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2021, vol. 55, br. 1, str. 38-55
Proces slabljenja nacionalne države u eri neoliberalizma i krize demokratije
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Sofia, Bulgaria
Članak ima za cilj da pokaže da je država, kao rezultat globalizacije i neoliberalnog oblika vladavine i ideologije, oslabljena kroz kompleksni sistem ekonomskih, finansijskih, tehnoloških i društvenih odnosa na globalnom planu. Povlačenje države sa regulatornih funkcija na svojoj teritoriji je odbijanje države da prihvati ideološku mobilizaciju svog stanovništva na osnovu nacionalizma i nacionalnog identiteta. Paralelno sa padom nacionalnog identiteta, nacionalna država premešta svoju ulogu sa nametanja kulturološke i nacionalne homogenosti kao karakteristike ranije faze izgradnje nacionalne države, na podržavanje kulturološke raznolikosti. Razmatraju se kriza demokratije i pojava postdemokratije, kao i pitanje o mogućnosti postojanja demokratije van granica nacionalne države.

The transformation of the relationship between the state and the nation which is observable during the last three or four decades is due to a large extent to the neoliberal rule and globalization which reshaped the functioning of the nation-state. One of the unexpected consequences of neo-liberalism and globalization is a reduction of the state power and a weakening of the connection between the nation and the state as a result of state sovereignty erosion (see Spencer & Wollman, 2002; Bauman, 2004, str. 45–49).

The article aims to show that as a result of globalization and the neo-liberal form of governance and ideology, the state was weakened through the complex system of economic, financial, technological and social relations on a global scale. Neo-liberalism calls for the diminishing of the role of state not only in economic relationships but also in social ones at the expense of the market.

Under globalization, there are new layers of sovereignty over the nation-state – trans-national companies and supra-national institutions like EU, NATO, IMF, World Bank, etc. to which the states willingly transfer large parts of their sovereignty. States act as transmitters of decisions which often are taken outside them by supranational bodies.

The separation of economic from political power and transfer of national sovereignty to supra-national institutions weaken the nation states, and the ideology of neo-liberalism additionally destroys their social functions and makes problematic the connection between the people and the state. Political leaders of the nation states are dependent on supra-national institutions and in most cases are unable to overcome the diminished level of economic and social security they provide to their citizens. The obedience and transfer of sovereignty from the nation-states to supra-national institutions bring the end of the role of nation-states and their sovereignty as we knew them until 70th–80th years of the last century. The military, economic and cultural self-sufficiency and self-reproduction of the states ceased to be a necessary element of their functioning. Their economies are less and less under the control of the state, and the military self-sufficiency, especially in the European countries, is considered needless and transferred to NATO (see Bauman, 1999, str. 88–93).

What has changed at the current moment of development of the post-national state is the division of economic power from politics. The political power continues to be local and embedded in the political institutions of the state while the economic power became global (Bauman, 1999). Globalization has weakened nation states and the national governments cannot be considered anymore a source of effective political power. There is a prolonged process of depriving the nation-state from power. The state becomes too weak to implement independent social policy and has no other choice but to initiate de-regulative strategies (Bauman, 2001, str. 97–98). Thereby, present nation-state surrenders its control over economic and cultural processes and transfers its power to the global market.

All these processes transform the identity politics. Today we are witnesses of a decline of class identity and of evaporation of the identities, based on the old hierarchy at the expense of ethnic, religious, race and sexual identities. "Civil society" and citizenship started to lose their old meaning and are being re-build again not based on class and political hierarchical loyalties but on horizontal cultural versions of identities (Bauman, 2004). With the advent of neo-liberalism and globalization the promotion of "civil society" has started. The elaboration of the concept of civil society in social sciences has begun at the beginning of 90s of the last century as a counterbalance of the concept of nation-state. The interest of the scholars was shifted from "state" to "civil society" and "market". Thus we witness a very interesting process of conceptualization of democracy within civil society at the expense of its conceptualization in the framework of the state (Gellner, 1994; Gulalp, 2013). The promotion of civil society is a promotion of the mechanisms of capitalist market at the expense of state regulation which entirely corresponds to the ideology of neo-liberalism. The favoritism of "civil society" and the "politics of identity" at the expense of the nation state presupposes a significant weakening of the state functions (Wood, 1995; Gulalp, 2013, p. 32–33). Class and social rights have become converted into secondary rights as compared to the civil rights of individuals and the collective rights of different identity groups – ethnic, religious, race or sexual.

