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Tying Micro and Macro

What Fills up the Sociological Vacuum?

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Mikolaj Pawlak

This study critically discusses the thesis on the sociological vacuum formulated by Stefan Nowak. The author’s aim is to refute the claim that the sociological vacuum is relevant for major social processes occurring in Poland. He presents the sociological vacuum in the context of the debate on micro and macro levels and discusses how the theory of fields and social network analysis is useful to reconcile the micro-macro divide. The book considers the uses of the sociological vacuum in explaining such phenomena as the Solidarność social movement, civil society, social capital, and democracy. In the empirical part, the author confronts the data on identifications with the data on relations and claims that the vacuum is not in the society but it in sociology.

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8 Quality of democracy: social base for political institutions

8 Quality of democracy: social base for political institutions

8.1 Introduction

In this chapter I deal with the concept of democracy from the perspective of connecting micro- and macro-levels of social phenomena. Democracy is a central notion for the Western culture and a proper discussion of its roots and history would be a life-time project. In literature, it is possible to find at least six general understandings of democracy, which in some aspects contradict each other (Coppedge, Gerring 2011). Thus, I limit my considerations to the aspects important for the problem of the way in which political system is capable of transforming the will of individuals into the action of a whole state; in other words: the way in which the micro-level is linked to the macro-level by mechanism of democratic decision-making. In the studies of democracy, the micro-level is very often identified as the ← 178 | 179 → level of individual – it is the basic assumption of modern democracies, that each individual has an equal vote. For some scholars, the micro-level in studies of democracy is the level of interactions in which decisions might be taken after direct considerations, or interactions which shape opinions then influencing political acts of individuals. The macro-level is usually located on the level of state or whole political system. The micro-macro issue in studies of democracy is, to some extent, overlapping with the individual-society issue. In this chapter, however, there will be no considerations about the agency-structure pairing.

I start with an excursion into the classic writings in the field of political science and sociology of politics, which contain traces of meso-link between individuals (micro) and the state, decision-makers, or elites (macro). Then, I move to the analysis of literature on the quality of democracy in Poland for which, according to the discussed authors, the sociological vacuum is an important context. As I will demonstrate, there is a strong connection between this chapter and two previous chapters (6 and 7) because weak civil society and low levels of social capital are often perceived as obstacles for the desired development of democracy in Poland. The chapter is concluded with remarks on the problem of linking micro- and macro-levels in understanding democratic processes.

8.2 Democracy: aggregating individual wills into collective action

One of the huge problems with concepts such as democracy is their fuzziness. For intellectuals, political scientists, and sociologists it is a fuel for eternal debates. Yet, clashes between different ways of understanding democracy can lead to actual political conflicts and influence state governance.59 In this section of the chapter I attempt to locate the issue of the micro-macro link in considerations of ← 179 | 180 → classic authors writing on democracy.60 The authors whose various perspectives on democracy I arbitrarily chose to analyze are: Benjamin Barber, Robert Dahl, William Kornhauser, Arend Lijphart, Charles Lindblom, Seymour Lipset, Adam Przeworski, Giovanni Sartori, Joseph Schumpeter, and Charles Tilly. According to Michael Coppedge and John Gerring (2011), in literature there are six different conceptions of democracy: electoral; liberal, majoritarian, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian. Among these six conceptions there are some overlaps and similarities, but some of them are contradictory to each other. It is not a classification or outcome of a conceptually constructed grid.

8.2.1 Six conceptions of democracy

In the electoral conception of democracy (equivalent names are contestation, competition, elite minimal, realist, or Schumpeterian), parties and elections are crucial elements of the democratic process. Elections are the mechanism of aggregation of preferences of individuals (micro-level) to produce one outcome: a mandate for a certain group among elites to lead the state (macro-level). Parties (meso-level) are means of accumulating individuals of more or less similar preferences, which compete for power. The authors, whose works on electoral (minimal) conception of democracy I am going to discuss below, are Adam Przeworski (1991), Giovanni Sartori (1987), and Joseph A. Schumpeter (1942).

In the liberal conception of democracy (equivalent names consensus or pluralist), the political power is assumed as something that must be distrusted, and for this reason arrangements such as transparency, civil liberty, rule of law, effective checks on rulers (like strong constitutional tribunals), and minority rights are not just add-ons to the rule of the people, but lay at the heart of the democracy. In this case, it can be said that the meso-level between individual freedom and state authority is located in the institutions and organization securing the proper (according to the supporters of this conception) functioning of the political system. Among many authors writing on this conception of democracy, here I will pay attention to the works of Robert A. Dahl (1971; 1998) and recall the theory of mass society built by William Kornhauser (1960). ← 180 | 181 →

The majoritarian (or equivalently responsible party government) conception of democracy is in opposition to the liberal one. The government needs to be effective and it is simply fulfilling the will of majority. The government, as an emanation of the sovereign, is to be trusted, so there is no need for building the institutions limiting its powers. The link between the micro and macro-levels here is to be conceptualized similarly as in electoral conception of democracy: on the one hand, as an election mechanism, and on the other hand, as parties competing for the right to represent the sovereign. I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of putting into practice of majoritarian model of democracy in the latter part of this book referencing the work of Arend Lijphart (2004; 2012).

The participatory conception of democracy is based on criticism of the idea to pass the rule to the elected representation of voters, thus, it may be considered as an opposition towards the electoral conception of democracy. Instead, all other institutions of consulting decisions with citizens are to be employed – referendums, public hearings, social movements – as well as all other vehicles of engaging the citizens into the control of government and influencing its decisions. Here, the meso-level of analysis ought to focus on collectives such as social movements or civic organizations of different sorts, and institutional mechanisms providing participation, which means different than election ways of aggregating individual opinions into the decisions on the state level. I am going to look at the participatory conception of the democracy through the critical eyes of Giovanni Sartori (1987) and the enthusiastic eyes of Benjamin Barber (1984).

The deliberative conception of democracy is process-oriented. Here, the elections are not enough to secure the democratic outcome, because they are an automatic way of aggregating preferences. According to the deliberative conception, democracy requires a continuous dialogue between the citizens, performed on different levels of decision-making. Thus, the deliberative conception stresses the salience of institutions of public consultation, but also invests much hope in the possibility of running a rational public debate in the mass-media. These institutions might be considered as meso-level transmitters of individual-preferences into collective decisions. Although the father of the deliberative conception of democracy is undoubtedly Jürgen Habermas (1984), in this chapter I will pay attention to the process-oriented conception of democracy presented by Charles Tilly (2007) which, although not equal to the deliberative conception of democracy, is an interesting case for analyzing the micro-macro link.

In the egalitarian conception of democracy, the key concern is the equality of citizens. The political equality is not possible to be achieved without social equality. The goal is to achieve equality in domains such as participation, ← 181 | 182 → representation, protection, and resources. Although, ideally, the equality is to be achieved between individuals, the most visible inequalities to be fought by democracy are between social categories. The meso-level in this conception of democracy is the level of categories which sometimes achieve subjectivity and turn into social actors. In order to discuss this issue, I refer to the works of Charles Tilly (2007) and Charles E. Lindblom (1988).

In the following review I pay unequal attention to the conceptions of democracy. I focus more on the electoral, liberal, and participatory conceptions than on the three others because they are more often used by scholars studying the interplay of quality of democracy and the sociological vacuum. In this manner, the review of the six conceptions of democracy prepares the ground for the proper interpretation of the use of the sociological vacuum in the research on democracy in Poland.

8.2.2 Electoral conception of democracy

Even in the most minimalist definitions of democracy there is a space for considering the micro-macro link. Adam Przeworski (1991: 11) phrased the definition of democracy in nine words saying that “democracy is a system in which parties lose elections.” Thus, democracy requires elections and protagonists who compete for the votes. As Przeworski (1991: 11) highlights, these protagonists are collectively organized and capable of coercing those whom they represent. This means that democracy requires elections as a mechanism of translating individual preferences into a common will, as well as leaders – members of elites – who represent and organize the masses. The link between micro and macro is achieved thanks to the elections as a translation mechanism, and thanks to the intermediation of organizations. The consequence of this arrangement are expressed in the famous dictum of Przeworski (1991: 12) stating that democracy is an institutionalized uncertainty “because it is a system of decentralized strategic action in which knowledge is inescapably local.” Again, an entity from the macro-level – “a system” – regulates and is regulated by actions which are embedded in local knowledge (micro-level).

