An Institutional Approach to Community & Mass Society (My New Book, Currently in Preparation)

My research and writing on collective action in communities in diverse locations around the world – e.g., community organization efforts in urban and rural America, the persistence of Japanese American ethnic identity in California, household economics in Russian villages in Soviet and post-Soviet times, and smallholder cooperative development in East Africa – has provided me with unique opportunities to examine how institutional structures, both formal and informal, enhance or pose obstacles to the maintenance of sustainable healthy communities.  See my recent publications and vita. The goal of the proposed book is to develop a paradigm with which to incorporate both the positive and negative impacts of formal institutional arrangements on building sustainable, equitable communities and reducing zero-sum inter-communal conflict. I incorporate my own work and that of other social scientists within this broader paradigm.  This begins with a discussion of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries approaches of Madison in The Federalist # 10 and Tocqueville in Democracy in America, especially the latter’s observations on the essential role of formal institutions in maintaining the viability of informal social organizations that support civil society. This is followed by the ways in which empirical work in the social sciences and social psychology has produced substantial adjustments in liberal theory in the 20thand 21st Centuries. The conceptual framework incorporates theory and research of the New Institutional Economics and Political Science, including Olson, Riker, North, Simon, Buchanan and Tullock, and Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, as well as the New Institutionalism in Sociology, including Brinton and Nee, Granovetter, Marsden, Powell and DiMaggio and Wellman. Special attention is given to incorporating into community theory the causal paths in which adjustments in formal institutional structures can substantially alter the incentive structures that support or weaken informal institutional arrangements.  This, in turn, suggests a need to re-examine assumptions about the presumed immutability of historical path dependencies.  Examples in support of this assertion are found in the success of the European Union in reducing inter-communal violence, the use of agricultural cooperatives in building civil society in post-colonial Kenya and post-genocide Rwanda, and in the United States, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Wagner Act and the legitimation of workers’ right to collective bargaining, as well as the contemporary USDA Land Grant Community Development Extension programs. Finally, the book will elaborate on ways in which formal institutional adjustments can reduce he appeal of the populism and religious fundamentalism that has led to so much intolerance and violence in our contemporary world.

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