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Matteo Vergani, "Local political subcultures and party activism in Italy: The case of the Democratic Party," Party Politics, 20 (May 2014), 381-390. [Available at http://ppq.sagepub.com/content/vol20/issue3/ ]

First paragraph:
The links between citizens' modes of behaviour, feelings and attitudes and forms of government have always been subjects of discussion by the most important thinkers of mankind: from the Bible to Aristotle, from Machiavelli to Tocqueville, Rousseau and Marx. In more recent times, social scientists have developed concepts such as 'civic culture'1 in explaining how the citizens' culture (in a broader sense) may strengthen the quality of democracy: empirically, we are talking about the preconditions of democratic participation in the institutions of civil society, in the public sphere and in traditional political activities (Dahlgren, 2002) - preconditions relating to the prevailing cultural attributes (deriving from historical, geographical, social and economical factors) among citizens, which may, in various ways, facilitate democracy (Colombo and Vergani, 2010). Scholars often considered political participation as a measure of the quality of democracy: the more a social environment experiences political participation, the more virtuous the democracy. Political parties are widely recognized as one of the constitutive factors of our democratic societies, and a tool for the exercise of popular sovereignty (Popper, 1992): political participation within political parties (party activism) is thus theoretically one of the more relevant ways that the contribution of citizens strengthens the quality of democracy.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. A typology of the local PD branches.

Last Paragraph:
Last, but not least, there appear to be many close relations between local political subcultures, party activism and the quality of democracy. The local political subcultures, deriving from historical, geographical, social and economic factors, deeply influence the forms of political participation by the party activists. Factors such as the party's long-standing embeddedness in the local institutions, the low change in the party offices and the deep fragmentation within the party itself tend to limit the activists' participation. In contexts where these are the dominant features of the local political subculture, party activists' participation risks strengthening not the quality of democracy, but rather the power of a single political representative. On the other hand, where the political subculture is dominated by features such as autonomy and innovation, and there is a faster change in the political powers (within both the party and the local government), the activists' role seems to be more functional to the strengthening of the quality of democracy.

Last updated April 2014