Party System Change: Approaches and Interpretations

Party System Change: Approaches and Interpretations

Party System Change: Approaches and Interpretations

Party System Change: Approaches and Interpretations

Synopsis

This unique and important new book looks at how we interpret the evidence of change and stability in modern parties and party systems. Focusing primarily on processes of political adaptation and control, it also concerns how parties and party systems generate their own momentum and 'freeze' themselves into place. Amidst the widespread contemporary discussion of the challenge to modern democracy and the crisis of traditional forms of political representation, it offers a welcome emphasis on how party systems survive, and on how change, when it does occur, may be analysed and understood. The first part of the book deals with questions of persistence and change, and with the vulnerability and endurance of traditional parties. In the second part, attention shifts to the question of party organization, and to the ways in which the established parties are increasingly coming to invade the state, finding there a new source of privilege and a new means of ensuring their own survival. The third part of the book focuses on structures of competition in Western party systems, as well as on the problems associated with the consolidation of the new party systems in post-communist Europe. This is the first book to be entirely devoted to the question of party and party system change, and offers and essential guide to the understanding of this crucial theme. 'Peter Mair has produced a book that represents political science at its most erudite . . . It is a learned work based on wide reading. It is brimming with references to the contributions of other scholars.' Times Higher Education Supplement 'Building on several previously published essays of his, Mair has produced a precious little book. I particularly admire his ability to construct his argument with reference to the existing theories and to buttress it resorting to the available data. Moreover, he cleverly suggests different lines of interpretation and areas where new research is needed....there is a lot to be learned and to be utilised in Mair's analysis. The book is to be commended both for what it says and for what it suggests'. Gianfranco Pasquino, West European Politics 'With this volume Peter Mair brings together nearly a decade's worth of his work on European political parties. All but two chapters have been previously published, but in such a range of locations that the breadth and depth of his scholarship will likely have been underappreciated by all but the most dedicated students of European political parties. . . . The book has many strengths. It offers an important counterpoint to a literature that has become perhaps too focused on survey research and the behaviour of voters. The distinctions made between party system, party as organization and party in the electorate, while not completely novel, have been used with good effect to clarify the analysis of electoral change. Mair has drawn our attention, once again, to the intriguing notion of party autonomy vis-(-vis the state and civil society. The book is exceptionally clearly written and displays the author's encyclopedic knowledge of European political parties. Donald E. Blake, Canadian Journal of Political Science

Excerpt

Parties and party systems form a popular theme in comparative political science. At one time or another, most of us in the profession have written on the subject. More often than not, however, it's a somewhat peripatetic interest, and, with time, though not in my case, the concerns of the individual scholar tend to move on to other themes and problems. More general engagement with the study of parties and party systems has also tended to ebb and flow in the profession as a whole, being very prominent in the 1960s and 1970s, when many of the now classic works were first published, and then fading into unfashionability in the 1980s, when alternative modes of political representation and intermediation grabbed attention. More recently, and not least as a result of the prominence accorded to the role of parties in the 'third wave' of democratization in the 1990s, the study has once more come back into favour, and this time with renewed vigour. This is especially true in Europe. In 1995, for example, the first ever major journal to be devoted entirely to the comparative study of parties and party systems, Party Politics, was launched from the University of Manchester, while in 1996, during the annual Joint Sessions of the European Consortium of Political Research in Oslo, as many as five of the twenty-three workshops dealt exclusively with party themes. Little more than a decade ago, students of party politics were often accused of being engaged in a somewhat passé branch of the discipline; today it is a field of study which is brimming with health and promise.

Such renewal is especially welcome for people like myself, who have tended to stay in the same sub-disciplinary rut over the years. I first began to study parties in the mid-1970s, focusing initially on the Irish case alone, and later broadening out to comparative analyses in Western Europe and occasionally further afield. This present volume is now intended to reflect those more recent and broader interests. At one level, spending two decades within more or less the . . .

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