Schatzinger Published in New Civic Literacy Journal

RiponHenrik Schatzinger, assistant professor of politics and government at Ripon College, co-published an article in the inaugural edition of the Journal of Civic Literacy with Aaron Dusso, assistant professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The article, “Bridging Versus Bonding Social Capital: Explaining the Content of Anti-Patriot Resolutions”, explores the ways in which social capital – the collective value of social networks – affects the depth of political arguments in communities.

Recent politics and government scholarship has questioned the role and value of civic engagement in communities. While individuals seek to be involved in their communities, some only make associations with similar, like-minded individuals. As such, these relationships can reinforce constricted opinions and views. This often results in less spirited discussions.

Schatzinger and Dusso’s research questions this notion. Within their empirical review, they discovered larger numbers of bridging associations within communities. By producing such groups that draw in individuals with different views, more comprehensive, higher quality political documents are produced. “We hypothesize that communities with high numbers of bridging social capital producing associations are more likely to come together and clearly state in rich detail their concerns about a national policy they oppose,” says Schatzinger.

Their research points to the importance of community organizations in democracy as members were encouraged and motivated to voice their own concerns, while still accepting others’ worries and opinions.

These discussions connect people from numerous associations. “Communities with a lot of bridging social capital create a public sphere where citizens engage in an informed, rational discourse,” says Schatzinger. “Such a public sphere respects opposing views and encourages citizens and organizations to bring forward reasoned arguments.”

However, while these organizations connect individuals from many walks of life, some are losing members, in particular younger audiences, as ‘checkbook memberships’ online become more prevalent, due in part to the “effort it takes to be involved instead of sitting in front of a computer.”

Those who actively participate in the organization, however, develop crucial personal and professional skills, such as “listening to others, accepting criticism, facilitating discussion, working effectively in a coalition, and working effectively with public officials,” says Schatzinger. The organizations can serve as “training grounds for future leaders.”

Specifically, Schatzinger and Dusso examined the Anti-Patriot Act at the community level. “Over 400 communities have passed resolutions against the Patriot Act [yet] no scholar ever looked at the content of these resolutions,” says Schatzinger.  These resolutions, which range from a paragraph to several pages, protest different elements of the Patriot Act.

Typically, the documents contain complaints about constitutional violations or grievances discussing offenses against individual rights and liberties. Says Schatzinger, “the depth and richness of the content of these communities’ resolutions can be measured by looking at the number of issues each community chooses to raise in opposition to the Patriot Act.”

“Initially we expected that liberal communities would pass these resolutions and the more liberal the communities would be, the more grievances they would be,” he says. “What surprised us was how much the presence of bridging and bonding organizations explained the scope of these resolutions even after we statistically controlled for the voting behavior of these communities.”

The article is also significant for how voluntary political organizations are discussed. “Our findings hold importance because work seeking to demonstrate the positive value of social capital, and civic life in general, often lumps all types of groups together,” says Schatzinger. “In doing so, such studies will confound the positive effects of bridging associations with the negative effects of bonding associations.”

Research allows professors to challenge their understandings of a given field. “I want to understand politics and government not only by reading about it but by implementing my own studies,” says Schatzinger. “There is so much data available that allows me to test whether my ideas are right or wrong.”

Though research provides an “intellectual challenge,” Schatzinger accepts and enjoys its developments. “Empirical research is hard work because various concepts can be operationalized and measured in many different ways. I like to take on the challenge of finding the best way of answering a question, or at least proposing a good way.”

“Only by doing solid research can we understand politics, decision-making and institutions better. And that needs to be our goal as political scientists.”

-Kaylie Longley ’15
Saint Francis, Wisconsin

To read the full article and subscribe to the new journal for free, click here.

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