Associational Life: Democracy’s Power Source

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Associational Life: Democracy’s Power Source explores the power of neighborhood associations to encourage democratic citizenship. This collection of writings by John L. McKnight, produced in partnership with the Kettering Foundation between 2016 and 2021, is a compelling case for the power of associations to bring people together, spur innovation, and encourage civic creativity. The associational life of a place, for McKnight, is what binds people together. Through stories and data, Associational Life highlights how formal and informal associations are the “mother science” of democracy, as suggested by Alexis de Tocqueville in his reflections on American society in Democracy in America.

McKnight compellingly argues that powerful communities possess a jazz-like, improvisational character, he says, “innovation and improvisation that happens in jazz occurs because there is an invisible structure encompassing the players . . . the invisible structure of productive communities where decision-making and leadership are dispersed comes from neighborhoods with unique commonalities, unique capacities, and common connectivity.” This anthology, edited by Kettering associates Paula Ellis and Wendy Willis, unpacks the powerful and transformative function of associational life and the democracy it generates.  

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