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

April 17, 2019

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.

Trip to Morocco – Building Civil Society from the Ground Up

December 19, 2017

I just returned from Morocco, where I worked with a great team on a Local Works project that focuses on assisting local organizations in building civil society from the bottom up. The Moroccan government has made a commitment to building “intermediary service organizations” (ISOs) that coordinate and advocate for NGOs throughout the country. Our team visited women’s and disability ISOs that are advocating for their constituent members. The USAID mission in Morocco is assisting in this effort, supporting the Local Systems approach of our team, which is led by LINC (

Why Women are Underrepresented in Positions of Leadership in Rural Russia

May 10, 2015

The Underrepresentation of Women in Leadership Positions in Rural Russia – Rural Sociology 2015

This paper reports on a survey that asked a sample of men and women why they thought that women were underrepresented in positions of leadership in large agricultural enterprises and management of small household farms in Russia.  Both men and women downplayed the role of outright discrimination and instead focused on traditional cultural definitions of household responsibilities of women and the supposed “natural” advantages of men in leadership positions.  Interestingly, male as well as female respondents supported increased training and more help from husbands at home as a way to promote more women in leadership positions.


Understanding What Makes Some Smallholder Cooperatives Work While Others Do Not

May 10, 2015

Measuring the Benefits of Smallholder Farmer Membership in Producer Controlled Vertical Value Chains – Survey Findings from a Development Project in East Africa

This paper reports on a study that identifies reasons why some smallholder farmers become members of East African Dairy Cooperatives while other households elect not to join.  Although members receive a slight advantage over non-members in income, the primary reasons for membership involve trust that the cooperative will treat them fairly and reliability.  The cooperatives in the survey vary considerably in the other benefits that they provide to their members, such as credit for purchase of farm inputs. The study points to both the opportunities and challenges facing smallholder cooperatives in developing countries as they aspire to get further into the value chain and improve the lives of their members, and, in particular the importance of social capital.


Plenty of Challenges but Lots of Enthusiam – A Short Comment on Leaving Uganda and Kenya

January 23, 2011

I have spent two and half weeks in Uganda and Kenya on as Consultant on project designed to facilitate the development of coordinated dairy cooperatives.  The demographics (lots of young people) and the general enthusiasm of the Kenyans and Ugandans left me with a great deal of hope for this part of the world and a strong feeling that Africa may be a force in bringing new life to tired Western countries.  That thought was reinforced at a Roman Catholic Mass I attended in Nairobi this morning.  More later.

Travel to Uganda and Kenya

January 8, 2011

I arrived in Kampala (Entebbe Airport), Uganda late last night (Friday, January 7th).  I am part of team on a USAID research project designed to better understand what factors lead to successful integrated dairy cooperatives in emerging economies, especially organizational models that produce value-added projects that will increase household incomes.  Most of the dairy farms in Uganda and Kenya, as in most of the developing world, are very small and usually operated by women.  This project is led by Land O’ Lakes Foundation, a non-governmental organization that was created by the Land O’ Lakes Dairy Cooperative.  This foundation has conducted a large number of projects around the world, with the aim of developing cooperatives in emerging economies.

We are going into the field tomorrow.  A few initial impressions of life in Kampala, from my stay of less than 24 hours.  First, the most  striking  observation for me is the demographic differences between the US/Europe and what one sees on the street in an emerging economy like Uganda.  The urban population is very young, lots of young adults who have left the villages and have to the city for work.  This mirrors  a demographic shift that occurred in Europe and the US in the 19th and early 20th century.   Another observation is the huge number of automobiles on the road and the concurrent amount of air pollution.  Even in a relatively poor country like Uganda carbon emissions may be problematic.

Fall International Travel

August 23, 2010

This  fall I will be traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia and Hangzhou, China to present results of research on entrepreneurship among rural Russian households.