Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Chronicle of a Montreal Municipal Election Campaign in Park-Extension: The Paths to the Evaporation of Politics

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Chronicle of a Montreal Municipal Election Campaign in Park-Extension: The Paths to the Evaporation of Politics

Article excerpt

Abstract

By observing a citizens' committee in the Park-Extension neighbourhood of Montreal, we look at how the 2013 municipal election campaign helped citizens to cultivate some concern for the wider world and induced them to hold discussions in public terms. We maintain that the processes of politicization or the avoidance of politics that are at play here testify to the tensions between different conceptions of municipal democracy on the part of elected officials and citizens.

Keywords: municipal democracy, municipal elections, politicization, political participation, Montreal, Park-Extension

Resume

A travers l'observation d'un comite de citoyens, situe dans le quartier Parc-Extension a Montreal, nous examinons la facon dont la campagne electorale municipale de 2013 a contribue a un elargissement des questionnements des citoyens et a des discussions menees en termes politiques. Nous soutenons que les processus de politisation ou d'evitement du politique a l'oeuvre, sont significatifs de tensions entre des conceptions differentes de la democratie municipale, parmi les elus et les citoyens.

Mots cles: democratie municipale, campagne electorale, politisation, participation politique, Montreal, Parc-Extension

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Questions about the role that election campaigns play in politicizing citizens are hardly new in political science, but have so far mainly concerned citizens' participation in voting, and their political orientations. (1) Although our study is part of an investigation of politicization, it differs from earlier analyses. Here, it is more a matter of examining how the fall 2013 municipal election campaign was an opportunity for the development of contexts that encouraged the expression and circulation of political ideas and concerns. In this regard, the processes of politicization or, on the contrary, the avoidance of politics that are at play here testify to the tensions between different conceptions of municipal democracy on the part of elected officials and citizens. Our reflection is based on an observation of the Citizens' Committee of Park-Extension, in Montreal.

I. Introduction: Politicization, conceptions of local democracy, and electoral momentum

As feminist scholars (Fraser 1985; Young 1987) have pointed out, politics can be hidden in almost any topic, but almost any topic is not always approached in political terms. And here we are faced with a stumbling block: that is, either to accept the explicit definition of politics that citizens give, or, on the other hand, to apply our own definition of politics or limit the latter to its objective dimension: the political system and political institutions. The first option impedes any reflection on the transitions between citizens' everyday experiences and politics, and prevents us from understanding certain contemporary democratic transformations in this respect. The second does not allow us to examine the way that the citizens under observation develop their own understandings of politics, based on their experiences (Walsh 2012). To escape this dilemma, we are presuming that connections between citizens and the wider world exist, even when these citizens did not overtly acknowledge such attachments (Eliasoph 1998:14). It is a question of determining whether the citizens observed grasp the public implications of their topics of discussion and assume that what they say matters to someone other than themselves. This enables us to then focus on the processes that allow citizens to give voice to a wider circle of concern. We concentrate on two elements in order to assess this broadening of citizens' concerns. The first is associated with a public-spirited conversation, in Pitkin's sense (1981): that is, when citizens speak in terms of justice. Such a conversation involves a transformation from "I want" to "I am entitled to," a claim that becomes negotiable by referring to public standards. …

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