Political Microcultures: Linking Civic Life and Democratic Discourse

At the core of democratic citizenship is deliberation: citizens' tendency and capacity for debating issues of common importance. This study considers civic organizations – often found to be political mobilizers – as political microcultures: environments for political discourse that structure participants' understanding of the practice of citizenship. The study consists of 20 focus groups, each composed of members of one of five kinds of civic organizations. The transcripts are analyzed using bivariate and hierarchical linear modeling techniques. The group context in which political discussions take place is found to have a significant impact on the structure and logic of those discussions, even after accounting for individual-level variations in the demographic characteristics and civic experiences of group participants. A significant portion of civic life and its contribution to democratic citizenship is in social environments that vary in the richness of their political discourse. Elements of political microcultures may explain part of the often-observed differences among civic organizations' degree and type of political mobilization.