The Political World of a Small Town: A Mirror Image of American Politics

By Everett Carll Ladd Jr.; Nelson Wikstrom | Go to book overview
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1
The Small Town as a Political Laboratory

Given the growth of the number and expanse of metropolitan areas in the United States, political scientists seeking to explain one facet or another of American political phenomena have generally dismissed the utility of employing small localities, or towns, as the focus of their analyses. This stance is justified on a number of grounds. First, there is posited the argument that the nature of politics in large cities and in America writ large, characterized by complexity and specialization, is fundamentally different than politics in small towns, so that the research results obtained from an examination of the political world of a small town would have little relevance to most of America. In addition, it is asserted that the small town is an inappropriate unit of analysis because the scale, or scope, of government and politics is so much more expansive in large cities.

The usefulness of examining small town politics is also discredited because, it is alleged, small towns are immune from the problems confronting large cities and the need to fashion public policy responses to these problems. Finally, the simple and direct argument is proffered that small towns are inappropriate units of analysis simply because the "real" world of America is the world of large cities and suburbs, where most Americans reside and work. In this context, towns are viewed as insignificant "hold-over-remainders" from an age that has long passed us by. For the above reasons, towns, by and large, have not been the subject of rigorous political analysis and remain, borrowing from the phraseology of Lawrence J. R. Herson's seminal paper centering on the relative lack of systematic research on local government, the lost world of municipal government. 1

Although most social scientists have dismissed the utility of employing small towns for units of empirical investigation and analysis, a few have

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