Electoral democracy requires two steps: reduction of preferences to a reasonable number, and choosing between the alternative preferences. Both of them require some kind of intermediary mechanism. The most often pointed intermediaries between the individuals and the state in a democratic process of reduction of preferences and then choosing between them are political parties. There is an old sociological tradition of analyzing parties as organizations (see Michels 1915), but they can also be seen as mechanism of gathering individuals ← 182 | 183 → of more-or-less similar preferences, and then allowing the competition between these generalized preferences, personalized in their leaders, as in the understanding of democracy by Schumpeter (1942: 273), who defined the principle of democracy as follows: “the reins of government should be handed to those who command more support than do any of the competing individuals or team.” Parties not only gather the voters of similar preferences – they also shape these preferences, therefore, the mechanism is interactive.

The second step – choosing between alternative preferences – is achieved through some form of voting mechanism. It could be achieved in a referendum, which to some extent could be compared to elections, yet the majority of decisions in representative democracies are taken in parliaments and are not directly consulted with voters. The mechanism of consulting the decision involves such actors as media, trade unions, social movements, interest groups, non-governmental organizations, local governments, agencies researching public opinion etc.

Sartori (1987) saw a difference between the democracy and other political systems in the fact that it is – at least in its ideal model – a horizontal system. Politics is determined by the relation between the ones who govern and the ones who are governed, so it is a vertical system based on hierarchy. Democracy is the only political system in which the governed are sovereign to the ones who govern. Yet, it is only an ideal and, according to Sartori, the border line between the governing and the governed – even if it is blurred – exists. The vertical aspect of democracy seems to be in constant tension with the horizontal aspect. The former has its historical roots in previous, non-democratic forms of government. What is crucial for the subject of this book is that the vertical aspect of democracy is related to the problem of linking individuals (micro-level) with the societal (macro-level). Horizontal aspect is the ideal of democracy, which is impossible to be achieved from the organizational point of view. For example, it is an often recurring argument that the “real” kind of democracy is direct democracy, in which decisions are taken in referenda by citizens. It is a utopian argument derived from the wrong assumption that the organization of a collective of a large number of people is possible according to the same principles as the organization of a collective of a small number of people, as in the mythologized Greek polis.

Thus, in democracy there is a need to create representation. Representation is created in elections, in which decisions of voters are registered and their opinions are aggregated. The election system is an important mechanism allowing the emergence of the macro from the micro. From this perspective, the analysis of mechanisms and entities engaged in electoral procedures is an analysis conducted on the meso-level. Elections are the mechanism of democracy, but the opinions aggregated during them are not constant. Voters are reflexive individuals and ← 183 | 184 → the micro-macro link here does not work only in one direction: from individual voters to the elected representation. Opinions are formed on the basis of evaluation of the present government’s actions and, again, individual voters usually do not shape their own opinions without the influence of others. Here, as concludes Sartori (1987), the free public opinion is another necessary condition for democracy to work properly. Opinion forming is a three-fold process: opinions are transmitted from the elites; opinions formed at the bottom are transmitted to the elites. Sartori refers to the cascade model of opinion forming, described by Deutsch (1968), in which opinions are first transmitted from the elites via mass-media, and then are disseminated by opinion-leaders, who operate on the level of micro-relations and, in the course of daily routines and interactions with others, transmit their interpretations of what they had learned from the mass-media. The opinions are also formed on the micro-level and then transmitted to the elites. This process is often observed during mass protests and the formation of social movements. These instances, however, seem to be incidental.

The third process described by Sartori (1987), in reference to the work on voting and public opinion by Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee (1954), is essentially important for the conceptualization of the micro-macro link. Opinions very often are not formed as an outcome of information evaluation, and they are simply evaluations without information formed as outcomes of identification with a reference group. The opinion of an individual is formed because of his or her attachment to a given group: family, group of friends, occupational category, party, or social class. Membership in this groups (or at least identification with them) mediates the membership in the polity. Yet, identification with them tends to influence the opinions in a way which, according to Sartori’s considerations, is not quite rational because it is not based on information. Below I am going to discuss the work by William Kornhauser (1960), who saw the loss of community and the lack of groups influencing opinions as a threat for democracy. This problem is very relevant to the conception of the sociological vacuum and I will turn to this link at the end of this chapter. In this process, the identification with a group influences the opinions of an individual, which are then aggregated in elections and create the macro-level dispositions for the action of the state. According to Lipset (1981), for a very long time, voting was a phenomenon determined by social class membership – so-called “class voting.” Yet, since the 1960s, in the majority of democracies, class voting has decreased in its intensity. An oversimplified understanding of the mechanism in which political preferences are determined by the membership in certain categories would allow to take the individuals out of the equation and treat democracy as an interaction of large-sized groups. ← 184 | 185 →

I find the problem of opinion (or preferences) crucial for the discussion on democracy in context of the micro-macro link in sociological theory. The minimalistic understanding of democracy, in which elections are the event of translating individuals’ opinions into dispositions for the elites of decision-makers, tends to focus on the electoral mechanism. Yet, opinions are formed and transmitted, or they may be “read” by elites. In order to understand these mechanisms, one needs to take into account the following institutional domains: field of the media, educational system, and higher educational system. Educational systems shape capabilities for formation of opinions by citizens. Higher education produces professionals, who create opinions in certain fields of activities – they transform uncertainties into risks (Bromley, Meyer 2015). Yet, the universities and other higher education entities are homes for the public intellectuals taking part in mass media opinion formation. To understand the design of media and education domains, it is useful to apply one of the social field theory approaches (see Chapter 2). Then, the meso-structures of certain social fields become pivotal for understanding the connection between individual opinions and actions of the elites.

8.2.3 Liberal conception of democracy

William Kornhauser (1960: 228) defined mass society as a society in which “both elites and non-elites are directly accessible to one another by virtue of the weakness of groups capable of mediating between them.” Both Western societies and communist societies from the period of the late 1950s, discussed by Kornhauser, were getting closer to the model of mass society, in which an individual is faced with the totality of the state. According to him, mass society was lethal for liberal democracy, in which medium-sized groups or communities became vehicles for expressing the interests and context to form political opinions. Thus, for liberal democracy, one of the mechanisms of controlling those in power is the pluralism of groups and categories among society, which prevents the elites from steering the whole society in a direct way.

According to Robert A. Dahl (1971: 1), the key characteristic of democracy is “the continuing responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its citizens, considered as political equals.” Focusing only on the political systems of modern states and putting aside democratic institutions in smaller collectives or historical Greek polis, where it was possible to exercise the responsiveness of the leadership to the preferences of the members of collective directly, will allow to see that the conceptualization of the micro-macro link is necessary to understand how the government – the entity located on the macro-level – is capable of responding to the preferences of individuals (as individuals located ← 185 | 186 → on the micro-level), and how the individuals are capable of communicating their preferences to those in the government.

As I have pointed above, the first step that needs to be taken in all democratic regimes (also the ones among small numbers of people) is the reduction of the number (possibly at least as large as the number of members of a given polity) of individual preferences to a comprehensible selection of alternatives for action. The second step is the mechanism of choosing between these alternatives. For democracy to work “among a large number of people,” Dahl (1971: 3) provides eight requirements that need to be met: 1. Freedom to form and join organizations; 2. Freedom to expression; 3. Right to vote; 4. Eligibility for public office; 5. Right of political leaders to compete for support; 6. Alternative sources of information; 7. Free and fair elections; 8. Institutions for making government policies depend on votes and other expressions of preference. The electoral conception of democracy discussed in previous section takes into account all of these factors, yet they are perceived as secondary. In case of the liberal conception of democracy, they are crucial in securing checks on those in power (Coppedge, Gerring 2011: 253).

