Dynamics of the Forms of Civil Participation: from Non-conventional to Conventional and Back Again

Ms. Yuliya Kozlova

How is civil engagement in political processes sustained? To answer this question, a key division between conventional and non-conventional forms of civil participation should be considered. Conventional practices are implemented via institutionalized organizations and commonly accepted standards of behavior – for example, party membership, elections and parliamentary nominating. Non-conventional civil participation is always realized via non-institutionalized channels like protest demonstrations and boycotts. According to the theory, in democracies non-conventional forms of civic engagement in political processes usually transform to conventional with the help of stable channels like parties, NGOs, elections, and these transformations support civil participation. In autocracies non-conventional engagement, predominantly protest actions, cannot change to conventional because the channels of transformation are blocked or do not work in proper way.
However, in Russia we faced a situation when within several years non-conventional civil engagement in political processes reached its peak, transformed to conventional one and after this changed to non-conventional again. This reality raises a crucial and under-researched question: How does civil participation transform from conventional form to non-conventional and vice versa? In other words, how civil engagement in political processes can be sustained in authoritarian regime when there appears an opportunity to transform protest energy to stable conventional forms?
The work investigates this question by using actor-oriented institutionalism approach and methods of social network analysis. This approach considers institutions as formal rules and social norms, which, on the one hand, set bounds for the behavior of an individual, but at the same time, do not predetermine his actions. Actors, in turn, can actively participate in the creation and change of these bounds, even despite possible limitations and “path dependencies”. Methods of social network analysis help the author to check theoretical assumptions about the dynamics of civil participation in Russia.