Small Nonprofits and Civil Society: Civic Engagement and Social Capital

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Abstract

Since Alexis de Tocqueville’s (1990/1835) study of civil society in the United States in the early nineteenth century, community-based organizations and voluntary associations have appeared as central meeting places for citizens, serving to build civil society and foster participation in public life. In the 1920s (Lynd and Lynd, 1929, p. 478), researchers described a multitude of shifting and dissolving “small worlds” based on voluntary associations. People maintained multiple memberships in organizations for social activities, support, and to participate in civic life. More recently, some political scientists have claimed that civic participation in the United States is in decline (Putnam, 2000), whereas others note that U.S. civic culture is no less rich than in previous generations, but the types of groups that draw membership has changed (Rich, 1999).