If there is an agreement on Dahl’s requirements, it is possible to operationalize the quality of democracy according to his definition. Of course, there are other indexes of democracy, such as the ones performed by the Freedom House or the Economist Intelligence Unit. Here, the idea is not to take part in the debate on how to measure the quality of democracy (assuming that it is possible), but to discuss how the key elements for the democratic process are related to the problem of the micro-macro link in social theory.

8.2.4 Majoritarian conception of democracy

I have already discussed that in democracy the mechanism of choosing is a form of election. In definitions of democracies, elections are usually mentioned directly, but the details of the voting system are left as a technical issue – even though they have profound consequences for the political life of a given nation. Arend Lijphart (2012: 47), following American President Abraham Lincoln, as a definition for democracy used the sentence “government by the people (or by the representatives of the people) and for the people.” From this short definition, he arrives to considering elections and their organization as a central problem of democracy studies. The threshold criterion for him to evaluate the country as democratic is the universal suffrage. Arrangements for electing representatives allow Lijphart to investigate the patterns of democracy, in which he distinguished two elementary models: the Westminster (majoritarian) model of democracy, and the consensus model of democracy. The applied models of democracy, ← 186 | 187 → according to Lijphart’s analyses of 36 states, have serious consequences: consensus democracies (against common sense) outperform the majoritarian democracies in effective government and effective policy-making. They are also democracies of a higher quality. Thus, the central institution of democracy – the elections – which translate the preferences of citizens into the decisions of elites, have consequences for other aspects of institutional design and performance of a given country. Lijphart also pointed to the fact that majoritarian democracies fit better homogenous societies, and the ones with significant minorities require a consensual electoral system. If the electoral system of heterogeneous society is majoritarian, the minority is likely to be marginalized. In the practice of political life, the majoritarian conception of democracy may also legitimize the politics of the majority in parliament elected in proportional elections. Yet, in that case, the discourse about legitimacy is in conflict with institutional arrangements of elections and government.

8.2.5 Participatory conception of democracy

Sartori’s (1987) considerations on participatory democracy also shed light on the problem of linking the individuals with macro structures. Sartori was a great supporter of representative democracy, in which citizens delegate their preferences to elected leaders to make decisions for them. Next to representative democracies, it is possible to imagine (imagine because, at present, no such political system exists) direct democracies. Literally understood, direct democracy is possible only in a small collective of people capable of discussing together decisions to be taken during a gathering – it is a micro-level phenomenon.61 Therefore, Sartori (1987: 112) divides direct democracies into two general sub-types: one, in which there is possible face-to-face contact and direct interaction with all members of polity, and the other in which there is no possibility to interact with all members of a collective and there is a need of some form of mediating its directness. The phrase “mediating the directness” sounds paradoxical, but it ← 187 | 188 → is crucial for the problem of the micro-macro link in social theory. One of the forms of mediation in direct democracies is the referendum. Sartori highlights that although technically, at present, thanks to electronic devices, a direct democracy based on referendums considering all decisions to be taken by a political system is possible, this type of democracy is a contradiction of democracy. Democracy via referendums is named by Sartori a “macro-democracy.” According to him, it would be only an illusory direct democracy – there would be a need for some institution or committee to set the agenda and edit the questions to be voted.62 Yet, what is even more worrying for Sartori, a democracy via referendum would be a zero-game decision mechanism: it would literally be a government of the majority with a very limited space for consensus between political preferences. This kind of democracy would maximize conflicts and mechanically lead to the tyranny of majority. In this reduction ad absurdum, Sartori presents his support for representative democracy, in which the intermediation between individuals’ preferences and decisions is supposed to be “smarter.”

Next to direct democracy and representative democracy, Sartori (1987) considers also participatory democracy, towards which he is skeptical as well. The problem of participatory democracy is presented at the transition from the level of small groups to the level of political system. Sartori admits that participation is the essence of micro-democracy and contributes to the working of the whole super-structure of the democratic regime, yet he also points to the contradictions in the reasoning of the advocates of participatory democracy. Participation is a personal experience of taking part in something in an active way. Thus, according to Sartori’s reconstruction of the theoretical concept, participation assumes intensity. Engagement is presented as equal to intensity and easily leads to extremism, which prevents people from recognizing the complexity of the matter. Sartori, in reference to Berelson et al. (1954), speaks with irony about the image of democracy in which all citizens would be deeply interested in politics. It does not mean that Sartori is calling for apathy as a basis for democracy, yet he is far from lamenting about the lack of engagement of huge parts of society in political life. As he comments, it would be ridiculous to require citizens to be capable of making all the political decisions rationally – as the imagined proponents of direct democracy do – but it would be appropriate to focus more on the rationality of decision-makers. The inference drawn from these considerations ← 188 | 189 → might be that the vertical link between limited rationality of voters and the limited rationality of decision-makers may sometimes lead to collective rationality.

Benjamin R. Barber (1984), as an enthusiast of participatory democracy, which he described as “strong,” opposed it to liberal democracy, which he called “thin.” In his opinion, liberal democracy was a democracy of elites and masses, and the participatory democracy, in which politics is a way of living, was challenging this divide. He defined the central problem of politics as a conflict between private interests. According to Barber, liberal versions of democracy were eliminating conflict (the anarchic disposition), repressing conflict (the realist disposition), or tolerating the conflict (the minimalist disposition), while participatory democracy should transform the conflict – “[seek] to create a public language that will help reformulate private interests in terms susceptible to public accommodation” (Barber 1984: 119).

The key notions used by Barber (1984) in his thinking about democracy are: action, publicness, necessity, choice, reasonableness, conflict, and absence of independent ground. It is clear here that this conceptualization of democracy requires the conceptualization of the micro-macro link as well. Private “actions” sometimes have “public” consequences, which creates a “necessity” of “reasonable choice” in order to transform the “conflict.” Defining what is – and what is not – public, and what is the community of people calling themselves “we,” are the subject matter of one of the key debates of democratic politics which, according to Barber, can never be settled – the debate about drawing the boundary between private and public, aggregating private into public is the core of democracy. As the most original and central to his thinking about democracy, Barber announced the element of the “absence of independent ground” – the idea that the public always needs to be defined and that it is not something stable – and neither are the all problems that need to be politically solved. When there is an absence of independent (external, metaphysical) ground, all conflicts need to be solved in an ongoing participation and collective search for solutions. Thus, unlike in the earlier mentioned (and praised by Sartori) approach of Berelson, politics is to be done by citizens – not for them. The crucial difference, in contrast to other conceptions of democracy (especially the electoral, majoritarian, and liberal ones), is that – according to Barber – participative democracy does not only concern choosing between solutions or interests, but through citizen participation, public deliberation, and civic education it transforms the possible profile of choices. In his metaphor of a collective choice in restaurant, Barber (1984: 136–137) describes other forms of democracy as bargaining what to order ← 189 | 190 → from the menu, while in participatory democracy a collective is inventing new recipes and creating a new menu.

The crucial element of thus understood participatory democracy is establishing an institutional platform allowing citizens with their private interests (micro) to transform the conflict and, by overcoming it, to create the community (macro). The micro-macro is connected in institutional venues – among others, neighborhood assemblies, national initiative and referendum process, or electronic balloting. In Barber’s idea, these venues were to supplement and then transform the institutions of liberal democracy. In my opinion, Barber’s proposals of turning participative democracy into a practice are a bit naive and are very vulnerable to critique such as the one coming from Sartori. The weakness of Barber’s proposals on how to amend democratic institutional arrangements lies also in their under-theorized micro-macro connection: they are an interesting proposal for experiments with democratic participation, but it is hard to imagine that a national referendum with a multichoice format (Barber 1984: 286) would solve the problem of translating divergent private interests into public action. In many aspects, participatory conception of democracy overlaps with the deliberative conception of democracy, which is going to be discussed in the next section on the example of Tilly’s (2007) considerations.

