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Trust, Efficacy and Modes of Political Participation: A Study of Costa Rican Peasants

  • Mitchell A. Seligson


Those who study political participation will find that recent investigations have been lacking neither in scope nor methodological sophistication. Participation, once conceived of in rather narrow terms (usually focusing exclusively on voting) and whose study was restricted to certain geographic areas only (the United States and Western Europe), is now taken to include a wide range of activities across the globe. Similarly, the causal factors of participation have been expanded as well, so that currently they include the social-psychological, socio-economic, demographic, structural, historical and cultural. Nevertheless, despite the abundance of inquiry, little progress has been made in the development of theory.



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1 I am not entirely comfortable with the terms ‘institutionalized’ and ‘mobilized’ but have not yet been able to develop more suitable terminology. Verba, Sidney and Nie, Norman, Participation in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), p. 3, refer to ‘within the system activity’. Such usage, however, tends to imply that certain forms of political participation (e.g. protest marches) are anti-system, when in fact such marches may be protesting against those who oppose the system. It is important to emphasize that the same activity may be characterized differently in different contexts. For example, protest marches may start out as mobilized participation but might ultimately become a routinized, institutionalized pattern of behaviour. The same act in different societies or at different times in the same society can take on an entirely different meaning and the investigator must be sensitive to these important differences. This perspective is enunciated by Shepard Forman in his study of peasants' political participation ‘The Significance of Participation: Peasants in the Politics of Brazil’, in Seligson, Mitchell A. and Booth, John A., eds., Political Participation in Latin America, Vol. 2: Politics and the Poor (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1979), pp. 3650. An extensive discussion of the definitional problems in the literature on participation is contained in Booth, John A. and Seligson, Mitchell A., ‘Images of Political Participation in Latin America’, in Booth, and Seligson, , eds., Political Participation in Latin America, Vol. 1: Citizen and State (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1978), pp. 333, and Seligson, and Booth, , ‘Political Participation in Latin America: An Agenda for Research’, Latin American Research Review, XI (1976), 95119. In those essays, we use the terms ‘conventional’ and ‘unconventional’ participation rather than ‘institutionalized’ and ‘mobilized’. I would like to thank Reuven Kahane for suggesting the terminology adopted in this paper.

2 Almond, Gabriel and Verba, Sidney, The Civic Culture (Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, 1965), pp. 188–96, 252–65.

3 Nevertheless, the research does provide interesting speculation about revolutionary politics as possibly being related to trust and efficacy. See Almond, and Verba, , The Civic Culture, pp. 184–5.

4 Gamson, William A., Power and Discontent (Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press, 1968), p. 48.

5 Finifter, Ada W., ‘Dimensions of Political Alienation’, American Political Science Review, LXIV (1970), 389410.

6 Clarke, James W., ‘Race and Political Behaviour’, in Miller, Kent S. and Dreger, Ralph M., eds., Comparative Studies of Blacks and Whites in the United States (New York: Seminar Press, 1973). pp. 536–8; Paige, Jeffrey M., ‘Political Orientation and Riot Participation’, American Sociological Review, XXXVI (1971), 810–20.

7 Fraser, John, ‘The Mistrustful-Efficacious Hypothesis and Political Participation,’ Journal of Politics, XXXII (1970), 444–9.

8 Hawkins, Brett W., Marando, Vincent L. and Taylor, George A., ‘Efficacy, Mistrust and Political Participation: Findings from Additional Data and Indicators’, Journal of Politics, XXXIII (1971), 1130–6.

9 Watts, Meredith W., ‘Efficacy, Trust and Commitment to the Political Process’, Social Science Quarterly, LIV (1973), 623–31.

10 Watts, , ‘Efficacy, Trust and Commitment to the Political Process’, p. 630.

11 Zurcher, Louis A. Jr., and Monts, J. Kenneth, ‘Political Efficacy, Political Trust, and Anti-Pornography Crusading: A Research Note’, Sociology and Social Research, LVI (1972), 211–19.

12 Balch, George I. and Kellstedt, Lyman A., ‘Trust in the Political System: A Construct Validation’, paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, 1975.

13 Balch, and Kellstedt, , ‘Trust in the Political System: A Construct Validation’, p. 21.

14 Paige, Jeffery M., ‘Political Orientation and Riot Participation’, American Sociological Review, XXXVI (1971), 810–20, p. 814.

15 Paige, , ‘Political Orientation and Riot participation?’, p. 814.

16 Muller, Edward N., ‘Behavioral Correlates of Political Support’, American Political Science Review, LXXI (1977), 454–68.

17 The sample was multi-stage, stratified and clustered. A more complete description of the sample can be found in Seligson, Mitchell A., ‘The Peasant and Agrarian Capitalism in Costa Rica’ (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pittsburgh); and Seligson, , ‘Prestige Among Peasants: A Multidimensional Analysis of Preference Data’, American Journal of Sociology, LXXXIII (1977), 632–52.

