Rhetorical markers of democratization



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This study was motivated by a variety of democratic experience in the world that interchangeably perplexes and inspires students of politics. To understand the processes by which democracies emerge, this study was launched to examine new democracies from a discursive perspective. Four main questions guided the inquiry: (1) Is there a rhetorical/discursive counterpart to the process of democratization? (2) If so, what are the rhetorical features and markers of democratic changes? (3) What specific discursive practices correlate with growth and/or decline of democracy? and (4) What practical value might there be to having a more sensitive measure of democratic growth and/or decline? To answer these questions, a critical discourse analysis was conducted on two genres of Russian public discourse juxtaposing lay (letters to the editor) and elite (editorials) voices in three national periodicals during four election seasons between 1996 and 2008. The analysis of lay discourse revealed (a) that ordinary Russians enjoy expressing their opinions, (b) that they are argumentative, (c) that their repertoire of political voices is rather small, and (d) that their discussions are gradually sliding toward trivial matters. These findings portrayed a public that is attentive to public affairs and speaks out in a forum. Elite voices, on the other hand, were found (e) to be mesmerized by politics, (f) to think of the political world as detached from ordinary life, and (g) to envision the audience of ironic bystanders. Together, these findings pointed to a conclusion that ordinary Russians are rarely summoned either to renew democracy or to improve upon it. Consequently, they rarely identify themselves as true democrats, although many of their discursive practices resemble those that are thought of as a staple of the democratic public sphere.