8.2.6 Deliberative conception of democracy

Charles Tilly (2007: 7), in his considerations on democracy, points to the tradition of distinguishing four possible ways of defining it: constitutional, substantive, procedural, and process-oriented. Tilly pursues his analysis according to the process-oriented understanding of democracy. According to him, democracy is about the relation between state and its citizens, which exist in four dimensions: breadth, equality, protection, and mutually binding consultation. In all countries it is possible to notice a constant and parallel presence of processes of democratization and de-democratization. In this sense, democracy is not a defined state of political affairs, but rather an equilibrium of on-going processes.

In Tilly’s (2007: 22) understanding, high-capacity democracy involves the presence of frequent social movements, interest group activity, political party mobilization, and formal consultations (which also include elections; consultations are not limited to elections). The state, according to his definition, is capable of monitoring the public politics but there is also a requirement of low levels of political violence. From this point of view, the strong intermediary collectives such as social movements, mobilized party electorates, and the mechanism of consultation expanding beyond elections are prerequisites of a good democracy. ← 190 | 191 → Tilly’s sociological process-oriented approach to study democracy focuses not only of political parties but also on social movements and various mechanisms of consultation. This shows that the problematization of the micro-macro link is crucial.

Tilly claims that in order to understand democracy one needs to take into account interrelations of trust, inequalities, and autonomous power clusters. Trust networks are “ramified interpersonal connections, consisting mainly of strong ties, within which people set valued, consequential, long-term resources and enterprises at risk to the malfeasance, mistakes, or failures of others” (Tilly 2007: 81). Tilly also takes part in the debate between Putnam (1993; 2000) and Jason Kaufman (2002)63 regarding the actual role of associations in civil society. In Tilly’s view, Kaufman is right in saying that the particularistic interest of associations was not contributing to common good as such, yet all in all, participation in these associations is beneficial for democracy because it includes to public politics people who were outside the trust networks and it provides them with an experience of civic life.

According to Tilly (2007), the role of trust networks in democracy is ambiguous. The democratic dilemma of trust consists of a tension between competition of collectives internally bonded by trust. Democracy involves making decisions about limited resources and it is a reason for the emergence of conflicts. One may say that it means that democracy requires a larger amount of trust. Yet, Tilly claims that while trust networks enable democracy, democracy requires as a necessary condition also distrust. Thus, to conclude, in his process-oriented understanding of democracy, democratization in regards to trust relies on including to public politics trust networks.

Another mechanism of democratization is a decrease in autonomy of power centers, which are organizations of different types, capable of influencing the state or exercising their power outside of the state (like criminal gangs or local warlords). Tilly (2007) remarks that a decrease in autonomy of these actors does not always contribute to democratization – in some sequences, in strengthens the authoritarian state. From the perspective of the central problem of this book, particularly important is the issue of constellation of social actors (often being large organizations capable of mobilizing individuals and resources). Autonomous power centers could be also considered as entities linking the micro- and macro-levels. ← 191 | 192 →

8.2.7 Egalitarian conception of democracy

Another important mechanism seen by Tilly (2007) as a part of the democratization process is an eradication of inequalities between different categories of members of society who, as a result, should fall into one category of citizens. In that sense, democratization is achieved thanks to a weakening of intermediary structures such as ethnicities or social classes (but also gender, race, caste etc.), which in unequal societies defined the position of an individual in the state and his or her relations with individuals from other categories. Usually, these categories were grounds to form collective identities, and a source for mobilization for collective action.

Charles E. Lindblom (1988), in his remarks about the relations between democracy, market, and policy-making, stated that in the course of theorizing democracy the views on the conflict between values of freedom and equality have reversed. In the 19th century, in liberal thinking, equality was perceived as a constraint to freedom, and the only acceptable form of equality was the equality of opportunities. In the late 20th century, an increasing number of thinkers (also, but not only, thanks to the Marxist inspiration) started perceiving equality as a precondition of freedom. As Lindblom (1988: 98) stressed, freedom is about being able to make choices, and inequality means making some categories of citizens incapable of making choices, or at least limiting their range of possible choices. In relevance to the micro-macro debate, Lindblom added that political system forms individuals who participate in it, thus the free market creates individuals who believe that they are free.

In case of the egalitarian conception of democracy, the role of the state is to apply policies securing the equality such as income, education, or health. These might be secured thanks to the welfare systems of redistribution. Systems of redistribution are another possible micro-macro link in the theories of democracy. Building on the assumption that society with large differences in opportunities, resources, and access to services is not truly democratic, there is a need for designing a system in which taxes are collected from individuals and corporations. Then, the common large pool of financial resources is divided between various branches of the welfare state, which supports the individuals or nuclear families.

8.2.8 Summary

To conclude the brief review of six conceptions of democracy with a focus on the role of the micro-macro link in their construction, connections between the level of citizens and the level of political system are present in all of them. Theorizing how to connect the individuals and processes shaping their opinions with ← 192 | 193 → the government requires solving the micro-macro analytical problems. For the majority of the discussed scholars, regardless of whether they concentrated on elections, consultations, institutions securing participation or deliberation, and systems of redistribution, the micro-macro issue was not the center of attention. Yet, as I tried to persuade, without the proper grasping of the mechanisms connecting the micro-level with the macro-level it is not possible to understand the democracy in any of its definitions.

8.3 Democracy in the vacuum?

After the fall of communism in Poland, studies of democracy became a focal topic for social scientists. The country started its transition from the mono-centric order to the poly-centric one (Ziółkowski 1993), which involved undergoing two most important transformations: the economic one, from the planned economy to the capitalist one, and the political one, from the communist totalitarian (at least in its ambitions) to the democratic one. Sociologists made the transformation the main subject of their studies (Kolasa-Nowak 2010). The huge interest in the study of politics has always been a peculiarity of Polish sociology, yet just after 1989, the formation of the democratic system was one of the most interesting social phenomena. Sociologist also felt more competent and legitimized than political scientists64 to study democracy and its institutions. For this reason, it is not surprising that in some of the analyses the problems of democratic political institutions were considered in the context of the alleged sociological vacuum.

The works dealing with the sociological vacuum thesis in context of democracy may be grouped into three categories: those considering the electoral mechanisms (close to the minimal and electoral conceptions of democracy); those dealing with the problem of checks on the government (close to the liberal conception of democracy); and the ones dealing with the problem of participation and involvement of civil society in democratic processes (close to participatory conception of democracy). This working typology is proposed by me only in order to emphasize some patterns in discussions about the sociological vacuum and democracy. I start this section with a presentation of concepts like the ← 193 | 194 → missing-middle approach and the hour-glass society, which are often regarded as theoretical kin of the sociological vacuum. Then, I move to the sociological vacuum itself and start with an analysis of works, in which scholars consider the sociological vacuum as an obstacle for the electoral system. Subsequently, I briefly focus on the sociological vacuum as a space for corrupting political institutions. The next discussed problem is the sociological vacuum and political participation. Finally, I consider the insightful work of Mikołaj Cześnik (2008a; 2008b) on relations between democracy and the sociological vacuum.

8.3.1 Post-communist Eastern Europe and insufficiencies of the micro-macro link

The problem of insufficient meso-mechanism transmitting between individuals and state institutions, as well as the elites, was mentioned in a number of works focusing on the post-communist zone in particular. Geoffrey Evans and Stephen Whitefield (1993) attempted to answer the question about the conditions for the emergence of stable party systems in Eastern Europe. In their literature review, they identified three models which explained the formation of party systems in the region: modernization approach, missing middle approach, and comparative communist approaches. The latter was pointed by the authors as the most suitable approach to study the post-communist democracies which, according to them, were somewhere between the extremes of missing middle and modernization. According to the missing middle approach, reconstructed by Evans and Whitefield, in Eastern Europe there was an absence of stable cleavages and based on them intermediary structures, which allowed to articulate interests only on the level of mass collectivism of the nation or state. The reason for this situation was the fact that the communist system perceived all intermediary structures as a threat. The lack of the meso-structures blocked the articulation of interests of narrower groups. In consequence, it was impossible to establish stable political cleavages, and a stable political system could not emerge (Evans, Whitefield 1993: 528–529). Evans and Whitefield did not agree with the missing middle approach and, what is often forgotten, they highlighted that the approach did not suit the Polish case to which the modernization model applied better.65 Similarly to the reconstructed missing middle approach, Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan ← 194 | 195 → (1992: 132) described the landscape of Eastern European civil societies as very flat and as such negatively affecting the development of political systems.

