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Is There a Place for Private Conversation in Public Dialogue? Comparing Stakeholder Assessments of Informal Communication in Collaborative Regional Planning

This article, which is based on Caroline Lee’s dissertation research, compares how ideals like inclusion, transparency, and social capital are interpreted very differently in two different collaborative partnerships and explores the long-term challenges this might create for those attempting to develop formal institutions or best practices for dialogue and deliberation in local communities.

Executive Summary:

This study contests the universalism of public engagement models by comparing reports of informal communication in two state-centered participation processes for regional conservation planning. Through interviews with stakeholders, the author finds that both elites and nonelites deployed informal communication to amplify and to defuse pressure for consensus. Much of the power of informal communication derived from its relation to local knowledge and place-based networking that was irrelevant in principle to formal process activities — and this was welcomed in one community and resisted in another. These differences highlight the overlooked role of regional-scale political cultures in light of the increasing formalization of participatory best practices. The article suggests that the study of democratic engagement can gain by exploring the contextual implementation of abstract deliberative ideals such as inclusion, publicity, and transparency.

Caroline Lee

American Journal of Sociology, 113(1): 41-96 (2007)

Resource Link: ww2.lafayette.edu/~anthrosoc/Lee2007.pdf

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