First Advisor

Charles Heying

Term of Graduation

Summer 2002

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Affairs




Civil society -- Oregon -- Portland, Political participation -- Oregon -- Portland, Community development -- Oregon -- Portland



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 337 pages)


In this dissertation I examine how the organizational framework for civic life in Portland, Oregon, changed between 1960 and 1999 and identify several key aspects of the transformation.

The most basic change has been in the type of organizations involved in civic issues. In 1960 civic life in Portland was dominated by traditional civic organizations: fraternal and benevolent organizations, women's clubs, voluntary and charitable organizations, ethnic cultural groups, and direct social service organizations. By 1999 traditional civic organizations were displaced by advocacy oriented organizations: identity interest groups, neighborhood associations, citizen interest organizations, and social service organizations that advocated for causes.

Putnam (2000) and Skocpol (1999) contend that traditional civic organizations provided civic engagement opportunities that also encouraged social capital building interactions among a cross section citizens. They contrast the virtues of traditional civic organizations with civic groups today that they argue are single issue focused, lack the capacity to engender social capital, and do not involve a cross section of citizens in civic life.

In this dissertation I argue that traditional civic organizations had minimal impact on political participation and decision making in the community. Public policy deliberation was dominated by a narrow cast of citizens, a civic elite composed mostly of white males. The formal mechanisms for citizens to be involved in political decision making were limited to elite and professionally driven City commissions and boards, traditional political party organizations, and formal public hearing processes. I contend that traditional civic organizational structures did not allow the organizations to respond to new social and political conditions. Their structural resistance to change forced citizens to seek new organizational forms that would accommodate political participation. I also argue that the new civic organizations, and civic engagement processes established by local government citizen participation programs, blend the democratic virtues of effective participation in democratic institutions with social capital engendering activities. The new forms of civic organizations are rich and varied, producing innovative civic actions, drawing a broad cross section of citizens to the public deliberation table, and instrumental in building solutions to intractable social and environmental problems.


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