The idea of civil society fosters the creation of numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Their activities are not controlled by the state and replace or undermine the social functions of the state. The main aim of the creators of the NGOs is to show that the social role of the state could be totally replaced by the civil society (in the face of multiple NGOs), which according to their creators, symbolize self-organization of the society (Gulalp, 2013, p. 33). However, the role of these NGOs is mostly palliative and very selective in relation to the social support of the population. Nevertheless, these NGOs succeed to force the state to transfer most part of its functions to them together with the money necessary for the implementation of these social functions (see Crouch, 2004). This process is genuinely undermining the regulative function of the state and serves to increase the freedom of action of trans-national capital.

Thus, today, there is neither need for the neoliberal state to control the processes of social integration, nor ability to do that. So, that state does not need legitimacy through the nation and culture, and does not need ideological mobilization of its citizens in a degree necessary for the old type of state before the period of globalization and neo-liberalism. To put it differently, the neoliberal state resigns from the normative regulation of the society that once has been one of its main functions. The reasons for that should be searched in the blurring of one of the main functions of the state – to keep the mobilization of its populace in case of war. With the appearance both of nuclear weapons and institutions of supra-national level that control the nuclear arming in different states, the role of national state was radically changed. The need of waging war was one of the main reasons for the state to require monopoly upon the means of coercion within its borders in order to mobilize resources on its territory in case of military conflict. As Hirst and Thompson rightly point out, from 16th century till now, one of the main functions of the modern state is to wage war resting on the life and property of its citizens. According to them, today the armed forces are practically not so important for the states in their relationships with each other. This does not mean that the war will disappear as a way of resolving conflicts but that it is less probable that the governments would have a case in which to invoke the lives of their citizens in the name of waging war (Hirst & Thompson, 1995, str. 416). As a consequence, the state's capacity and necessity to control its population substantially diminished.

The state is already unable, relying on its authority, to mobilize its citizens and to require and create solidarity and a common national identity that are necessary for effective war waging. The existence of a common enemy during a war strengthens national solidarity and makes legitimate the call for national cultural homogeneity. As Hirst and Thompson write it:

"Without the threat of war, without enemies, the state becomes less significant to the citizens. When people really faced enemies, invaders and conquerors, they needed their state and their fellow citizens…These legitimations are gone, and with them the whole classes of provision for 'national' needs justified by the possible contingency of war: 'national' industries, health and welfare to promote 'national efficiency' and social solidarity to unite rich and poor in a common struggle" (Hirst & Thompson, 1995, p. 417).

The only function left to the national state is organization and maintenance of order on the administered territory (see Bauman, 2001, p. 98).

According to Bauman, the modern individual has been connected with the nation because its national belonging is the ideological form of the modern state and because the state has been able to connect the individuals through a combination of obligations (taxes, military service) as well as through providing of security and social welfare. This reciprocity of the relationships between the national state and the individual is wakened and as a consequence, the engagement and the feeling of being a member in the national community are significantly reduced (see Fenton, 2008). The modern national state, according to Fenton, loses its definition as "national" and by that, its attractiveness.

In this sense, the state of late modernity does not need national identity and national solidarity of its members in the same degree as it was in the earlier modern period when the state had to keep its territorial boundaries and to affirm and impose its political legitimacy. The national state which at the beginning of 20th century regulates its economy and protects the prosperity of its citizens, at the end of the century becomes undermined. The governments cannot support full employment and economic growth and carry out their re-distributional functions in full as it was before – during the flourishing of the national states (Mittelman, 1996; Gulalp, 2013). Following Gulalp we could say that 20th century is a witness of the prosperity and the decay of the welfare state in both political blocks-the capitalist and the socialist, together with the heyday and decay of the national community (the nation), organized around the national state (Gulalp, 2013, p. 32).

