Race and Civil Society

Project Date:
Nov 2001
Award Amount:
$49,189
Project Programs:
Cultural Contact

The health of a nation’s democracy is inextricably linked to the strength of its civil society. In the United States, civil society is more racially stratified than many of its workplaces and government institutions. To examine the impact that segregated civil society may have on American public life, Michael Dawson of the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture is organizing a two-day conference to be held at the Johnson Foundation in Racine, Wisconsin on January 11-12, 2002. Conference attendees will gather in several panels to discuss the ways in which disparities in civic participation are related to persistent racial inequalities and divisions. One panel will debate what role race should have in studying contemporary civil society. Another will focus on comparative perspectives on how associational trends in minority communities create ties and divisions in civil society. A third panel will consist of speakers reflecting on the constraints and possibilities for coordinating issue-oriented associations across communities. The conference’s second day will be devoted to new empirical studies conducted on black civil society. The day’s first discussion will examine whether economic and social changes in African-American communities have diminished participation in associations, and address questions about the nature and strength of social capital in black communities, as well as the extent of divisions or isolation within and across communities. In the final conference session, presenters will showcase papers on the history of black civil society, the role of race and gender in civil society, and the economic implications of civil participation. The published volume of conference papers and supplementary essays should help researchers understand how policy can effectively address the dynamics of group cooperation and conflict and improve communication across communities.

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