Constrained Elitism and Contemporary Democratic Theory: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Constrained Elitism and Contemporary Democratic Theory

1st Edition

By Timothy Kersey


122 pages | 5 B/W Illus.

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Today, examples of the public’s engagement with political issues through commercial and communicative mechanisms have become increasingly common. In February 2012, the Susan G. Komen Foundation reversed a decision to cease funding of cancer screening programs through Planned Parenthood amidst massive public disapproval. The same year, restaurant chain Chic-fil-A became embroiled in a massive public debate over statements its President made regarding same-sex marriage. What exactly is going on in such public engagement, and how does this relate to existing ideas regarding the public sphere and political participation? Is the public becoming increasingly vocal in its complaints? Or are new relationships between the public and economic and political leaders emerging?

Timothy Kersey’s book asserts that the widespread utilization of internet communications technologies, especially social media applications, has brought forth a variety of new communicative behaviors and relationships within liberal polities. Through quick and seemingly chaotic streams of networked communication, the actions of these elites are subject to increasingly intense scrutiny and short-term pressure to ameliorate or at least address the concerns of segments of the population. By examining these new patterns of behavior among both elites and the general public, Kersey unearths the implications of these patterns for contemporary democratic theory, and argues that contemporary conceptualizations of "the public’" need to be modified to more accurately reflect practices of online communication and participation.

By engaging with this topical issue, Kersey is able to closely examine the self-organization of both elite and non-elite segments of the population within the realm of networked communication, and the relations and interactions between these segments. His book combines perspectives from political theory and communication studies and so will be widely relevant across both disciplines.


'There is no shortage of talk about the impact of the internet on democracy. Yet very little of this debate has seriously engaged with contemporary democratic theory. By developing an original theoretical framework for understanding new forms of communication and public participation, this book brings together previously insular perspectives in a way that both political theorists and communication scholars should welcome.' - Kari Karppinen, University of Helsinki, Finland

'Constrained Elitism makes a valuable contribution to the conceptualization of the liberal public sphere in relation to contemporary communicative practices. It offers a considered, informative, and persuasive account of how today’s networked communications are helping to shape relationships between and amongst elites and non-elites within liberal democratic political systems. The central contribution of the book is to provide a general model of how networked communications are on the one hand enhancing the self-organizational capacity of publics, with the effect of increasing the pressure on elites by non-elite groups to address the latter’s concerns, and on the other hand providing a means for advancing the competitive advantage of particular elites.' -Lincoln Dahlberg, University of Queensland, Australia

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Two Approaches to Elite Dominance 2. A Theory of Constrained Elitism 3. The Contemporary Networked Public Sphere 4. Constraint in the Networked Public Conclusion Conclusion

About the Author

Timothy Kersey is part-time Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kennesaw State University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Indiana University in 2011. His research interests include contemporary democratic theory, comparative political behavior, and the social and political effects of technology.

About the Series

Routledge Advances in Democratic Theory

Advisory Board: Amy Allen (Penn State University), Benjamin Barber (City University of New York), Rajeev Bhargava (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies), David Chandler (University of Westminster), Fred Dallmayr (University of Notre Dame), John Keane (University of Sydney), James R. Martel (San Francisco State University), Chantal Mouffe (University of Westminster), Davide Panagia (UCLA), Bhikhu Parekh (House of Lords), and Nadia Urbinati (Columbia University)

Democracy is being re-thought almost everywhere today: with the widespread questioning of the rationalist assumptions of classical liberalism, and the implications this has for representational competition; with the Arab Spring, destabilizing many assumptions about the geographic spread of democracy; with the deficits of democracy apparent in the Euro-zone crisis, especially as it affects the management of budget deficits; with democracy increasingly understand as a process of social empowerment and equalization, blurring the lines of division between formal and informal spheres; and with growing demands for democracy to be reformulated to include the needs of those currently marginalized or even to include the representation of non-human forms of life with whom we share our planet.

Routledge Advances in Democratic Theory publishes state of the art theoretical reflection on the problems and prospects of democratic theory when many of the traditional categories and concepts are being reworked and rethought in our globalized and complex times.

The series is published in cooperation with the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London, UK.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies / Democracy
POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory