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Size and Local Democracy

Bas Denters, Professor of Public Governance, University of Twente, the Netherlands, Michael Goldsmith, Professor Emeritus, University of Salford, UK, Andreas Ladner, Professor of Political Science, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Poul Erik Mouritzen, Professor of Political Science and Public Management, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark and Lawrence E. Rose, Professor of Political Science, University of Oslo, Norway
How large should local governments be, and what are the implications of changing the scale of local governments for the quality of local democracy? These questions have stood at the centre of debates among scholars and public sector reformers alike from antiquity to the present. This monograph offers the first systematic cross-national investigation of these questions using empirical evidence gathered specifically for this purpose. Results provide insights that offer important touchstones for reform activities and academic research efforts in many countries.
Extent: 480 pp
Hardback Price: $170.00 Web: $153.00
Publication Date: 2014
ISBN: 978 1 84376 672 8
Availability: In Stock
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  • Politics and Public Policy
  • Public Policy
How large should local governments be? Scholars and public sector reformers alike have asked this question for many years. Size and Local Democracy investigates this subject in four countries where local governments play an important role but are different in size and structure – Switzerland, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Based on unique comparative data, the authors explore whether the size of municipalities has consequences for its citizens’ democratic perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. Chapters build cumulatively on findings of the previous chapters, to conclude that increased size may not necessarily benefit the quality of local democracy.

Scholars and students with an interest in democracy or local government will find this analytical book of interest. It will also be a useful resource to practitioners with a focus on public sector reforms.
‘This is a clearly structured, well written and highly innovative contribution to the old question of whether size matters for the quality of democracy. By analysing survey and aggregate data from 234 municipalities in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, the authors present broad empirical evidence on the varying impact of size on democracy. Size relates differently to various attributes of good citizenship and plays a different role in the four countries. The theoretically and methodologically ambitious study conveys important and interesting results and deserves broad attention in the community.’
– Oscar W. Gabriel, University of Stuttgart/German Research Institute of Public Administration, Speyer, Germany

‘How big is good? Leaders committed to one answer have spent billions, destroyed entire cities and towns, and created new bureaucracies – from Scandinavia to Japan. This study should transform discussion of how a “simple” question is asked, and answered. It shows that most of the clear and simple answers are wrong; size impacts are often minimal, or embedded in complexities. The logic and rigor of the answers sets this book apart from everything earlier. It is a model that should inspire imitation on related topics.’
– Terry Nichols Clark, University of Chicago, US

‘This book synthesizes a burgeoning literature addressing the impact of size on the quality of local democracy, understood across several dimensions. It is a stimulating read, based on prodigious research, and with practical import for those who work in and study local politics. Strongly recommended.’
– John Gerring, Boston University, US

‘The authors of this important book have addressed a neglected question in the study of public policy and local politics: how large should local units be? Denters and Co should be congratulated for effectively and succinctly interrogating the evidence in an accessible and robust manner. Contrary to the reformers, they find that small may be more beautiful after all. Democracy may be enhanced by smaller units: it is important to say this and this book does so with complete authority.’
– Peter John, University College London, UK
Contents: Part I. Introduction 1. Size and Local Democracy 2. Confronting the Research Challenge 3. The Research Context Part II. The Social and Political Environment of Local Government 4. Social Embeddedness 5. Perceived Government Challenges Part III. Cognitive and Evaluative Aspects of Democracy 6. Political Interest and Knowledge 7. Political Competence 8. Political Confidence 9. Satisfaction with Municipal Performance Part IV. Participatory Aspects of Democracy 10. Elections and Electoral Participation 11. Non-electoral Participation 12. Direct Democratic Participation in Switzerland Part V. Conclusion 13. Through the Funnel of Causality 14. Size and Local Democracy – A Summary Aassessment Index