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If Civic Culture Is the Answer, What Is the Question?

Clarence N. Stone University of Maryland

Governing coalitions arise in response to recognized problems. They are mediating forces, not isolated universes operating only by an inner logic. The character of urban regimes concerns not only simply who makes up a governing coalition but also how the members are related to one another—the terms on which they cooperate and the resources they bring to bear. Regime analysis does not in itself explain the context from which members of a governing coalition come, but it provides a gateway to forms of explanation. With greater specificity about what civic culture is and what it explains, the concept of civic culture could help illuminate the local political context. Howeve , at its current level of development, civic culture sheds little light on some key ques- tions, such as those about political agency and how change occurs or about why eco- nomic development holds such a high place on the policy agenda of most localities.

Reese and Rosenfeld (2001 [pp. 299-312, this issue]) fruitfully combine survey research with com- parative case analysis, spanning communities located both in the United States and Canada. Through their research they expand our knowledge of economic development by examining smaller localities, including suburbs within metropolitan regions. Overall, their analysis makes a strong case for looking beyond a community’s economic situation and its formal structure of gov- ernance to understand how local economic development policy takes shape. Although there is much about Reese and Rosenfeld’s study that is commendable, it suffers on two counts, and these are points around which extended discussion might take place.

First, Reese and Rosenfeld (2001) employ a seemingly narrow conception of an urban regime. They divide governance into two apparently distinct categories: (a) the legally defined form of gov- ernment and (b) the membership composition of the ruling group, equated with the regime. Reducing politics and governance to these two categories leaves a considerable vacuum, which can be filled by “local civic culture” (p. 307).

From this starting point, Reese and Rosenfeld (2001) challenge the “accepted truth” that poli- tics matters in the form that the “composition of local governing regimes largely determines poli- cies” (p. 300). By showing that the membership of a locality’s ruling group does not, in fact, determine policy, they pave the way for an alternative explanation. But who embraces the view they refute? Whose accepted truth is it? No one argues, for example, that a governing coalition operat- ing in a consensual manner is the same as a ruling group embedded in confrontational relations.

Governing coalitions do not operate in a vacuum; they arise in response to recognized problems and thus are best seen not as isolated political universes operating only by some inner logic but rather as mediating forces (Stone, 1993, p. 2; Stone & Sanders, 1987, p. 269). Even as mediating

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT QUARTERLY, Vol. 15 No. 4, November 2001 313-316 © 2001 Sage Publications

Clarence N. Stone is professor emeritus at the University of Maryland and a research professor of political science and public policy at George Washington University. His recent publications include an edited volume, Changing Urban Education (1998), and a coauthored book, Building Civic Capacity (2001), both published by the University of Kansas Press. His current research is in the areas of urban school reform, social reform more generally, and urban regime change.

Governing coalitions do not operation in a vacuum; they arise in response to recognized problems and thus are best seen not as isolated political universes operating only by some inner logic but rather as mediating forces.


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