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Many and varied forms of representative democracy have emerged in the twentieth century and into the new millennium, often in the wake of the modernizing forces of global capitalism. Some of the newer systems are fashioned after Western parliamentary or presidential templates, but the social and political structures of others do not align with the values of liberal-democratic, or even Christian-democratic representative state formations.
Even in its liberal-Western heartlands, however, democracy remains highly contested as a concept, as a form of government and as a field of political practice. Consequently, there is no consensus about how the authenticity of a national democracy is to be assessed. Under what circumstances of political economy and social conditions do the notions and practice of democracy flourish, or conversely, come under attack from powerful state or state-economic interests? The relative conditions of political democracy within a social formation shape, at least to some extent, systems of 'governance' that operate both within the state apparatus; in fields of civil, commercial and criminal law and between citizens and other institutions. Governance refers to the complex array of practices through which a degree of order and coordination is achieved across governmental and other organisations, at local, national or supra-national levels.The media itself is an institution with a problematic and dialectical relationship with democracy and social institutions. In the heavily mediatized world, these relationships are also a site of contested meaning.
Democracy and the potential democratisation of governance and media give rise to critical issues for conceptual and empirical research and for aspirations for more equitable local, national and global societies. The Governance, Media and Democracy (GMD) thematic group investigates problems in this field, including: