Social Representations of Democracy; Ideal versus Reality: A qualitative study with young people in Greece

Thalia Magioglou

Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme, Paris, France

Hellenic Observatory, 1st Symposium, London School of Economics, 2003.


Democracy is a major issue in the contemporary world. The collapse of the communist world and the devaluation of communist ideology, the welfare state crisis in Western democracies and the important role of globalization have an effect on the way people think about democracy. In what way do citizens experience these transformations? Abstention from elections and action through humanitarian associations are examples of a new kind of citizen mobilization. More precisely, the present project aims to investigate the following:

  • The social construction of the meaning of democracy: how do people who live in a system considered to be democratic understand democracy? What does it mean to them?
  • The ideal and the representation of the reality of democracy. Which is the political system that young people wish for, and is it different from the one they live in? Do they have an ideal of democracy that is opposed to the one that they experience?
  • The limits of what they consider as possible in the real world. Is democracy, or their ideal political system possible or impossible according to them? If the ideal democracy is seen as impossible, there is no action in order to make it happen.

Democracy has a particular importance for Greek people; it is considered to be an element that somehow belongs to the Greek culture. From early education, the importance of ancient Greece and the fact that democracy was created in Athens is emphasized repeatedly, more so than other historical periods (see Fragoudaki and Dragonas, 1997). Representative democracy as a political system was introduced in Greece very soon after national independence from the Ottoman Empire, by the beginnings of the 20th century. Democratic government of the country has since been interrupted by the civil war that followed the end of World War II, and more recently by the military junta of 1967-1974. These are both significant elements in the construction of social memory, and should weigh heavily on the social representation of democracy.

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