Richard Rose (1995) coined a notion of the “hour-glass society” to describe the conditions for building democracy in Russia. The lower part of the hour-glass was the vivid life of informal networks of acquaintances and kin active in small social groups. The upper part of the hour-glass was the political life of elites competing for authority, wealth, and prestige. The contacts between the two parts were very limited, as in the narrow neck of hour-glass through which sand trickles. In Russia, according to Rose, there was no citizen community. Its hour-glass-like structure was beneficial for elites, because it made it hard to control them. Yet, paradoxically, it also protected regular citizens from the excessive control of the state: citizens coped with everyday life not thanks to the state, not against the state, but despite the state. Rose’s metaphor of hour-glass society has been quoted many times not only in the context of Russia but also other post-communist societies.66

The issue of the micro-macro link has been traditionally analyzed in studies of democracy and it was also pointed as a problematic question in regards to the Eastern European political systems emerging after the fall of communism. I will now discuss how the conception of the sociological vacuum was placed in this context.

8.3.2 The sociological vacuum and electoral system in Poland

If the model of democracy in which individual wills are transmitted through political parties competing for power to make decisions concerning state policies is considered, the weakness of political parties is to be pointed as a crucial problem. In this approach, individuals (micro-level) sharing similar interests, ideologies, and views are gathering as electorates of parties (intermediary level) which influence state policy (macro-level). Mirosława Grabowska, for instance, calls attention to the vacuum as a condition of emerging party electorates which needed to be “glued” together by political entrepreneurs (2004: 163). Hieronim Kubiak explicates the weakness of the party system by the fact that people do not identify ← 195 | 196 → themselves with political parties – thus, again, the sociological vacuum mechanism appears (1999). The unstable party system was often pointed as a weakness of the young Polish democracy. For Grabowska and Kubiak, its weakness was connected with the sociological vacuum, suppressing the emergence of strong parties embedded in the socio-political system. According to these authors, week parties are dysfunctional for the proper functioning of democratic institutions.

Jacek Wasilewski’s (2006) introductory article “Wprowadzenie. Elita polityczna średniego szczebla – problematyka badania” [Introduction. Political Elite of Middle Level – Problematics of Research] is a fine example of the ability of Nowak’s conceptual framework to inspire and guide further research. Wasilewski coined the notion of “political vacuum” in order to describe the hiatus between the central political elite and the masses (2006: 16). Accordingly, there is no communication between these two layers, because the political life on the local level is underdeveloped (Wasilewski conducted his studies on the level of the Polish powiat, the closest equivalent of which is “county”). Notwithstanding the terminological resemblance, the political vacuum is not a direct transposition of Nowak’s idea, but rather a new research direction inspired by this. Wasilewski’s presentation of the sociological vacuum also assumed the shift-in-meaning: it got “translated” into a claim regarding the lack of institutions between families and national community, and the paucity of civil society (Wasilewski 2006: 16). According to the author, the political vacuum resembles the sociological one in the sense that there is a sort of paresis of political society and that the political structures on the local level are of a vestigial character. This situation is defined as alarming, and it is suggested that should the vacuum become filled, it would be beneficial for political life. The conception of “political vacuum” empirically and conceptually is, in fact, quite far from the conception of the sociological vacuum, yet they are both built on the common theoretical problem of framing the relation of the micro-level and the macro-level. For political theory, it is crucial to understand the transmission from the masses (these I paradoxically treated as being on the micro-level as they are an aggregate of individuals) to the elites which make the decisions and conduct the policies on the macro-level of the state. In this conception there is a need for actors who would transmit the will and desires of the masses to the elites, and then translate the decisions and their justifications from the elites to individual voters. These actors, according to Wasilewski’s assumptions, should be the members of local political elites remaining in contact both with individual citizens and members of the leadership. The weakness of the local party elite is perceived not only as a weakness of a particular group of political activists, but also as a weakness of the mechanism ← 196 | 197 → of transmitting information and mobilization between the levels of action. The local political elite plays the role of the micro-macro link in this approach.

8.3.3 The sociological vacuum as a space for corruption of democratic institutions

A different problem was pointed out by Andrzej Zybertowicz, a sociologist and political advisor interested in studying conspiracies and hidden agendas of interest groups. Zybertowicz (2009) stated that there is no proper social control and regulation in conditions of a sociological vacuum, and therefore Polish democracy is open to abuse by anti-development forces. This remark binding the sociological vacuum with the favorite subject of Zybertowicz, shows that the meso-level could be also treated as a space for social control. Zybertowicz builds on Podgórecki’s (1976) conception of the third order of social control. The first order is the social control of members of a small group exercised in direct interactions. It is possible to treat it as a micro-level phenomenon. The second order of social control appears with specialized and (usually) formalized institutions, designed to control (i.e. police, judicatory system etc.). It could be said that this is a macro-level phenomenon. The third order of social control is the capture of the second order institutions by their officers in order to achieve individual goals, perverting the formal goals of these institutions. Both Zybertowicz’s and Podgórecki’s considerations are essayistic and do not provide deep empirical analysis, yet they also point to the problem of relations between the micro- and macro-levels of analysis.

8.3.4 The sociological vacuum and participation in political process

As the construction of this book and the organization of its chapters suggest, the works discussed below consider democracy as a phenomenon which interplays with the civil society and the social capital. Many of these works discuss society and social capital as such, which I have presented in earlier chapters (see Chapters 6 and 7). The decision to place some of these works rather in context of democracy and political institutions, and not in the context of the former two issues, in some cases, needed to be taken arbitrarily as some of studies discuss the mutual relations of civil society and democracy conditioned by the level of social capital. This issue is also very relevant to the problem of the micro-macro link because social capital and civil society were often pointed to as the intermediaries between masses of voters and country decision-makers.

Lech Szczegóła (2013) took an effort to explain the passivity of Polish citizens and its impact on democracy. According to his diagnosis, Polish society suffers ← 197 | 198 → from the lack of participation. He attempted at tackling the reasons for such a situation from different perspectives, one of them being the heritage of the communist time. The sociological vacuum, according to his considerations, is to be blamed for the lack of social bonds, which then block the emergence of civil society (see also Szczegóła 2003), and the civil society, in turn, is the condition for the proper development of democracy. As the work is much influenced by the theoretical framework of Putnam (1993; 2000), the social capital as one of the aspects of civil society is present in it as well. Thus, according to Szczegóła’s (2013) remarks, Solidarność was only the movement of features of citizenship, which quickly eroded. The strong micro-level bonds (resembling bonding capital) are not supporting citizen participation, but rather fostering backing from any public activity. Szczegóła (2013: 200) treats voluntary associations as structures on the meso-level of analysis, yet the sociological vacuum is the reason for their weakness in Poland. As a consequence, democracy has a very weak basis. Along with the sociological vacuum, Szczegóła also mentions other features of Polish society such as amoral familism (Tarkowska, Tarkowski 1990) and lack of trust (Sztompka 1999). Together, they create a syndrome which is an explanation for the lack of participation: “the suggestion about the existence of the culture of distrust, the atomization on the meso-social level, is connected with a long-lasting influence of many factors which have been disturbing the processes of citizens’ socialization” (Szczegóła 2013: 203).

