City size and the nature of associational ecologies

Simone Baglioni*, Bas Denters, Laura Morales, Angelika Vetter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


It is 30 years since Dahl and Tufte published their path-breaking book Size and Democracy. This volume systematically explored the relationship between the size of political systems and the quality of democracy. The main focus of Dahl and Tufte’s work was in the area of local government studies (Sharpe 1988; Keating 1995). In this field a limited number of empirical studies has since been directed towards effects of city size on various aspects of local democracy: e.g. people’s satisfaction with local government performance (Mouritzen 1989; Denters and Geurts 1998); the level of electoral participation (Verba and Nie 1972; Verba et al. 1978; Gaardsted 2002; Smeets et al. 1998; Oliver 1999, 2000 and 2001); the level of non-electoral participation (Verba and Nie 1972; Verba et al. 1978; Rose 2002; Oliver 1999, 2000 and 2001) and people’s social and political trust (Denters 2002; Denters and Geurts 1998). Even though one of the main concerns in Dahl and Tufte’s book is the relationship between city size and associational life in political systems, subsequent work has largely ignored the possible impact of size on the nature of local civil society. This is regrettable since the vibrancy of associational life in communities is often considered a crucial aspect of the vitality of a democratic system. Dahl and Tufte claim that increases in city size and associated characteristics of a city’s organizational life (e.g. the degree of heterogeneity) affect the democratic performance of its political system. This effect may be for better or for worse. Robert Putnam (1993: 182) is confident that such effects are essentially positive. He boldly claims: ‘Tocqueville was right: Democratic government is strengthened, not weakened, when it faces a vigorous civil society’. On the other hand, ever since Adam Smith, social scientists have indicated that organizational life may be a mixed blessing. A strong and active network of civic organizations may also have paralysing effects on the political system’s capacity to meet collective demands.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Capital and Associations in European Democracies
Subtitle of host publicationA Comparative Analysis
EditorsWilliam A. Maloney, Sigrid Roßteutscher
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9780203969069
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2006

Publication series

NameRoutledge Research in Comparative Politics

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