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Tanter och representanter: en fråga om oligarki eller demokrati?
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Sociology.
2006 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)Alternative title
[Democratic dilemmas in voluntary organization : a question about oligarchy or democracy? (English)
Abstract [en]

The aim of this thesis emanated from a discussion whether voluntary associations have a choice or not regarding their democratic development. Robert Michels (1911/1983), one of the classic sociological thinkers, says no. The path towards oligarchy is inevitable. Nevertheless, maybe there are certain points, where the organizations face a certain democratic “dilemma” (Merton, 1966), forcing them more or less easily towards the oligarchic path? Seven counterarguments deriving from modern perspectives on participatory democracy (Pateman 1985; 1989) where used to find a way to avoid the oligarchic path and by that develop democracy in organizations. Since democracy also requires equality, the dissertation explored the question of power and influence in democratic organisations by studying the use of (spoken) language. Inspired by sociolinguistic theory (Milles, 2004) the aim was to identify dominance of the conversation: Who are taking part of the conversation? Are there differences between women and men in democratic organisations?

The main part of the study consists of group interviews. Members of the boards of six relatively small voluntary associations where chosen as units of analysis. Information around founding an association gathered from 75 homepages on Internet served as background data. The language as each one of the 27 board members where studied both separately and as conversation.

The conclusion is that formal structures build in hierarchal levels already when voluntary organisations take form. The dilemmas seem to revolve around the two fundamental criteria of democratic government, namely effectiveness and responsiveness are more or less explicitly stated. Awareness of dilemmas seems to be a possible way to avoid the determinism of oligarchy. The need for reinterpretation of the goals now and then could make it easier to find alternative actions. The associations have to strike a balance between effectiveness in relation to their goals and effectiveness in a democratic sense, a balance not always held. By clarifying the work and development processes of the voluntary organisations it is possible to identify (the lack of) democratic work within the organisations – a useful instrument in practice. The elite that runs the organisations is almost exclusively male and is preventing the members, especially women, from voicing their opinion. Democracy obstructs by structures demanded by society, socialised gender structures and the need of efficiency. The representatives are not always carrying out their task as elected representatives; self-interest puts before the common good.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Sociologi , 2006. , 214 p.
Akademiska avhandlingar vid Sociologiska institutionen, Umeå universitet, ISSN 1104-2508 ; 44
Keyword [en]
Dilemmas in democratic organisations, Voluntary association and democracy, Gender in democratic organisations
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-747ISBN: 91-7264-046-4OAI: diva2:144412
Public defence
2006-04-28, Sal F 229, Mittuniversitetet, Östersund, 13:15
Available from: 2006-04-10 Created: 2006-04-10Bibliographically approved

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