In Szczegóła’s reasoning, the understanding of meso-level is quite plain and follows Nowak’s original articulation – it is the level of broader groups between the small groups and the whole society on the other side of the continuum. Inefficiency of the meso-level is crucial for the inefficiency of democracy because it results in the lack of support for the mechanism of translation of aggregated micro-wills into one macro-act. This cannot just happen mechanically: keeping to that metaphor, the political mechanism of appointing representation needs the meso-level lubricants of participative civil society and social capital.

Recently, in studies of Polish political life there has been a growing turn from the focus on politics to the focus on policies. The conditions of translating political decisions into the actual plan of actions and policies are studied under the label of public policy studies. Recently, Andrzej Zybała (2015: 59) has stated that “the type of relations and social bonds present in Poland is a source of many salient problems with carrying out public activities”. According to Zybała, the cultural context of creating and implementing public policies influences their quality. In Poland, this cultural context is said to be the key reason for the low quality of public policies which, as he points out, results from the presence of the sociological vacuum. Zybała’s (2015) work impresses with the number of ← 198 | 199 → references to analyses of historians, in which he traces the antecedents of the sociological vacuum: the weakness of the court system in the 18th century; the lack of strong state structures uniting the independent folwarks67 in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries; or relations about the disappointment with social engagement in the late 19th century and inter-war Second Republic of Poland. In the descriptions of the state of public and social affairs in post-communist Poland, Zybała finds “dirty togetherness” (Podgórecki 1987), “amoral familism” (Tarkowska, Tarkowski 1990), “soft state” (Hausner 2009), or “cottage-made society” (in Polish, “społeczeństwo chałupnicze”) (Giza-Poleszczuk 2009) responsible for the low quality of political life in Poland. What is important for Zybała’s considerations is that he goes beyond explaining the sociological vacuum only with the features of the communist state. He traces the causes of its existence in the long durée of Polish post-serfdom culture.

Yet, Zybała’s reconstruction of the sociological vacuum syndrome is rather vague. He certainly shifts the meaning of Nowak’s original thesis and treats it as a statement on the weakness of bonds, not as a thesis on the weakness of identifications. Zybała also focuses mainly on the strong bonds within families and other primary groups, yet he does not build any conclusions on the strong national identifications, revealed by Nowak. The weakness of meso-structures (understood directly as medium-sized groups or associations) and the lack of culture of participation is perceived by Zybała as an obstacle for the proper creation and implementation of public policies. This claim is built on the conception that public policies are not only transmitted top-down from the decision-makers, but their proper design, consultation, and implementation requires coordinated action of different actors embedded on various levels of public life. These considerations correspond (although without direct reference) with Szczegóła’s analyses of low levels of citizen participation in Poland. In the culture of the sociological vacuum described by Zybała, it is very hard to pursue public policies requiring a coordination of actions of many entities or planning in long time perspectives. The culture is a context, but it has structural consequences such as statism, in which policies are implemented on the basis of regulations, and not cooperation of different actors. According to Zybała, public policies in Poland are not evidence-based, and they are reactive, therefore strategic planning occurs very rarely. ← 199 | 200 →

Zybała’s use of the sociological vacuum concept is also connected to the theoretical problem of the micro-macro link in the analysis. In Zybała’s understanding of public policy, influenced much by the work of Wayne Parsons’ (2001), the style of policymaking is conditioned by culture which regulates the participation of individuals in public sphere intermediated by medium-sized structures. These medium-sized structures are necessary for the expected public policy efficiency. Zybała’s work reveals disappointment with the sphere of social life in Poland and again, as in many other examples quoted in this book, the sociological vacuum is to blame.

8.3.5 Meso-level identifications and quality of democracy

One of the deepest analysis of the sociological vacuum thesis was performed by Mikołaj Cześnik, political scientist and sociologist studying political participation. In his two successive papers – “Próżnia socjologiczna a demokracja” [Sociological Vacuum and Democracy] (Cześnik 2008a) and “Próżnia socjologiczna a demokracja – analizy empiryczne” [Sociological Vacuum and Democracy – Empirical Analyses] (Cześnik 2008b) – he discussed the possible impact of the sociological vacuum on the quality of democracy. He approached the issue with the often-encountered assumption that the existence of a sociological vacuum has a negative impact on the quality of democracy. Cześnik started with a thorough interpretation of the sociological vacuum thesis, which he read without shifting its meaning and without selective focus on the micro-level part of the thesis.

Cześnik began with an analysis of the state-of-the-art in democracy research and pointed out that in the most influential political conceptions of democracy there is no indication that the low level of identifications with meso-structures has a negative impact on the quality of democracy. What could be seen as a paradox, too strong identifications with intermediary structures (like regions or social classes) might even prove jeopardizing for the democratic process, and disruptive for the states where the macro-level identities have to compete with the meso-level ones (Cześnik 2008a: 32). This argument was built on Lijphart’s (2012) analyses of patterns of democracy, according to which the Westminster model of democracy (government by the majority of people) applies to homogenous societies. The plural societies – divided along some lines68 – under the Westminster model might be excluding a substantial minority from taking part in decision-making. Thus, Lijphart (2004; 2012) states that for plural societies the consensus model of democracy applies better. ← 200 | 201 →

Cześnik also highlighted that the sociological vacuum thesis has two parts: one on the strong identifications with primary groups, and the other on identifying with the nation, respectively. He commented that the latter is rarely taken into consideration when analyzing the problems of political institutions – thus, he drew attention to the process depicted earlier in this book as selective or partial implementation of Nowak’s thesis. The author argued that strong macro-level identifications are expected to exert a positive influence on the quality of democracy, due to the fact that they strengthen the polity. Solidarność is a case in point: Cześnik argued that its explosion in the 1980s is actually validating, rather than falsifying, Nowak’s thesis – the movement was built around strong national identification (2008a: 44–45).

In addition to the theoretical review, Cześnik also tested the hypothesis on the correlation between the indexes of quality of democracy and the existence of the sociological vacuum (2008b). Accordingly, there is no empirical evidence suggesting the positive impact of the existence of intermediary level identifications on the quality of democracy. Examples of countries which are indicative of a sociological vacuum, but also of efficient democracy (i.e. Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon ones) can be given along with countries with strong meso-level identifications, yet low index of quality of democracy (2008b: 21). Another empirical finding of interest for the purposes of this chapter is that there are countries with lower levels of intermediary identifications than Poland. This challenges the perception of the sociological vacuum as a Polish peculiarity (Cześnik 2008b: 22).

Cześnik’s theoretical refinement and empirical testing of the sociological vacuum are important for the debate. He was the only scholar who analyzed the thesis in a comparative perspective. This was accomplished in two ways: the confrontation of Nowak’s thesis with available theories of democracy, and the comparison of empirical data from different countries. Cześnik also followed the elements of the thesis scrupulously – neither a shift-in-meaning nor a selective and partial implementation occurred.

Cześnik’s theoretical analysis allows to draw a very important theoretical conclusion on the relations between the micro-level and the macro-level of society, which is embedded in Lijphart’s (2012) conceptualization of homogenous and plural societies. If the participation in the polity is intermediated by participation in some middle-range structure, it might not necessarily have to be so beneficial for the democratic system. In case of the majority of works building on the sociological vacuum, the alleged weakness of middle-range structures is perceived as problematic. Cześnik highlighted the other side of the coin: too strong middle-range structures might be lethal for many social processes, including ← 201 | 202 → democracy: indeed, a crucial one! The theoretical conceptualization of the meso-level here is also quite straightforward – it is a level of groups, strong enough to create their own “political parties, interest groups, and media of communication” (Lijphart 2012: 31). These intermediary structures may not always simply enable transmission between individuals and decision-makers, as the majority of the authors linking the sociological vacuum with the analyses of democracy claim. The intermediary structures might be also causes of ruptures and conflict.

