A Short History of Contestation and Participation

30 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2022

See all articles by Vanessa Alexandra Boese

Vanessa Alexandra Boese

University of Gothenburg - V-Dem Institute

Matthew C. Wilson

University of Gothenburg - V-Dem Institute; University of South Carolina

Date Written: January 2022


Contestation and participation are commonly viewed as the two constituent dimensions of electoral democracy. How exactly have these two dimensions been conceptualized and measured in the literature? Are they empirically observable and do they matter for democratic development and stability? This paper answers the first of these questions and considers their implications for the second by reviewing the literature on democracy’s dimensions. We highlight three issues that affect conclusions about dimensions of democracy and their relevance for understanding democratic development: First, conceptual ambiguities — substantive overlap between the two concepts — obscure the meanings of each of the two dimensions. Such ambiguities led to a second issue, which is concept-measurement mismatch. The conceptual contributions were never really met with an empirical equivalent that would allow us to properly measure the two dimensions. Scholars continue to invoke theoretical understandings from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, however, but represent them using measures that were not explicitly concerned with measuring them, which presents the third issue of concept reification. As a result of these three issues, inference about how democracy has developed and their relevance for democratic stability or for transitions to democratic rule has been difficult. Based on these issues, we provide three suggestions for future research on dimensions of democracy.

Suggested Citation

Boese, Vanessa Alexandra and Wilson, Matthew C., A Short History of Contestation and Participation (January 2022). V-Dem Working Paper 130, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4022448 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4022448

Vanessa Alexandra Boese (Contact Author)

University of Gothenburg - V-Dem Institute ( email )


Matthew C. Wilson

University of Gothenburg - V-Dem Institute ( email )

United States

University of South Carolina ( email )

701 Main Street
Columbia, SC 29208
United States

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