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The Possibility of Effective Participatory Governance: The Role of Place and the Social Bond

Author: ERIC K. AUSTIN
Published in PAM, Vol. 15 No. 1

The conventional wisdom, and much of the citizen participation literature in public administration, works from a presumption that the stability of the social bond will come about as a result of more and better participation. However, under the conditions of late modernism including incommensurable language games, participation, even in the form of robust discourse, is insufficient for generating the social bond. In such conditions, some form of the social bond must exist prior to and in order for discursive participation to occur in the first place. Again, in the conditions of late modernism, the mechanical solidarity described by Emile Durkheim, or a social bond based in shared culture, religion and values no longer exists. In such conditions, some other basis to form the social bond must be found. This work suggests that the existence of a shared connection to place—built and natural physical environments—can establish the conditions for effective citizen participation to occur. Following a description of the social bond and its function, this article presents the findings of a case study which suggests that social connection to place can support the generation of the social bond, and that agencies can utilize that bond to facilitate robust, participatory discourse about management activities and outcomes.

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