The beginning of 21th century is characterized by a massive destruction of welfare state in Western Europe and the penetration of the market in social activities such as health care, education, culture and social policy, which become defined in terms of consumers and market suppliers of services. This process turned national institutional relations in equivalent of the market relations. More and more social activities in Western and Eastern Europe are given "on concession" by the state to private entrepreneurs. The citizens as representatives of the nation that should have guaranteed social services by the state are turned into simple clients, and the common security which the state ought to provide to them is greatly reduced due to the fact that the social services also started to be subordinated to the laws of profit making. Accordingly, where this profit cannot be achieved, the social services fade out (see Crouch, 2004).

With the end of the welfare state, post-modern state ceased to be a source of resources and security for its citizens as it was almost till the end of the Cold war. This is due to the weakening of the national states under neoliberal ruling and due to the globalization of economies by supra-national corporations. The supra-national corporations have no interest in the well-being and reproduction of the populace and the manpower in the countries, in which they operate, but in the profit which they extract. As Bauman put it, the reason for that is the easiness with which the supra national capital moves money and manufactories from country to country depending on the profitability of the conditions which different national states propose. Unlike the national capital of 19th and the beginning of 20th century, which is interested in reproduction of manpower within the boundaries of a given nation state, where the national capital operates, supra-national capital leaves after itself a desert. The consequences of devastating actions of transnational capital on local level are left to the national states which are very limited in their opportunities to cope with these consequences due to the fact that the financial flows are out of the control of the governments and due to many neoliberal changes in legislation of the national states which are subordinated to the attraction of investment and the service of transnational capital (see Bauman, 1999).

Power deprivation of the national state and its orientation to the strategy of deregulation and transfer of its main functions to the market means a rejection of the classical normative and social regulations, inherent in the modern Keynesian state. We can speak about an abruption of the imagined collectivity of the state, exhaustion of the relationship between the state and the nation and withdrawal of the state from the reproduction of the nation and national identity. The national identity is no longer desired and supported by the state, so we witness a decline of national community together with the decline of the Keynesian welfare state. According to Bauman, today we can speak about divorce between the state and the nation where the failing state has less and less benefits to propose to its citizens in return to their loyalty (Bauman, 2004). This withdrawal of the state from the regulative functions on its territory is at the same time a refusal of the state for ideological mobilization of its populace based on nationalism and national identity. As a result, we have a process of seeking and creating of new identities which serve to fill with content the emptied of meaning national identity and to return the lost stability of the people.

"The reduced powers of the state do not promise much-and guarantee even less. A rational person would no longer trust the state to provide all that is needed in case of unemployment, illness or old age, to assure decent health care or proper education for children…The nation-state …is no longer the natural depository for people's trust" (Bauman, 2004, p. 44–45).

What is going on with the loyalty of the people from the national community to the national state, which is already neoliberal and gave up its obligation to support and to fulfill the maintenance of their welfare? These people start searching for alternative forms of identity and alternative networks of solidarity – they flee in ethnic, religious, race and gender identities and imagined communities. The homogenizing role of the national state from the beginning of the creation of the national community is changed in the opposite direction of enhanced fragmentation of different identities and cultural communities, based on ethnicity, religion, race etc. The connection with the world market makes cultural homogeneity on national level less necessary. Thus there are all conditions for expansion of religious and ethnic pluralism within the national state and the creation of race, religious and ethnic communities with growing power as an alternative source of loyalty for its members (Hirst & Thompson, 1995, p. 416–418). Where the classifying and unifying role of the national state is not successful and necessary, the appearance of competing identities is inevitable for the cultural reproduction of the communities within society. The national patriotism from the earlier modern stage of development of the national state is replaced by local loyalties and "wars" for recognition, and the problems of exploitation are replaced by a new discourse – that of exclusion (Bauman, 2004, p. 39–41; Gulalp, 2013). Bauman rightly points out that what we witness today is not a revival of nationalism but unduly underlying of different types of identity, including the ethnic one at the expense of class identity which dominated most part of 19th and 20th century. R. Cohen argues that thanks to the increased migration flows, identity becomes de-territorialized and is not already connected with a specific country. This process of de-territorialization strongly undermines traditional nationalism and leads to flourishing of sub-national and trans-national identities which could not be easily controlled by the state (R. Cohen, 1997).

