Date of Award
Open Access Dissertation
Political Science, PhD
School of Politics and Economics
Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
2017 Melissa Mahoney Smith
This dissertation looks at how enhanced political participation opportunities can increase individual liberty and improve public-sector reform efforts. It blends political theory with contemporary concerns for individual well-being and government accountability. To do this, several research methodologies are used, including normative, qualitative process-tracing, and quantitative analysis.
First, the dissertation draws insights from ancient and modern political philosophy and the political thought and example of Jane Addams in 19th Century Chicago. It begins with Josiah Ober’s work on civic dignity, which he defines as “equal high standing” among citizens, marked by “non-infantilization and non-humiliation.” This definition is a useful starting point but somehow seems thin for a concept of such import. In exploring the wisdom of Tocqueville’s “schools” of democracy and Jane Addams’ notion of fellowship, I expand the definition of civic dignity to include “having a sense of ownership.” In other words, being dignified as a citizen in a self-governing political community should include having a seat at the proverbial table where one can speak and be heard. This means that political participation opportunities would ideally carry low transaction costs while maximizing the substance that can be contributed. Through Addams’ experience at Hull House, the settlement house she co-founded, I highlight how these opportunities for
meaningful political participation are indispensable to individual civic dignity, and by extension, individual liberty and well-being.
Second, civic dignity is viewed through a different lens, namely the role it can play when incorporated successfully into policy design and implementation. Arguably, a self- governing political community’s greatest asset is the collective knowledge and lived experience of its citizens. But current political participation mechanisms and policy designs do not do a good job leveraging that resource, and many individuals may find themselves unofficially shut out. Using process-tracing methodology, a case study explores resettlement projects targeting the urban poor in Mandaue City, the Philippines. The case study results demonstrate that deepening democracy (by incorporating civic dignity into the policy design and implementation) not only benefits individual liberty, but can also produce better outcomes and contribute to anti-corruption efforts. Taking civic dignity into account during policy design and implementation is not merely a “feel good” option; it is a strategic option that allows the political community to leverage local knowledge by enlisting the participation of those individuals or groups closest to the problem or challenge at hand. While this finding is not entirely novel, it is far from standard practice. Domestically and internationally, the coercive force of government and/or the “tyranny of experts” is too often the default approach for policy design and implementation.
Third, the theoretical and practical explorations of civic dignity are used to construct a measure for civic dignity. In a data driven world, reliable and valid measurement is key, and if the concept of civic dignity is going to gain currency, then validating a scale to capture it is essential. Through Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA), survey items are examined to determine which items map onto the latent factors that
comprise civic dignity. A 22-item four-factor solution that maps onto the four components of civic dignity is presented. The newly minted Civic Dignity Scale is then compared against measures from political science and psychology literature that are theoretically related but distinct from civic dignity, such as political efficacy and self-determination, to test for construct validity. Spearman correlations yield reassuring results, showing statistically significant strong positive correlations as hypothesized. Finally, the relationship between the Civic Dignity Scale and political participation is analyzed for further construct validity. A Poisson regression model shows that for every one unit increase in an individual’s civic dignity, the likelihood that one would participate in political activities also increases. While a confirmation factor analysis is needed for further scale validation, the EFA and subsequent analyses do codify and deepen our understanding of civic dignity. In the future, a fully validated Civic Dignity Scale would enable reformers like Addams and those in Mandaue City to legitimize and track their efforts empirically.
Mahoney Smith, Melissa. (2017). Civic Dignity and Meaningful Political Participation. CGU Theses & Dissertations, 111. https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgu_etd/111. doi: 10.5642/cguetd/111
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