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community power


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The question of who makes decisions within a community was a debate prominent in American political science in the 1950s and 1960s, and reflected in discussions in other countries including Britain. In 1953, Floyd Hunter's Community Power Structure suggested that power in the community he studied (not named in the book, but Atlanta, Georgia) was dominated by business elites to the exclusion of ordinary people, and the total exclusion of black people. In 1961, Robert Dahl's riposte, Who Governs?, suggested that in New Haven, Connecticut, no one group did: that power was dispersed among interest communities. Of course, both writers could have been right about their particular place and time. In themselves, the books permitted no generalization except that those who look for elites will probably find them, whereas pluralist writers will expect to find, and probably will find, that there is no controlling elite. The community power debate therefore became rather sterile. In response to Dahl, it was claimed that powerful groups could keep issues off the agenda, a process labelled ‘mobilization of bias’. The best such study is Matthew Crenson's The Unpolitics of Air Pollution (1971), which was published when air pollution in the United States had just become extremely political.

Subjects: Sociology — Politics.


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