3 Main Dimensions of Political participation


3 Main Dimensions of Political participation

Recall the definition, scope as well as factors that determine political participation. This having being done, it is also important to discuss the dimensions that political participation can take in human societies. Political participation is another way of expressing human relation with politics.

Take note that these dimensions are not to be taken as type of political participation, rather, whether at the level of gladiator or spectator that basically typifies political participation, any of the dimensions to be discussed here can be dominant.


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At the end of this article you should be able to do the following:

(a) Distinguish between forms and dimensions of political participation.

(b) Identify and explain dimensions of political participation.

(c) Compare and contrast each dimension of political participation.

(d) Be able to explain the dimension of political participation of your colleagues and you.


3 Main Dimensions of Political participation

Behaviouralists of the old regarded political participation mostly as those legal activities that are permitted by the state for the citizens to use in influencing leadership, governance and politics. They even seem to assert, almost sacrosanct, that political participation only occurs in a democratic setting. But Lam, W. (2003) has asserted that “Political participation refers to lawful and unlawful activities of supports, making demands, debates and other forms of expression communicated verbally or through the media, and targeted at the rulers. He adds that it also includes “activities that are designed to pose challenges to existing rules, norms and practices”

Operating from the foregoing sense, political participation is not necessarily those actions that are legal, violent or non-violent, electoral or not electoral, as some scholars attempted to cage it. Rather, it is a variety of attitudes that an individual or a group decides to use to act or react to politics and policies.

Methods of political participation are unlimited, and they often depend on several factors on ground. This is probably why Kayode Eesuola’s study of the political protest of Fela Anikulapo Kuti of Nigeria concludes that “Actions of political protest may take several dimensions, ranging from street march, strike, writing, law suite, song, self-immolation, suicide bombing and so on; all depending on the socialization, ideological worldview, exposure and skills of the protester, as well as the prevailing socio-political environment.” To address this complex issue of political participation and its dimensions, we shall, in this unit, have three radically opposing classifications.

However, one main concern is whether people can have two or more, or even mixed dimension. While it is true that we cannot box human beings to a particular sacrosanct description, what we often do is identify the dimension that is dominant, or that constantly occurs in a man, and then identify the man with it.

In other words, the dimension of a man’s political participation is nothing from the dominant one among other that may be traceable to the man:

1. Conservative versus Radical Political Participation

2. Active/Passive Political Participation

3. Aggressive/Non Aggressive Political Participation

Read On: Impacts of Political Socialization on Political Behaviour


1. Conservative versus Radical Political Participation

We can perceive political participation from these two opposing dimensions. Conservative participation has to do with adhering strictly and unquestionably to the laws and the way it prescribe that people should participate, often with very poor or no understanding on the part of the participant. It has been constantly argued that law and rules in any society are often crafted in the interest of the dominant class though, yet, a conservative participant follows them almost with malice aforethought. For instance, some countries’ constitutions make voting a compulsory civic responsibility, a norm which demands that people support the policies of government because they are made in the interest of all: and it is patriotic to mast national flag and sing national anthem, and so on. In the reverse however, radical political participation is what you get where participants do not accept laws and abide by rules without deliberately querying them. In this case, voting is a civic responsibility but radical participant will not vote where he perceives something wrong. Policies of government may only be respected to the extent that they serve public interests, national flags and national anthems may be turned down where political circumstances so demand. This dimension of political participation is radical.


2. Active/Passive Political Participation

By active political participation we mean deliberate participation in political activities with vested interest. Attending a campaign rally to support a candidate or gain political knowledge, campaigning and voting for the purpose of ensuring victory for a candidate, attending town and constituency meetings and other forms of involvement in political activities can all be regarded as active political participation. Passive political participation, in the reverse, will refer to withdrawal from all active participations as highlighted above, getting to the stage of skepticism, cynicism and apathy due to political disappointment, refusing to act politically in time, and, in the extreme, becoming apolitical. This is based on the philosophy that even nothing is something, that is, not participating at all, or participating in ways not active are still dimensions of participation.


3. Aggressive versus Non Aggressive Political Participation

This is the third dimension in which we can perceive political participation. Some people are, due to socialization and other factors, often more quickly disposed to aggressive attitude to politics, than others. Such people believe that actions such as riots, demonstration rallies, arson, terrorism and even revolution are the best ways of handling political issues. The self-immolation of Benzuazi of Tunisia in 2010 was an extreme example of aggressive political participation. In the contrary, some people prefer non aggressive ways such as campaigning, street talks, writing letters, debates, sit-ins, hunger strike and so on. Gandhi of India and King Junior of the United States are revered as advocates of non-violent non aggressive political participation, especially protest. Gani Fawehinmi and Fela Anikulapo Kuti also are.

Read On: 6 Main Factors Affecting Political Participation

Conclusion on 3 Main Forms and Dimensions of Political participation

Finally, political participation does not only refer to concrete human activities, but also to their psychological orientation or disposition. It refers to the totality of ways and means through which people react to and relate with issues in governance and politics. It is neither sacrosanct nor immutable. Rather, it flows in different dimensions depending of several factors that colour the personality of participant.

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