Social science and participation
Social science and participation

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Social science and participation

Who participates?

In the film ‘Social science, poverty and participation’, you saw that not everyone in society is able to participate equally in all social activities. This is the key insight of social scientists who have worked on defining and measuring poverty. You also saw that social scientists contribute to the process of defining which activities people should be participating in, in order to play a full part in wider social worlds. This is a simple way in which social science enacts participation.

In the following short film, ‘What counts as participation?’, the sociologist Ruth Levitas indicates the role of social scientists in defining what counts as participation. As you watch, listen out for the way she describes political participation.

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Transcript: What counts as participation?

In relation to participation, we are trying to look at economic, social, cultural, and political participation. And of course, we ask people questions about whether they voted in the last general election, but actually, that's an incredibly thin measure of political participation. So we have got some questions which attempt to push a little further at people's sense of being able to influence the circumstances of their own lives.
I would say I think there's a very tricky issue here, because if you ask people directly about political participation, a lot of people will immediately switch off and say they're not interested in politics, and they may nevertheless be involved in forms of community participation and organisation which might be deemed to have at least a political aspect to them. So I think the question of establishing what constitutes political participation is actually very, very tricky indeed.
End transcript: What counts as participation?
What counts as participation?
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Levitas defines participation quite broadly. It includes economic, cultural and social activities, as well as political ones. She also defines political participation broadly, not confining it to voting, but suggesting it should be understood as ‘being able to influence the circumstances of one’s own life’.


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