18 Seligson, Mitchell A., Peasants of Costa Rica and the Development of Agrarian Capitalism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979).

19 Seligson, Mitchell A. and Booth, John A., ‘Structure and Levels of Political Participation in Costa Rica: Comparing Peasants with City Dwellers’, in Seligson, and Booth, , eds., Political Participation in Latin America, vol. 2: Politics and the Poor, pp. 6275; Seligson, Mitchell A. and Berk-Seligson, Susan, ‘Language and Political Behaviour: A Methodology for Utilizing the Linguistic Component of Socio-Economic Status’, American Journal of Political Science, XXII (1978), 712–41.

20 Verba, Sidney and Nie, Norman, The Modes of Democratic Participation: A Cross-National Comparison (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1971), and Verba, , Nie, and Jae-on Kim, , Participation and Political Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978).

21 The importance of resource allocation in determining levels of political participation is demonstrated empirically by Seligson, , ‘Development and Participation in Costa Rica: The Impact of Context’, in Booth, and Seligson, , Political Participation in Latin American, Vol. 1, pp. 145–53, and its theoretical implications are elaborated by Booth, and Seligson, , ‘Development, Political Participation and the Poor in Latin America’, in Seligson, and Booth, , eds., Political Participation in Latin America, Vol. 2, pp. 38.

22 Booth, and Seligson, , ‘Peasants as Activists: A Reevaluation of Political Participation in the Countryside’, Comparative Political Studies, XII (1979), 2959. Details of coding and scale construction for these variables are contained in the notes of that article.

23 Seligson, , Peasants of Costa Rica and the Development of Agrarian Capitalism; and Seligson, , ‘The Impact of Agrarian Reform: A Study of Costa Rica’, Journal of Developing Areas (01, 1979).

24 Seligson, , ‘Public Policies in Conflict: Land Reform and Family Planning in Costa Rica’, Comparative Politics, 10 1979, in press.

25 The astonishingly clear family ties between political, economic and social power in Costa Rica are demonstrated in great detail by Stone, Samuel Z., La dinastia de los conquistadores: La crisis del poder en la Costa Rica contemporánea (San José: Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1975).

26 In the preparation of the questionnaire it was recognized that not all those involved in a strike would necessarily be in agreement with it; group and union pressure sometimes make participation mandatory. Hence, in order to separate out from the sample those strike partipants who were not active supporters of the strike, a question was asked regarding the agreement or disagreement of the strikers with the strike. Only those in agreement with strikes are considered to be participants in this mobilized form of behaviour.

27 To help achieve this end, the series of trust questions was preceded by a statement read to the respondent to the effect that he should think about government in general rather than the particular government in power (see Table 2). However, one should retain a healthy scepticism as to how successfully the trust items measure diffuse support. For a promising effort todo this see Muller, Edward N. and Jukam, Thomas O., ‘On the Meaning of Political Support’, American Political Science Review, LXXI (1977), 1561–95. A translation of Muller and Jukam's diffuse support items was recently used in Mexico with considerable success, and has even more recently been used in Costa Rica, although the results are not yet available. See Seligson, , ‘On the Meaning of Diffuse Support: Some Evidence from Mexico’, paper delivered to the meeting of the Latin American Studies Association, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1979.

28 Mathiason, John R., ‘Patterns of Powerlessness among Urban Poor: Toward the Use of Mass Communications for Rapid Social Change’, Studies in Comparative International Development, VII (1972), 6488.

29 A complete discussion of this method of measuring efficacy is contained in Seligson, , ‘A Problem-Solving Efficacy Scale: An Approach to Measuring Political Efficacy’, (unpublished paper, 1979).

30 Muller includes one category, Reformist Action, not covered here. This category involves those who exhibit intermediate levels of mobilized participation and medium to high levels of institutionalized political behaviour. Since the two mobilized forms of behaviour in this study were not combined into a single index (which would have permitted an intermediate category) the intermediate category of mobilized participation is not present. Muller refers to the ‘Pragmatic Mobilized Activist’ type as ‘Realist Revolutionary’. Muller's terminology, while it may be appropriate for other data sets, is not entirely fitting here since most Costa Rican strikers and land invaders are not revolutionaries in the commonly understood meaning of the term.

31 Huntington, Samuel P., Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1967).

32 Seligson, and Booth, , ‘Development, Political Participation and the Poor in Latin America’.

33 See Huizer, Gerrit, The Revolutionary Potential of Peasants in Latin America (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1972); and Landsberger, Henry A., ed., Latin American Peasant Movements (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969).

* Department of Political Science, University of Arizona. The fieldwork for this study was made possible by grants from the Foreign Area Fellowship of the Social Science Research Council and the Danforth Foundation. This paper, prepared for delivery for the 1977 annual meeting of the Southwestern Political Science Association, Dallas, Texas, 1977, was revised while the author held a Lester Martin Fellowship at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I would like to thank Susan Berk-Seligson, John A. Booth and Richard J. Moore for helpful comments on the earlier version.


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