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Citizens, Parties and Political Action

Unit(s) of assessment: Social Work and Social Policy

Research theme: Safety and Security of Citizens and Society

School: School of Social Sciences


The Citizens, Parties and Political Action research group is interested in the changing relationships between citizens and the democratic process and formal political institutions. Our research considers what opportunities exist for people to intervene in public and political life, and how and why they choose to participate (or not).

This cluster forms part of the Politics and International Relations academic team.

Recent trends across contemporary post-industrial societies suggest a deepening disconnect between citizens and democratic politics and institutions. People seem less committed to national political systems and mainstream political parties, and increasingly susceptible to radical parties and to their rhetoric; they also appear to be deeply sceptical of governments and of the political classes in general. The Citizens, Parties and Political Action research group (CPPA) at Nottingham Trent University is concerned with examining questions such as:

  • What lies at the heart of this apparent disconnect between citizens and mainstream politics?
  • What are the opportunities available for citizens to intervene in public and political life?
  • What are their reasons for doing so - or for choosing not to do so?
  • For those people who do choose to participate in different forms of political action, what methods do they elect to use, and why?
  • What about political parties and other political agencies – how do they develop, mobilise and survive, and how do they seek to connect with citizens?

These questions of why people engage in, or opt to disengage from, political activity have been at the heart of political science for many decades. However, there are several widely differing approaches available for the study of such fundamental questions about political participation, and these reflect different assumptions about why people pursue particular goals and how best to obtain the evidence to support those assumptions.

The CPPA research cluster therefore has a broad appeal, incorporating a variety of approaches in a number of inter-related areas. CPPA draws together colleagues researching in the following areas:

  • Political behaviour: why people engage in any form of political activity
  • Political participation: why people engage (or do not engage) in the formal political process, and why others choose to participate in unconventional political activities such as demonstrations, protest movements, or using online social networking methods
  • Civil society and social movements: the development of political organisations and relationships at a grass-roots level
  • Political parties: why political parties come into being; their ideologies; their strategies; who leads them; who joins them; who supports and votes for them.


We continue to develop professional relations with a number of local, national and international organisations and agencies through our research activities. These relationships underpin our ambitions to reach out beyond the university sector, and to conduct research that is socially innovative, exciting, relevant and valuable. Through our research, we have recently connected with:


Recent selected publications include:

  • Henn, M. and Foard, N. (2014) But will they vote? Young people and politics in Britain Sociological Review, Forthcoming
  • Henn, M. and Foard, N. (2014) Compulsory voting - would it get young people engaged with politics? Society Central, December 3rd
  • Henn, M. and Foard, N. (2013) Social differentiation in young people’s political participation: The impact of social and educational factors on youth political engagement in Britain, Journal of Youth Studies, Vol. 17, pp.1–22. DOI: 10.1080/13676261.2013.830704
  • Henn, M. and Foard, N. (2012) Back on the agenda and off the curriculum? Citizenship education and young people’s political engagement, Teaching Citizenship, Issue 32, pp. 32-35, February 23rd. ISSN 1474-9335.
  • Henn, M. and Foard, N. (2012) Young people, political participation and trust in Britain (with N. Foard) Parliamentary Affairs, Vol. 65 (1) pp. 47-67. DOI: 10.1093/pa/gsr046. ISSN 0031-2290.
  • Henn, M., M. Weinstein and N. Foard (2009) A Critical Introduction to Social Research, 2nd edn. Sage Publications Ltd, London, 2009. ISBN 978 1 84860 179 6.


Impact Report - Young people and politics in Britain: How do young people participate in politics and what can be done to strengthen their political connection?

Related projects

Researchers in the Citizens, Parties and Political Action research cluster are currently working on a major national study, the "Young People and Politics in Britain" project. This £96,000 study has been awarded funding by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and examines young people's attitudes towards politics in Britain. Results from the study challenge the widely-held view that today's generation of youth is increasingly reluctant to play a role in political life, and is dismissive of the formal political process and democratic institutions. The project is based on a national online survey of 1,025 young people and the results from fourteen online focus groups.

Other research projects include:

  • The development of the Pirate Party and other fringe parties in Germany
  • The reasons for the success of the Green Party in Norwich, UK.