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Political Disintermediation: Towards an Analytical Framework

Political Parties
Internet
Party Members
Cecilia Biancalana
Université de Lausanne
Cecilia Biancalana
Université de Lausanne

Abstract

Broadly speaking, disintermediation can be defined as the the removal of an intermediary from a relationship (Chadwick 2007). It represents an increasingly relevant phenomenon in contemporary societies, also fostered by the diffusion of new technologies. However, although increasingly used, this concept lacks a precise operationalization, especially in politics. The aim of the paper is to discuss the theoretical and empirical basis of disintermediation in the field of politics (political disintermediation) and to propose definitions, dimensions and indicators for the analysis. Starting from an examination of the social and political changes that underlie the phenomenon of disintermediation (individualisation, cognitive mobilisation, mistrust in politics), we will give a definition of political disintermediation, asking ourselves whether we should think of disintermediation as a transformation of intermediaries, rather than a simple removal. For instance, parties are said to be in crisis for a long time, but they continue to be on the scene, although transformed. Old parties are changing and we witness the birth of new ones. It is interesting, then, to investigate the patterns of such changes. Parties can be considered as organisations that play a gatekeeping role between citizens and the state. We can therefore analyse political disintermediation from two distinct viewpoints: internal disintermediation (concerning party organization, that is the relationship between leaders and supporters) and external disintermediation (regarding, more broadly, the relationship between citizens and state). We will focus in particular on the first dimension, proposing indicators for the analysis. In the field of party organisation, we are witnessing an increasing concentration of decision making power in the hands of the party leader and of party members and supporters (often through online participation processes). These two sides, often considered separately, are the core of the process of internal disintermediation, as they weak the party internal organisation and create an (apparently) direct link between leaders and supporters. In the paper, the consequences of these processes for both old and new parties are discussed.