National identity as a political identity is moving from the political into the cultural domain of cultural diversity (multiculturalism) and of authentic identities and support for the rights of these identities (cultural, religious, ethnic, race) at the expense of social rights. During the decline of national identity, the national state moves its role from imposing of cultural and national homogeneity, a characteristic of the earlier stage of nation-state building, to supporting cultural diversity. Disappointment from the national state leads to the creation of alternative forms of community which cross class divisions in the society and focus on cultural identity. The concepts of citizenship and civil society caused a move to the problems of recognition of authentic identities and the acceptance of cultural diversity. According to Gulalp, the cultural authenticity could bring disunion of political wholeness of the nation and not only to repudiate the concept of united national state but to bring a civil war (Wilmsen & McAllister, 1996; Turner, 2000; Gulalp, 2013). The mass immigration is the main source of the invocation for recognition of diversity and multiculturalism.

Crisis of democracy and post-democracy

Since the mid of the last century, some changes are observed in the very democracy, which is already defined as liberal or neo-liberal one. These changes consist of not only growing distrust and dissatisfaction of the citizens of the developed western countries from their ruling elites (Norris, 1999; Phar, Putnam, Dalton, 2000; Dalton, 2004; Norris, 2011), but also in acceptance of liberal democracy as a normative form of democracy and not as historically contingent form or as one of the many forms of democracy, as it actually is (see Crouch, 2004, p. 3).

A number of scholars describe different sides of the effect of globalization and neoliberal ideology and management practices upon the western democracy. D. Marquand argues that the public sphere of citizenship in United Kingdom is under attack of market fundamentalists from the new rights and from the imitators of the new left which leads to emptying of content of citizenship, to marketization of the public sector and to erosion of the public trust (Marquand, 2004, p. 172). According to him, the formal shell of democracy remains while its content begins to evaporate. P. Rozanvallon argues that the politics is substituted by widespread techniques of management that leave room only for one player – the supranational organizations (Rosanvallon, 2006, p. 228).

The book of Colin Crouch "Post-democracy" unites the critiques of neo-liberalism in a unified explanatory logic. According to Crouch, the liberal democracy (in essence neoliberal) is a form that emphasizes participation in elections as a main way of mass participation in democratic process, extended freedom of lobbing, which means first of all business lobbing and a form of political community which is kept away from the economy. Despite the possibility of change of governments, in this neoliberal model the electoral debate is a strongly controlled spectacle ruled by professional experts through special persuasion techniques, and the discussed public and political questions are carefully selected by the ruling elites. Crouch calls this neoliberal model, which has not an interest of broad involvement of citizens in governance, post-democracy (Crouch, 2004, p. 3–5). In post-democracy, economically powerful groups and people are more successful in using their impact tools while the rest of the people have limited opportunities for influence on the political process. Both the politics and the governments return back to a control over the masses from the privileged economic elite which reminds pre-democratic times and not the democracy from the mid of the last century, when first time in history of capitalism economy was indeed dependent from the prosperity of the wage labor and when there was a sort of compromise in the Western democracies between capitalist business interests and the interests of wage labor. In the mid 20th century in the countries of Western Europe, business interests manage to learn some restrictions on use of power in order to keep the survival of the capitalist system and to calm down the protests against inequalities which this system produces. Democratic political capacity that was concentrated on the level of national state was able to guarantee these limitations because the companies were strictly subordinated to the authority of the national states (Crouch, 2004, p. 8).

Crouch does not state the reason for the appearance of the Keynesian state and the positive relationships between the labor and the capital in Western Europe in the mid-20th century except the huge amount of working class. It is not difficult to guess that this short period of reconciliation in Western Europe is caused by the influence of USSR and the socialist block and the labor benefits there and accordingly from the fear of western capital of a possible revolution and an eventual change in the form of ownership under the influence of workers' discontent. The welfare state in the West is a duplicate of the social state in socialism. Without absolutizing this factor, which needs serious research, we want to point out that it is not by chance that post-democratic tendencies in Western democracies started during the Soviet "perestroika" and flourished after the collapse of the USSR and the socialist block.

