Petitioning is considered as one of the oldest and widespread form of « unconventional » political participation in liberal democracies . However , few specific studies have been devoted to it (however : Neiman , Gottdiener , 1982; Contamin 2001 and 2013) , in compared to studies devoted to « conventional » type of political practice such as the electoral and party participation.
The development of information and communications technology (ICTs) has however helped to make it again on the agenda. Indeed, Those developments first seem to have facilitated this practice as evidenced by the proliferation of websites devoted to petitioning and of social networks allowing petitioning. They also seem to have given it a new sociological and institutional efficacy. E- petitioning has thus been recognized by several « countries » (Scotland, Basque Country , Germany, Britain, France , United States... ) and at the level of the European Union, as a new institutional instrument which might be in the service if an assumed more participatory democracy . Petitioning would not be anymore an outdated practice. It would be a privileged laboratory to observe the potential emergence of a new relation to policy and of new forms of political participation.
The project specifically aims at making the study of e-petitioning an opportunity for a questioning with three dimensions, that are partly autonomous but also for a large part interdependent, each corresponding to a disciplinary entry: a sociological and politological entry ; a legal entry ; and a methodologico -linguistic entry.
The first axis of the project is sociological. It aims at examining the effects of the emergence of new technologies in terms of democratic functioning , from the specific case of e- petitioning . Is there any substitution or continuity between one and the other ? Who are the e- petitioners compared to conventional petitioners ? How these petitions spread ?
The second axis of the project is a legal one. It aims at questioning the legal status of these practices and the very possibility of granting them alegal status. While procedures that are supposed to recognize a right of e-petitioning multiplied, how to achieve and institutionalize it? How to balance the personal commitment that involves signing a petition and the principle of protection of personal data, in particular the right to digital oblivion?
The third axis of the project is methodological. Facing the proliferation of digital data (« digital humanities »), researchers are more and more often helpless. What tools could be used to systematically process e-data without making a superficial or impressionistic study, but by rigorously entering in the very materiality of collected texts in particular to relate these texts to their production and their reception?
This project wants precisely to confront all these issues by gathering a multidisciplinary and international team of political scientists, lawyers and specialists of language and computers, and by using a rather unique source : an access by the owner of a e-petitions website to a database of more than 11.000 petitions and 700.000 signatories’addresses.
From a scientific point of view, this project will then, at the same time, allow to better understand what new technologies make to political participation, to advance the debate on the legal control and potential of these new practices and to contribute to the development of computer tools in order to cope with the profusion of electronic data.
Monsieur Jean-Gabriel Contamin (Centre d'études et de recherche administratives, politiques et sociales)
The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.
CERAPS Centre d'études et de recherche administratives, politiques et sociales
CEDITEC Centre d'étude des discours, images, textes, écrits, communication
CReSPo Centre de recherche en science politique
CEVIPOL Centre d'étude de la vie politique
Help of the ANR 259,931 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2014 - 42 Months