Positive or negative, emotions are an essential part of politics.

© Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona, Unsplash


Appeared in the report “The future of digital democracy – A series of conversations with expert thought-leaders from politics, GovTech and Civic Tech on the democracy of tomorrow” published by CitizenLab.

C – “How does the current appetite for citizen participation fit in with the ongoing institutional crisis and decreasing trust levels?”

SB – “As explained by Jeremy Heimans in ‘Old power, New power’, our relationship to power has changed, the traditional power mechanisms have
changed, and new, more flexible and collaborative forms of power are emerging. The protests we are seeing today (from Gilets Jaunes [Yellow vests] to climate marches) and the emergence of new political movements show that there’s a belief in political action despite a dissatisfaction with traditional forms of political involvement. The current distrust for the traditional political systems should not be mistaken for a lack of faith in political action. There might be a negative view of political actors, but there is still willingness to take collective action. In short, there is a strong demand for a new form of citizen involvement.”

C – “In your opinion, where does this negative perception of political actors come from?”

SB – “ An essential part of this issue is that traditional political stakeholders have failed in the eyes of the citizens. One of the first elements of trust is ‘output legitimacy’, legitimacy through results. After years of promising great things but failing to deliver these results, elected officials have disappointed citizens and cultivated scepticism.

Another issue which could explain dissatisfaction with politics is citizens’ desire to be listened to and involved in a different way. Citizens feel that elected representatives and political institutions don’t have a good understanding of their needs, and would like to be involved in decision-making – they have an expert understanding of the issues they’re facing, and would like to contribute solutions. The political process would gain legitimacy by opening up decision-making beyond the closed circle of politicians and lobbies.

Finally, while trust and legitimacy are obvious answers to this legitimacy crisis, we often forget a third, essential aspect: the expression of emotions. Whether they are positive (aspirations, hope, the desire to show solidarity…) or negative (then playing into the hand of populist parties that instrumentalize fears or frustrations), emotions are essential in politics. The private sector has clearly understood this, and plays on emotions by injecting meaning into consumerism. This quest for meaning, vision and values is one of the main reasons for the success of the Gilets Jaunes movement. During the protests, people gathering in the streets and on the roundabouts. created social ties and recognised shared desires. In another sphere, the growing involvement of citizens in local actions or NGOs also shows a search for meaning and motivation.”

Read the full CitizenLab interview here

Read the full CitizenLab report here.