The change in the relationship between capital and labor in the West began in the 80s of the last century in Reagan's time in US with a reduction of the social benefits and marginalization of trade unionist movement. Under Reagan, the process of increased consumption at the expense of debt began by reducing the value of loans and refinancing them, that allowed an expanding of the middle class and accelerated consumption, unrelated to the level of wages, which are still at the level of the 50s of the last century (Khazin, 2019). The economy started to determine its progress not by the profit from production, but by the movement of commodity exchanges, financial markets and the increase in the shareholder value of shares (Dore, 2000). The relocation of the main productions of Western Europe and the USA to the developing countries of Asia and mainly to China together with the serious technological changes also caused serious changes in the social and class structure of the Western societies. Western economies and societies are "liberating" themselves from their working class at the expense of the expansion of employees in the service sector-working in the financial sector, administrators and bureaucrats and diverse groups of professionals, managers, etc., who are beginning to identify and feel like middle class. The working class becomes a declining class first in US, United Kingdom and Scandinavia and then in the other European countries (Crouch, 2004). The end of the working class as we know it from the end of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century came with the end of capitalism based on mass industrial production in the metropolises. Due to the heterogeneous pay and the different degree of connection with the ruling groups, the middle class does not have the same need and opportunity for mobilization. Moreover, it has become a major basis for supporting neoliberal policy, as its existence is thanks to the emergence of Reagan's economic policy and the accelerated lending and refinancing of debt, which has more than doubled its consumption and compensated the lack of real wage growth. Without the neoliberal policy of increased lending and refinancing, the middle class would disappear. We are currently seeing its intense shrinkage as a result of the 2008 economic crisis.

The political process of neo-liberalization can be called "political economization" (W. Morgan 2003) and "economic de-politicization" (Bourdieu, 2002). The de-politicization of the economy limits citizens' political choices, and the options offered are often too complex for them to judge, necessitating certain experts to legitimize decisions made at the managerial level (Sloterdijk, 2005). In this way, apathy among ordinary people regarding the democratic political process becomes visible. The erosion of political control and accountability led to the emergence of more autocratic forms of governance and signalled the reorganization of the relationship between the state and citizens, where the state acts "from a distance" (Swyngedouw, 2000). This is seen mainly through the influence of supra-governmental and supranational institutions such as the EU, WTO and IMF, which are reorganizing the institutional forms of management such as governance behind and over the state.

Is it possible to conceive democracy beyond the nation-state borders?

Some scholars see the solving of the problems of democracy on national level by moving it out of the boundaries of the national states. As we know well, however, democracy is defined and practiced at the level of nation-state, i.e. within a given territory. The nationstate defines the political unit in terms of territory. However, the corresponding processes of the growing power of trans-national corporations and the rise of human rights discourse mutually work to limit the relative territorial sovereignty of the nation-state (Gulalp, 2013).

Can we conceive democracy beyond the nation-state within a supra-national group of institutions that are held accountable to a supposed political community containing the whole world populace?

Democracy is a form of rule that requires the existence of some kind of formal political organization which is able to hold accountable people and institutions representing the political community of the nation. Hereof democracy requires the nation-state. The global civic society at the extent it exists, contradicts to the notion of territoriality or politically organized community of living of the individual members of the nation-states. It cannot solve their problems stemming from the way the state administers its territory. The global civic society exists only on specific topics of common interest as the creation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, environmental problems, etc. It could hardly keep supranational institutions and trans-national corporations accountable for there is not yet a global political community with ultimate rights to hold responsible these supranational bodies. It is difficult to imagine how accountability of trans-national corporations to the world populace should look like. For now, the global power of trans-national corporations is clearly an erosion of democracy.

However, the nation-state no longer contains the conditions for democracy for the reason explained above. It is difficult for the states to win and support the loyalty of the national members because there is nothing to be proposed to them. The loyalty of the populace of the nation-states is no longer required for the states are intertwined in complex relations with multi-layered bodies of supra-national and international institutions, so that the states' existence is guaranteed without the consent of the people populating these states.


The article was presented at the video-conference “Living in a world of nation-states”, October 2nd, 2020.


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O članku

jezik rada: srpski, engleski
vrsta rada: pregledni članak
DOI: 10.5937/socpreg55-30309
primljen: 13.01.2021.
prihvaćen: 16.03.2021.
objavljen u SCIndeksu: 16.04.2021.
metod recenzije: dvostruko anoniman
Creative Commons License 4.0

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