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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5
Power, Influence, and Policymaking in West Point

Past inquiries into the nature of community power, influence, and decision- making, for the most part, have focused on large or mid-sized localities. The best known of these "first-wave" studies on community power include Floyd Hunter's pioneering examination of decision-making in Atlanta, reported in his work Community Power Structure1 and Robert A. Dahl's classic study of New Haven, entitled Who Governs?2 Whereas Hunter found community power and decision-making in Atlanta elitist in character, Dahl described New Haven as having a pluralistic political system. Additional early studies, such as Carol Estes Thometz's investigation of decision-making in Dallas, 3 gave further credence to the elitist interpretation of community power or, as in the instance of Edward C. Banfield's investigation of political influence in Chicago4 and Wallace S. Sayre and Herbert Kaufman's account of the routines of New York City politics, 5 bestowed further legitimacy on the pluralistic interpretation of the "world of community politics."

Initial studies on community power were of a one-dimensional orientation; that is, the exercise or nature of community power and influence was deemed to be observable and was seen as either wielded by a small cohesive group (elitist) or shared by a variety of political actors and groups (pluralist). As time went on, studies of community power became methodologically more sophisticated, and stressed that local power and influence are of a two-dimensional character. The most notable example of this line of reasoning is Peter Bachrach and Morton S. Baratz's volume Power and Poverty, which resulted from their investigation of the politics of poverty in Baltimore in the 1960s. 6 Bachrach and Baratz underscore that community power and influence are both open and hidden in character, and that community elites often exercise the wherewithal to exclude issues from the observable local

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