Since the early 1990s the signs of democracy's dilemmas have internationally become increasingly apparent. Political systems modelled on the Western liberal model show signs of stagnation; the margins of governmental manoeuvrability are narrowing. Institutions central to democratic life, in particular political parties, seem less responsive in the face of the major changes of late modernity. The sovereignty of the nation-state itself is being downsized in the face of neo-liberal globalization, as well as-in the European context-the EU. In the latter case democracy is being challenged to develop at the supranational regional level. In Central and Eastern Europe, the new democratic institutions struggle to take root. In Asia, Latin America and Africa, many societies are still in the process of trying to make the transition from authoritarian to democratic regimes.
Among citizens in the West, the arena of official politics has witnessed a decline in support and participation. Voter turnouts are decreasing, party loyalty is in decline, especially among the young. One can see signs of contempt for the political class, with a climate of cynicism emerging in some places. The extensive disenchantment with formal politics and the crisis of citizenship are themes addressed by many today. Economic insecurity, unemployment, low wages, declining social services, growing class cleavages, ecological dilemmas, and a sense of powerlessness among many citizens are all part of the picture. One can speak of a retreat from public culture, with an everincreasing emphasis on private consumption and life style.
However, we also have evidence of alternative developments, a more optimistic renewal of democracy, largely outside the parliamentarian context, that can be said to represent forms of alternative or 'new politics', 'life politics', life-style politics', or 'sub-politics'. There are a variety of labels, and many variations in the way these alternatives manifest themselves. There are many kinds of social movements,