional phenomena, and we identify and discuss the implications of three types of division - vertical, horizontal and functional

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Last paragraph:
When looked at more generally, the literature on party systems as it has developed over the past half-century may be seen as reflecting a steady shift in the context or environment within which the object of study has been situated. Initially, the understanding of party systems was driven primarily by a conception of parties as social actors, with the interactions between the parties being seen to derive from the patterns within the wider society. As Lipset (1960: 220) famously put it, 'in every modern democracy conflict among different groups is expressed through political parties which basically represent a "democratic translation of the class struggle"'. In a later generation of scholarship, reflected perhaps most clearly by Dahl (1966) and Sartori (1976), party systems were more likely to be evaluated through the prism of parliament, with the interactions within the legislature being seen as decisive for determining the character of the systems themselves. In more recent work, by contrast, and building also on the insights gained from the substantial literature on coalition formation, attention is often focused more explicitly on interactions within the governmental arena (Blondel and Cotta, 1996; Laver and Shepsle, 1996; Mu.ller and Strøm, 2000), with these being seen as decisive not only for an understanding of the party system dynamics, but also for an understanding of the parties themselves. But while each of these approaches has added a great deal to the understanding of party systems, it is only by integrating all three environments into a more unified theory that a proper understanding of the parameters of party systems can be achieved.

Last update March 2008