8.4 Concluding remarks

Democracy is a key concept for the Western civilization and a fiercely discussed topic in sociology dealing with the transition – as is the case of Polish sociology. One cannot forget that democracy is conceptualized in different – sometimes contradictory – ways. In this chapter, I have looked at the six conceptualizations of democracy enlisted by Coppedge and Gerring (2011) in order to tackle this complexity. The two main issues being brought into consideration regarding democracy emerging in the context of an alleged sociological vacuum are: the forming of political institutions connecting masses with elites, and participation. In both cases, the problem of the micro-macro connection in social theory is salient, because it is impossible to understand macro outcomes on the state level without conceptual tools linking them with actions of individuals on the micro-level.

For authors interested in the elections as a key institution of democracy, the sociological vacuum is a problem because it is recognized as an obstacle for creating communication channels between the masses and the elites. The lack of stability of the party system in Poland was mentioned to be influenced by the sociological vacuum in which solid party electorates do not exist (Grabowska 2004; Kubiak 1999). According to this perspective on the elections, unstable party system is a disadvantage for the democracy. Another problem with communication between the masses and the elites was pointed in the conception of political vacuum (Wasilewski 2006). Here, the problematized obstacle for the proper functioning of a democracy is the weakness of the local elites who could bridge the gap between masses and the political elites of the state level.

A different stream of work considers the problem of participation. In this case, the base for democracy is an active civil society. The focus is not on the elections and actors of political institutions, such as political parties and branches of government, but on forms of discussion and collective action. Szczegóła (2013) pointed to the sociological vacuum as one of the explanations of citizens’ passivity. Zybała (2015) claimed that public policies cannot be properly designed and executed in the conditions of the sociological vacuum, in which there is not ← 202 | 203 → enough participation of various social actors. This perspective on democracy is closer to its participatory and deliberative conceptions than the electoral or liberal ones. The “problem with democracy” here is rather located in the vertical relations between various stakeholders than on the horizontal relations between masses and elites, as in previously mentioned works on electoral aspects of democracy. The problem of the lack of participation, or of passivity, is very much connected to the works on civil society inspired by Putnam (1993; 2000), which influenced Polish scholarly discourse on social capital as well (these problems were discussed in Chapters 6 and 7).

Cześnik (2008a) noticed that in the theories of democracy the lack of intermediary level identifications is actually not recognized as something troubling. I would like to amend his point by saying that the existence of a sociological vacuum for some conceptions of democracy is an advantageous factor, while for others it might be a disadvantageous one; there are also other conceptions for which it might be irrelevant. It all holds true, if the strong consequences of lack of identifications with middle-range groups are assumed. The authors concerned about the quality of Polish democracy usually shift the meaning of the sociological vacuum thesis and claim that it describes the landscape of weak middle range actors. In this case, participatory democracy might have even weaker grounds. On the other hand, as Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee (1954) noticed, identifications often influence judgments of voters, who are incapable of rationally processing all the information relevant for taking political decisions. As a consequence, political decisions are identity-based not rational-assessment-based. Similarly, with this line of thinking, Lijphart (2004; 2012) pointed that too strong identifications on the meso-level are dangerous to the polity, because they cause tensions in order to rip it into smaller polities.

It seems that the problem of the sociological vacuum’s influence on democracy depends on which model of democracy is taken into account. The sociological vacuum then becomes a problem, or maybe an advantage, when considering ideal types. Yet, the empirical cases of democracy are always hybrid combinations of the conceptualizations.69 Concluding this chapter, it is worth noticing that the syndromes of a sociological vacuum may be simultaneously positive for some aspects of functioning of democracy and negative for others. It could hold true that the lack of strong meso-level identifications at the same moment supports the unity of polity and discourages the participation in deliberations. According ← 203 | 204 → to the quantitative analysis made by Cześnik (2008b), there is no correlation between the level of the sociological vacuum and the quality of democracy indexes. Yet, the indexes usually are designed in line with certain conceptualizations of democracy (Coppedge, Gerring 2011).

I assume that the influence of the sociological vacuum (if it exists at all), on the one hand, varies in degrees and, on the other hand, depends on the aspect of democracy. Yet, besides the work of Cześnik (2008b), there are no empirical studies investigating these two factors. The majority of the works on the relations between the sociological vacuum and democracy are considerations about ideal types. The only sincere conclusion to this chapter is that the relation between the sociological vacuum and democracy is ambiguous and one has to be very cautions before stating that the sociological vacuum has a negative impact on democracy in Poland.


28 Since 1973, Polish quantitative sociologists have been analyzing data in computational centers “Świerk” and “Cyfronet,” which were equipped with CDC Cyber-72 mainframe computers. The data was input on punch cards. I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for this information.

29 The lack of the theory of action seems to be the crucial reason for the later problems with explaining the emergence of the Solidarność social movement. This sociological paradigm was attuned to research “static” societies. The sociology focused on values has significant problems with explaining actions. John Levi Martin (2011: 309) illustrates it with interpretation of Milgram’s (1974) experiment. If the values were to drive action, the value “don’t torture the innocent” would stop the majority of people, who took part in Milgram’s experiment from inducing electric shocks. Yet, put simply, action is driven by the recognition of expectations how to act in a certain institutional context.

30 City in central Poland. During Nowak’s survey it was inhabited by approximately 150,000 people.

31 The question in Polish was formulated as follows: “Jakich ludzi uważasz za bliskich sobie i czujesz się z nimi szczególnie związany?” (Szawiel 1989: 204). The direct translation into English should therefore be: “What kind of people do you consider as close and feel a particular connection to?”

32 Table 4.1 presents the results according to Nowak (1981: 52). In another presentation of the same results (Szawiel 1989: 205) there are differences in frequencies of some categories.

33 “Carnival” is the term used by the participants of the 1980–1981 Solidarność mobilization to describe the special and unusual atmosphere of this time.

34 I am conscious that it is impossible to describe only the facts and that every historical narration contains an interpretation of events, also formed by the genre used (White 1973). Yet, it is necessary to start from some description focusing on the events. As I will demonstrate later in this chapter, many considerations on Solidarność and years 1980 and 1981 in Poland are either full of metaphysical pathos, or omit events recognizing the timeline as something obvious for the readers who have somehow witnessed them.

35 As Antoni Dudek (2010: 19–20) notes, this division was the idea of the protesters, who realized that their actions are more effective if they are coordinated on the level of cities and regions, and not on the level of industry sectors.

36 The theoretical assumptions and methodology of Polish mainstream sociology of the 1970s are discussed in previous Chapter 4.

37 The direct translation of the expression describing this archetype embedded in Polish culture would be “Mother Pole.” Yet, it is one of the expressions which do not have a reference in other languages. It has its roots in the culture of Polish romanticism and symbolizes the Polish patriotic mother (Szerszunowicz 2013).

38 It should not be forgotten that Stefan Nowak decided not to consider workplaces as salient objects of identification on the basis of the rule of thumb: In his research, 48% of respondents in Warsaw and 46% of respondents in Kielce pointed to their colleagues from the workplace as a category of identification. This identification was actually stronger than the one felt with Polish nation – 43% in Warsaw and 40% in Kielce, respectively (see Chapter 4). Thus, even according to Nowak’s data and his way of thinking about society, there was “something” about the workplace that made it significant. Nevertheless, this data became interpreted as data on close and rather intimate relations.

39 The call for more focus on regional and local aspects of Solidarność goes in hand with Kurczewska’s research program of sociology of localness (Kurczewska 2006b).

40 It is worth mentioning that some of the research collaborators of Touraine were sociologists from the circle of Stefan Nowak.

41 The connection between pope’s 1979 visit to Poland and the self-organization of catholic activists was also highlighted by Grzegorz Bakuniak and Krzysztof Nowak (1984). In the popular narrative about Solidarność, the 1979 visit is important mostly because of two reasons: its symbolic meaning and the massive participation of the people. Yet, a deeper sociological analysis has to point the fact that John Paul II’s tour around Poland required an organization and coordination of many social actors.

