Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)


Interdisciplinary Studies


Joel D. Schwartz

Committee Members

Monica D. Griffin

Philip J. Brendese


Currently, grassroots community organizers aim to promote the particular claims of marginalized and oppressed individuals, groups or points of views that do not receive just representation in the political system. This thesis contends that organizers ought to develop a comprehensive practice of democracy in their local communities rather than focus entirely on advancing particularized interests. By entering into a relationship with the powerless, community organizers find themselves implicated in the representation of these entities, as the institutional representative structure often fails those lacking political power and voice. As such, this theoretical study of community organizers within broader democratic theory must turn first to applicable theories of representation. This thesis will examine three theories in particular: the individualistic approach that dominates mainstream liberal thought; the group-based approach as defended by Iris Young and others on the Left; and the discourse-based approach as advanced by John Dryzek, drawing on a critical or post modern analysis. This thesis will argue that all three of these theories should be seen as "discourses," insofar as they are all grounded in assumptions that are not themselves defensible by reference to objective facts or neutral philosophical principles. Particular community organizing nonprofits ground themselves in one of these three theories of representation. Individual-based representation appears in ACORN; group-based in both DART and IAF; and U.S. PIRG exemplifies nonprofits attempting to represent a particular discourse. Despite the differences in these organizations, they all maintain the traditional aim of particularized representation of specific individuals, groups and discourses over this project's ideal of comprehensive discursive representation. As this thesis contends, instead of restricting themselves to representing these narrow interests, grassroots organizers should embrace a "comprehensive discursive” position that seeks to advance democracy as a complete whole within local communities.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Thesis is part of Honors ETD pilot project, 2008-2013. Migrated from Dspace in 2016.

On-Campus Access Only