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The making of a democratic citizenship in Spain, 1977-2004

December 17, 2014

Brief notes on Benedicto, J. (2006). La construcción de la ciudadanía democrática en España (1977-2004): de la institucionalización a las prácticas. Revista española de investigaciones sociológicas, 114(1), 103-136.

English abstract

This article examines the historical process of construction of citizenship in Spain from the beginning of the democratic experience up to the last general elections. This historical process can only be understood properly if we analyse its close relationship with the development of democratic culture and the huge modernization of Spanish social life. The contrast between the persistence of the transition legacy and the change in political cultural patterns, as argued in the article, has produced a model of citizenship that is not entirely clear, where the high degree of institutionalisation of civic rights contrasts sharply with civic practices that are quite limited, although there are interesting signs that this situation is undergoing transformations.

Keywords: Citizenship, Political Culture, Modernisation, Citizen Participation

p. 105. Post-Franco transition symbolic codes alive and well 30 years later, when this article was written (2005). Ideas and categories from that period of transition still being repeated by mass media, political parties and political leaders, incl. national consensus, overcoming the two civil war Spains, reconciliation among all Spaniards, symbolic value of the Constitution. [see also concept of “cultura de la transicion”].  This delimits actors’ space of possibilities.

p. 106 Political elites built a democratisation narrative around individual protagonists which over time came to be regarded as an unquestioned social fact.

p. 106. Although transition left an indelible mark on Spain’s political culture, we shouldn’t forget dynamic relation between change and continuity. The result has been ambivalence and a lack of clear models about what a democratic citizenry entails.

p. 107. Spain’s model of citizenship still a work in progress, with a high degree of institutionalisation when it comes to civic rights, in stark contrast with rather limited practices of citizenship.

p. 107 We need a dynamic concept of citizenship (Benedicto and Morán, 2004) as ‘an institution whose contents and meanings are redefined and transformed by the social practices of different actors and by broad processes of social change’.

p. 108-109. Spain’s democratic and civic modernisation is a long, unfinished process. It coincided with the global rise of neoliberalism from the 1970s. The result is ‘a spectacular crisis of trust in the political institutions’. However, this has not meant a decline in the support of democratic principles, quite the contrary.

p. 110-111. From the mid-1980s the aim has been to pursue an orthodox economic policy, with the goal of connecting Spain to the great fluxes of advanced global capitalism. Priority has been to maintain macroeconomic balance above social needs in order to adapt to an increasingly globalised economic system in which the market penetrates ever more spheres of life.

p. 112 Although the basis of a welfare state were put in place, this was always subordinated to orthodox macroeconomics both under socialist and conservative governments. p. 113. However, there was a discursive shift: from the socialists’ notion of the state as the key agent of redistributive action, we went to a neoliberal discourse of the citizen as a customer or consumer.

p. 114. Spain’s current socieconomic culture is a cross between liberal and statist values.

p. 114-117. Social transformations:

Rise in individualism. Shift in social mobilisation from earlier anti-Franco movements with universalist ambitions to more fragmented, single-issue movements. Secularisation, feminism, and especially huge rise in immigration were other key trends.

p. 118. Doubtless the most unique aspect of institutional model of Spain’s democracy is the system of autonomous regions. This meant a radical transformation of the organisational principles and distribution of political power in the state.

p. 119. There is a double cleavage complicating governance in Spain: ideological (left vs. right) and territorial.

p. 120. Most worrying is the domination of the institutions by political parties which allows for very few spaces for the irruption of new political actors in the public space [hence the significance of 15M movement, we could add with hindsight]. That’s why civil society groups and the citizens themselves only join political life sporadically, usually during periods of crisis or turmoil.

p. 120. Spain’s democracy riddled with ambivalence: coexistence of contradictory meaning, of ‘a peculiar mixture of innovation and tradition’, of authoritarian legacies along with new ways of understanding and making sense of public space and citizens’ role within it. All within an environment in which the defining feature is moderation, both political and ideological.  [Yes, but what about corruption?]. p. 121. Moderation is a cultural code that has greatly shaped and limited the political discourses, citizens’ practices, elite strategies, etc.

p. 122. As a result, there is a gulf between the normative prescriptions about the importance of an active citizen presence in public spaces, relentless repeated from the institutions, and generalised passivity and apathy. However, in recent years, some interesting participatory phenomena, esp. protests, have emerged which could help to reduce this gulf. After Luxemburg, Spaniards most protest-prone citizens in Europe.

p. 123. Historically, the most surprising part of the making of democratic citizenship in Spain was the speed with which civil rights, typical of advanced Western democracies, became recognised and instituted post-Franco. p. 124. Political elites strategy was to mimic the rules, norms and  patterns of Europe in order to reduce uncertainty, stabilise the situation and, above all, reaffirm their power within the new political order.

p. 125. Spain’s 1978 Constitution is much stronger on public freedoms that in its on social rights. p. 126. The welfare state as an ‘institutional formula for the expression of social citizenship’ developed in Spain at a time of profound crisis in the model that had triumphed in Europe in the mid C20. p. 127. Welfare state model in Spain still unclear, with family remaining a key institution to make up for its deficiencies.

p. 128. A chronic deficit of civic practices?

No clear conceptualisation of what it means to act as a citizen in Spain’s democracy has yet emerged. p. 129. Citizens regarded by elites as little more than audiences of the democratic spectacle put on by the political parties. p. 129-130. Widespread idea among people that the solidity of a political party comes from how firmly it conveys its position, regardless of whether it was arrived at top-down or through a democratic deliberation [contrast this with new citizen parties, e.g. Partido X, Podemos, Guanyem].

p. 130. Another weakness is that citizenship not adequately taught at school. p. 131. Plus idea of public space as space of citizenship not strongly implanted [shows once again, importance of square occupations by 15M movement in 2011, JP].

p. 131. So the state is once again the focus of all citizen demands and needs. Entrusted with meeting them, in exchange for not being put under true democratic control [cf. monitory democracy concept in previous post, so monitory democracy new development in Spain, pace Keane?].

p. 132. Spanish notion of citizen very close to that of subject (subdito). However:

In recent years there are signs that this limited and passive conception of citizenship is giving way, above all among the younger generations, to more active positions. As a result,  a greater participation and engagement of citizens in social processes is sought, often through various forms of protest.  These civic practices are configuring a new form of citizenship and possibly beginning to shape the prevailing political and cultural patterns of Spain’s democracy. These are issues that should be observed closely in the near future. [prescient concluding remark, JP]




















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