42 Some sociologists and activists of civil society say that there is also a fourth pillar of civil society that should be taken into account: the so-called fourth sector, or simply collective actions of low-level of institutionalization, which are somehow similar to the third sector but do not use formal organizations and quite often locate themselves in opposition towards non-governmental organizations believing that they are bureaucracies. This phenomenon was studied recently by Rafał Krenz, Stanisław Mocek, and Bohdan Skrzypczak (2015). I decided not to focus on this kind of activism in this chapter. I will present the traces of this kind of thinking about civil society when analyzing the work of Janine Wedel (1992a), or Grzegorz Ekiert and Jan Kubik (2014). I am convinced that they will also contribute to filling up the sociological vacuum by the virtue of interactions and social relations which are not visible for certain sociological methodologies.

43 The consequences that these two approaches to the polity have for the conditions of democracy will be discussed in the Chapter 8.

44 The Polish Sociological Association is a vivid organization and plays an important role for the integration of Polish sociologists. It organizes sociological summits and other conferences. It is also a publisher of the most influential Polish sociological journal “Polish Sociological Review.”

45 Mirosława Grabowska and Tadeusz Szawiel were Stefan Nowak’s disciples, and they took part in Nowak’s research in the 1970s working on data which were later the basis for the statement on the sociological vacuum (the details are discussed in Chapter 4).

46 Kaufman (2002: 210) positions his argument in opposition to authors such as Benjamin R. Barber, Amitai Etzioni, Seymour M. Lipset, Robert D. Putnam, and others. I refer to their work in other parts of this book (Barber and Lipset are discussed in Chapter 8, while Putnam is discussed in Chapter 7). Kaufman’s (2002) work is here the main inspiration for expressing the possible disadvantages of associationalism, but similar arguments were also given by authors like Michael D. Foley and Bod Edwards (1996), who pointed to associations as promoting anti-democratic values, or Sher Berman (1997), who claimed that strong associational life of the Weimer Republic eventually helped in dismantling its democracy.

47 The term “native American” denotes here people of a well established, white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant background and not “American Indians,” as this term is understood today.

48 This makes approximately 85 persons per association. To compare it with the current situation in Poland, there are approximately 70,000 active associations and foundations (Adamiak, Charycka, Gumkowska 2016: 28), which makes approximately 550 residents of Poland per organization. The associational life in Murcki in the 1930s was indeed vibrant!

49 This is a direct translation of the Polish title of Gawin’s book – Wielki zwrot.

50 We cannot forget that the family was also considered as an institution of civil society by Cohen and Arato (1992) in their influential book of the time – Civil Society and Political Theory. Yet, this line of thinking is against the majority of conceptualizations of civil society (Grabowska, Szawiel 2001) and was not well documented in Kurczewski’s (1996) rather speculative and essayistic work.

51 In Polish literature, but also in public discourse on civil society, “trzeci sektor” – which translates directly to English as “third sector” is the most common expression used to label what is more often described in English as a voluntary sector, community sector, non-profit sector, or not-for-profit sector. In this understanding: the first sector is the state, the second sector is the market, and the third sector is a non-profit (therefore non-market), but also non-governmental, sphere of activities, as discussed by Amitai Etzioni (1973).

52 As mentioned in the previous footnote, “trzeci sektor” translates into English directly as “third sector.”

53 An abuse of a metaphor is often leading to grotesque consequences. It is so in the case of social capital. If – in a huge simplification – maximization of physical capital is something desirable, it cannot be simply translated into the social capital, the maximization of which may bring bizarre consequences.

54 In Chapter 1 I discuss James Coleman’s contribution to the 1980s debate on integrating micro- and macro-levels of sociological analysis. He attempted to do so by applying assumptions of rational choice theory.

55 Embeddedness is treated by Woolcock in the line of the Granovetter’s (1985) conception stating that every economic action is embedded in social relations, thus the model of depersonalized market is deceptive. In Chapter 3, I have discussed the conception of embeddedness as one of the most promising ways of linking micro- and macro-levels in sociological theory.

56 “Amoral familism” is a term coined by Banfield (1958) and also often recalled in Polish context. It was used by Tarkowska and Tarkowski (1990) to describe the state of affairs in Poland. This combination of strong intra-group ties and weak extra-group ties is often associated with the thesis on the sociological vacuum. I will explore the examples of this line of sociological reasoning in the next section of this chapter.

57 The issue of civil society and its debated linkages with the thesis on the sociological vacuum were discussed in the previous chapter (6).

58 It is worth noting that Fukuyama’s (1995) book title was translated into Polish as “Zaufanie: kapitał społeczny a droga do dobrobytu,” which retranslated into English would be “Trust: social capital and a way towards welfare.” “Social virtue” was replaced here by “social capital,” and in Polish sociological discourse this work is treated mostly as book on social capital (equal to trust), and often recalled together with Putnam’s (1993; 2000) works on social capital.

59 This present book is written at the time of the constitutional crisis in Poland, during which two main political forces are both convinced about being democratic and their opponents being anti-democratic. Prawo i Sprawiedliwość [Law and Justice] political party understands democracy according to the electoral conception, while the supporters of the independence of the Constitutional Court understand democracy according to the liberal conception. Interestingly, the egalitarian conception of democracy has its supporters only among some marginalized political parties (such as Razem [Together]). Moreover, the main opposition party – Platforma Obywatelska [Civic Platform] – when ruling the country, also had a strong tendency to support the electoral conception of democracy, and Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, being at the time in opposition, was calling for a stronger control of the majority.

60 This strategy is indebted to Cześnik’s (2008a) idea expressed in the article in which he attempted to answer whether the presence of the sociological vacuum is problematic for democracy by searching for clues in the writings of classical authors. Here, I am answering the broader question of the way in which different classical authors address the problem of the micro-macro link in their writings on democracy.

61 Anyone who took part in a gathering of a small number of people who were supposed to make a common decision knows how much depends on the social definition of situation, exercise of power etc. Still, someone presides the gathering, someone sets the agenda, and so on. Both the institutional setting of such a situation and the skills of the actors involved in the gathering – the way they express their preferences, their use of rhetoric and persuading fellow participants – are a fascinating topic for studies of interaction process on the micro-level. The conclusion from this short excursion is that the arrangements of small-scale direct democracy do not secure democratic outcomes.

62 Thus, even in the most radical direct democracy that we can imagine there would be still a need for some kind of representation to deal with selecting the issues from which to choose, editing the questions, and managing the technicalities of voting.

63 This debate is presented in Chapter 6.

64 From the point of view of sociologists in Poland, political science was a communist project which as a tool of ideological propaganda was not worth the attention. The present book is not a place to discuss the grounds for this perception, yet it certainly had actual consequences: sociologists in Poland felt more competent and legitimized to study and comment on politics. To this day, sociologists hold key positions as public intellectuals “explaining” politics in the media (Warczok, Zarycki 2014).

65 As I have discussed elsewhere (Pawlak 2016), Evans and Whitehead did not refer to the thesis on the sociological vacuum, yet they reconstructed the missing middle approach seeing it also in the works of Polish authors, such as Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (1990), Mirosława Marody (1990), or Marek Ziółkowski (1990), who were either citing Nowak directly, or were at least very much influenced by the intellectual climate in which existence of the sociological vacuum in Polish society was regarded as a fact.

66 Some authors writing about Poland perceive the similarities between the hour-glass society metaphor and the sociological vacuum (see Dzwończyk 2009; Lasinska 2013; Szczegóła 2013). Indeed, both ideas consider the somehow defined meso-level, yet the difference is crucial: hour-glass society concerns communication between elites and society, while the sociological vacuum concerns identities with medium-size social groups.

67 I use the term “folwark” because this serfdom based large agricultural grange is recognized as something typical for the First Republic of Poland’s history of economic and social organization (Wyczański 1960).

68 Lijphart (2012: 31) enumerates the following lines of divide: religious, ideological, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, and racial.

69 Ironically, Lijphart (2012) mentions that the political regime which is the closest to the Westminster model of democracy is New Zealand, not the United Kingdom.