The Roots of Participatory Democracy


A group of women sit under a tree deliberating on what to do about the stagnate water near their homes.  Five thousand people march and sing struggle songs as they launch a campaign to transform the banking industry.  These are the types of activities usually associated with global social movements in the twenty-first century.  Yet surprisingly, behind both these events are communist parties engaging in novel forms of development. The Roots of Participatory Democracy compares the communist parties of Kerala, India and South Africa, revealing the vibrant and unexpected role that modern-day communist parties are sometimes playing in participatory democratic, egalitarian politics.  Using an original conceptual framework, Williams shows that political parties have tremendous potential for coordinating the diverse interests in civil society and for forging a coherent political project.  The book shows that in the 1990s communist parties in both Kerala and South Africa began to practice a new "generative" politics, in which they engage their ideological foundations as well as their practices of translating these aspirations into reality.

  • Palgrave Macmillan; May 2008
  • ISBN 9780230612600
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: The Roots of Participatory Democracy
  • Author: Michelle Williams
  • Imprint: Palgrave Macmillan

In The Press

"How might political parties promote transformative change in the contemporary Global South? Building on a foundation of painstaking comparative fieldwork and historical analysis, Michelle Williams has constructed an answer to this question that forces new appreciation of the role of party ideology and organization in shaping development trajectories. Anyone interested in twenty-first century political possibilities will profit from reading this original, theoretically audacious book."
- Peter Evans, Eliaser Professor of International Studies and Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

"This is an important and highly original contribution to comparative political sociology.  Williams explores two telling cases of generative politics in the developing world, the CPM in the Indian state of Kerala and the SACP in South Africa.  Drawing on extensive fieldwork and careful historical analysis, she shows how both parties have responded to the challenges of neoliberalism by reinventing a radical politics of equity that is based on promoting participatory practices and institutions.  By focusing on actual political practices and contrasting the ways in which each party has navigated the complicated relationship between civil society and the state, Williams provides a powerful analysis of the conditions under which parties can become transformative actors.  In doing so, Williams transcends the traditional divide between social movement theorists who distrust parties and representative democracy theorists who distrust movements to show us how electoral and participatory political logics can be reconciled."  
– Patrick Heller, Brown University

"In a global context where political parties are widely believed to have been eclipsed by social movements, this important work of scholarship provides convincing evidence of socialist renewal in two actually existing communist parties in the Global South. The book is an innovative contribution to contemporary socialist theory and democratic practice. It demonstrates how two parties converge in their response to a post-Soviet world but diverge intriguingly in trying to implement their visions of socialist democracy."
- Edward Webster, Professor of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

About The Author

Michelle Williams is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Political Studies at the University of Witwatersrand.