Political parties and consociational democracy are subjects which we have both been researching for some considerable time. Over the course of a number of discussions about our separate work on these matters, as they pertain to Austria and to Belgium, we found we shared a number of empirical and theoretical interests. Moreover, we also quickly established that we were both equally frustrated by the fact that the consociational and party literatures had not yet been brought together and applied in a truly comparative perspective. Rather than continuing merely to bemoan that situation, we decided to collaborate to try to fill that gap in the existing literature.
We used as our point of departure ideas contained in a 1992 special issue of the journal West European Politics (vol. 15, no. 1) devoted to whether Austria was’Still a Case of Consociationalism’. It was co-edited by one of us, who also contributed a lengthy article structured around an analytical framework specifically developed to assess change in the role which political parties perform both within and between the traditionally fragmented subcultures of Austrian consociational democracy during and since the period of ‘classic consociationalism’. In 1995, we used that framework to organize an ECPR workshop on ‘Consociationalism, Parties and Party Systems’, which we co-directed at the Institut d’etudes politiques de Bordeaux. We had an intellectually stimulating week, made all the more enjoyable by IEP’s proximity to some of Europe’s best vineyards! A central theme of our discussions was the extent to which an approach developed to analyse the Austrian case could serve as the basis of a comparative study of the role of political parties in a range of consociational democracies. By the end of the week it was clear to us that it could, and a number of our fellow participants resolved to join us in a project that would seek to apply it both via case studies of individual consociational democracies and in thematic contributions.
The outcome of our endeavour is contained in this volume. Though it has taken longer than originally planned for the book to appear, we are very pleased that its publication will now coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the birth of consociational theory. The analytical framework underpinning this volume constitutes a novel combination of Lijphart’s original model of consociational democracy and the insights of some of the most recent literature on political parties. We hope that it has not only enabled us to provide a detailed assessment