Reconstituting Democracy from below: New Approaches to Civil Society and the Public Sphere



Panel I. Reconstituting democracy from below: European experiences

The aim of this panel is to identify the mechanisms that translate formal democratic principles and procedures into citizens’ practices and from there into processes of transnational institutionalisation and constitutionalisation. The changing roles of civil society in relation to the public sphere are conceptualised as the social and communicative infrastructure of an unfolding post- and transnational European democracy. Post-Laeken constitutionalisation in the enlarged Europe is conceptualised as a more encompassing political opportunity structure for social inclusion and political participation. Different scenarios for reconstituting democracy are explored, depending on the forms of organised civil society’s engagement with the public sphere in the framework of constitutional debates during the ratification, crisis and the reflection period.

Panel II. Constituting a European public sphere: Innovative approaches to media, communication and discourse analysis 

This panel focuses on media publics, asking who frames public opinion and attitudes, how, and for what reasons:

  • It presents methodologies for analysing political discourses and how they can be applied to the EU-constitutional process, ratification failures, the reflection period and the relaunching of constituent politics;
  • It explores links between media framing and the formation of citizens’ preferences, as expressed in referendum votes and public opinion surveys;
  • It discusses specificities of how popular attitudes are shaped by different sectoral contexts and social differences, namely by gender, social class, and cultures of security;
  • It assesses the role of EU sectoral policy studies for understanding the scope for and limitations of institutional designs of public relations and pro-active public communication strategies.


Panel III. Civil society and democracy in Europe: Theoretical frameworks and empirical approaches

This panel aims at analysing the conditions, forms and consequences of how civil society supports the reconstitution of Europe. The guiding question is whether democratic practices are conducive to a particular kind of European polity: Is civil society constrained to the preservation or reconstitution of national democracies; do civil society organisations take part in the construction of a federal polity through the emergence of representative structures and multi-level public spheres; or do they promote a novel, postnational and deliberative democracy embedded in global civil society and world discourses of justification? Adopting a cross-national and cross-sectoral comparative perspective, the contributions to this panel will explore the conditions and dynamics of democratisation from below:

  • Theoretical conceptions and frameworks for analysing civil society and citizenship;
  • Empirical approaches for exploring the citizens’ support for and resistance to European governance.
  • Comparisons of particular sectoral publics (public intellectuals; religious communities; youth; ethnic minorities; gender based groups).

Panel IV. Quantitative-qualitative methodology of media discourses analysis

A proper understanding of the mechanisms and power of the national media in moulding citizens’ preferences and forming identities in European constitution-making is essential for evaluating the prospects of postnational democracy 'from below'. This research objective goes well beyond existing communication studies and survey data analyses. We combine these in the framework of transnational comparative research of political communication and media publics. This panel introduces junior researchers to:

  • The theoretical framework of RECON, and the methodology for transnational media discourse analysis;
  • Media political impact assessment, based on methodologies for public discourse, media and communication research (Atlas.ti software-based instruments);
  • Cross-national databanks for attitudinal research that are relevant for evaluating the empirical legitimation of the EU-constitutional project in light of alternative models of democracy, analyzing linkages between media frames and citizens’ preferences, with the aim to identify the need for follow up research.
  • Overcoming the fragmented state of the art and developing synergies between subfields of comparative behavioural, attitudinal and communication research: European elections and referendums, European public opinion, European political communication and media publics in Europe.