Culture Wars and Local Politics

Elaine B. Sharp, ed.

"Culture wars" have turned American communities into ideological battlegrounds. When issues like gay rights, needle exchange programs, abortion clinic protests, and hate crime are at stake, the response of citizens is likely to be strong—and that of local governments is likely to be unpredictable.

This collection provides alternative explanations of local actions with a focus on current conflict. A team of prominent scholars in urban politics examines how local governments handle morality-based issues: whether they evade controversies or instigate them, enact policies responsive to activist pressure or repress protests calling for change.

“No longer the mundane domain of ‘pothole politics,’ local governments have become high-profile battlegrounds over abortion rights, sexual orientation, condom distribution, needle exchange, and hate crimes. This pathbreaking volume offers important theoretical analyses and case studies of how today’s culture wars are reshaping the terrain of local politics.”

—Steven P. Erie, author of Rainbow’s End: Irish-Americans and the Dilemmas of Urban Machine Politics

“A much needed, overdue book on a topic of immense importance. This superb collection demonstrates that the emotionally charged issues of gender, sexual orientation, and family values have become central to local politics in America. It puts new life into that well-worn phrase, ‘All politics is local,’ by prompting us to add ‘and all local politics is personal.’”

—Dennis Judd, coauthor of City Politics: Private Power and Public Policy

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Culture Wars and Local Politics features examples of actual experiences in selected cities, differing in community culture and size, from New York to San Francisco, Denver to Greenville, South Carolina. The contributors examine how the responses of local government to specific issues are influenced by such factors as political culture and institutions, belief systems of public officials, and a city's niche in intergovernmental relations or national social movements.

Because culture wars represent more than just politics-as-usual, most theory related to urban politics doesn't necessarily apply. Departing from typical economic approaches to urban problems, this collection develops a perspective that draws on cultural analysis, the new institutionalism, feminism, social movement theory, and regime theory. It breaks new ground by challenging the comprehensiveness of existing treatments of urban politics, with each of the chapters contributing to a theoretical synthesis.

How local governments handle these volatile issues has major implications for civil liberties, preventing violence and the development or erosion of public trust. By providing a multi-topical approach focused at the local level, this book offers an excellent source for triggering both student discussion and citizen awareness.

About the Author

Elaine B. Sharp is professor of political science at the University of Kansas and the author of The Dilemma of Drug Policy.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series