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From Neighborhood to Nation

The Democratic Foundations of Civil Society

Ken Thomson

Publication Year: 2009

From Neighborhood to Nation takes on a key issue in the debate over expanding the civic culture, namely how neighborhood-based systems of local participation and governance can contribute to building a civil society that has meaning and positive impact beyond the local community. Advocates have long called for greater reliance on local participatory processes for improving the quality of civil society and governance, while critics maintain that neighborhood-based mechanisms promote parochialism and the politics of exclusion.

Intensive research in four urban neighborhoods -- Birmingham AL, Dayton OH, Portland OR, and St. Paul MN -- enables Ken Thomson to provide the first meaningful and quantified response to these abstract civic culture questions. He develops scales to measure the extent of neighborhood organization and effectiveness in the political process, thereby focusing the debate on three essential components: deliberations and decisions of the core grassroots groups, their outreach to all citizens in their area, and their relationship to the political process.

Published by: Tufts University Press

Series: Civil Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

Cover Page

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p. 1-1

Title Page

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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-6

List of Tables

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pp. vi-7

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pp. vii-x

I was walking back to the subway with a friend after an inspiring memorial service for George Sommaripa, a visionary of the peace movement in our nation. For more than thirty years, George had been the one who always seemed a step ahead of the rest of us in planning the next strategy for action. ...

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1. Representative vs. Participatory Government

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pp. 1-7

There is something different about American politics today. It is not just the sense of lost purpose in both major political parties. It is not just the strategy of derision toward government as a staple of political campaigning, or the challenges to basic election processes. It is not just the level of partisan bitterness unseen before in the lifetimes of most politicians. ...

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2. The Aggregation of Interests: Representation, Voting, Parties, and Interest Groups

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pp. 8-32

A central tenet of this book is that our system of representation as now structured is faltering, and needs to be rejuvenated with new approaches to democratic governance. This argument, in essence, takes two forms. First, the practical application of representative government in our multilayered society of 250 million strays far from the basic principles of effective representation, ...

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3. Participatory Alternatives: The Neighborhood Approach

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pp. 33-49

To develop alternatives to pure representative democracy, we need to examine the building blocks and networks that make participatory, face-to-face interaction possible. The smallest unit in the network clearly needs to accommodate all who want to be involved and allow them to work with each other productively. ...

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4. The Participatory Core

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pp. 50-72

The first question we need to ask about the practical development of participatory democracy is: What is required of an organization at the core of this democracy? Specifically, for the neighborhood organizations on which this book centers, how well do the existing neighborhood groups meet these requirements? ...

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5. Aggressive Outreach

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pp. 73-92

Democracy is of little value if kept secret. Many organizations can have a highly democratic core and egalitarian, deliberative internal processes, but if they fail in relating to the rest of the community, they fail as a participatory democracy. If the typical community member has no opportunity to be actively involved, if he/she is unaware of that opportunity, ...

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6. The Policy Link

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pp. 93-108

The previous two chapters have attempted to make the case that models for the core organizations of participatory democracy already exist in neighborhood and other grassroots organizations in our communities, and that models of outreach— while needing to be improved—also exist and can be strengthened to meet the demands of such a democracy. ...

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7. Further Explorations

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pp. 109-114

The possibility of self-government is the question we have struggled with throughout this book. Our focus has been on a type of organization that embodies in its nature the face-to-face deliberations that seem to have vanished in so many other spheres of American activity, yet are often seen as essential for effective self-government. ...


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pp. 115-178


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pp. 179-186


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pp. 187-196

Back Cover

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p. 210-210

E-ISBN-13: 9781584658306
E-ISBN-10: 1584658304
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584651048

Page Count: 207
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Civil Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives