Home/The Microfoundations of Community: Small Groups as Bridges and Barriers to Participatory Democracy
The Microfoundations of Community: Small Groups as Bridges and Barriers to Participatory Democracy
Código: WPE – 142
This chapter reviews research on the small group foundations of community participation and civil society. The approach used is interdisciplinary in nature, combining social psychological and microsociological research with wider-reaching theories of civil society and democratic theory, and arguing that the two are fundamentally linked. Fist, it is argued that associational groups provide both opportunities (bridges) and obstacles (barriers) for participation on a wider level, each of which is discussed in turn. It is argued that small groups provide microenvironments that allow individuals to develop cognitive and emotional models of citizenship, empowerment, and inclusion. However, the small group literature also points to cognitive biases, exclusionary tendencies, and irrational behavior associated with groups that call into question their ability to provide sustainable models of democratic participation. It is argued that many of the failings of participatory democracy cannot be understood without reference to the small group origins of modern democracies. In order to chart a path between these seeming contradictory findings the chapter concludes by posing the question of whether a polity based on principles of group psychology can sustain universalistic aspirations such as tolerance, universal participation, and mutual respect, or whether ultimately such aspirations break down into in-fighting and factionalism. An attempt is made to suggest provisional solutions based on social psychological research. Specifically, research on group relations that examines moderators of inter-group biases and factors that promote inclusion is suggested as a fruitful direction.