Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina, and Joan Subirats, Social Innovation and Democratic Leadership: Communities and Social Change from Below (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2017). 288 pp. $99.46 (hardcover), ISBN: 9781785367878

Published date01 May 2019
Date01 May 2019
Book Reviews 447
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 3, pp. 447–449. © 2019 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.13062.
Reviewed by: Eli Turkel
University of Delaware
Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina, and Joan Subirats, Social Innovation
and Democratic Leadership: Communities and Social Change
from Below (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2017). 288 pp.
$99.46 (hardcover), ISBN: 9781785367878
Parés, Ospina, and Subirats’s (2017) conceptual
development of civic capacity fits into a long
lineage of urban governance scholarship
concerned with the ecology of urban politics (media,
business, government, general public) (Dahl 1961;
Long 1958). Coinciding with the decimation of
the American industrial economy in the 1970s and
into the 1980s (Bluestone and Harrison 1982),
studies on patterns of urban governance morphed
from the question of whether elite rule skews urban
policy (Dahl 1961) to the question of how to design
institutions capable of generating responses to urban
crisis, such as reformulating the fundamental structure
of local urban economies (Stone 1989).
The conversation shifted because circumstances
evolved. The rise of the multilocational firm in the
1980s decreased business involvement in matters of
local governance because the incentive structures of
such firms were far less tied to individual locations
in which they happened to have offices. The new
business incentive structure led scholars to stop asking
about whether and what effect business domination
had on local politics and start asking whether and
what contributes to business interest in local politics.
The shift in scholarly inquiry raised an important
question because, while the incentive structure
decreased the likelihood of business involvement in
local politics, the institution of business had captured
a larger portion of resources necessary to accomplish
social goals (Stone 1989).
In light of these contextual changes, scholars such
as Stone (2001) and Safford (2009) compared the
capacity of a municipality’s ability to manufacture
responses to urban crisis in order to establish
characteristics that correlate with success, which
urban policy makers can attempt to replicate.
Although scholars question the authenticity of
government/business collaboration in times of crisis
(i.e., natural disaster, an economic downturn, or
institutional inertia) (Gendron 2006), the consensus
among urban governance scholars is that substantial
involvement of business in local politics is necessary
for governance processes to produce meaningful
reform. However, Briggs’s (2008) work on civic
capacity in an international context demonstrates that
there is no archetypical institutional arrangement that
produces successful governance. Rather, the secret
sauce is the more elusive element of developing trust
among parties involved in reform efforts.
In a post-2008 global recession context, Parés,
Ospina, and Subirats (2017) take on the ambitious
task of attempting to both describe how urban
circumstances have changed and what that means for
civic capacity. Parés and Subirats, professors at the
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and Ospina,
a professor at New York University, operationalize
these questions by comparing the work of nonprofit
organizations in urban neighborhoods in New York
City and Barcelona that are constantly facing threats
of gentrification and social exclusion (Bushwick, the
South Bronx, Nor Barris Nord, and Sants).
The work is divided into two sections. The first
section describes the context of urban crisis and
develops the authors’ conceptualization. Beyond
providing an enjoyable seminar in recent social
science theory (social innovation, social capital, civic
capacity, leadership, and resiliency), the authors
conceptualization is noteworthy because of its ability
to explain the concepts individually, as well as explain
how these concepts relate to one another in a way
that demonstrates their efficacy for understanding
contemporary urban affairs.
Parés, Ospina, and Subirats (2017) define civic
capacity as the ability to “articulate governmental and
non-governmental actors concerned with collective
problems” (p. xviii). This is a significant definition
because it implies that communal trust is necessary
in order to manufacture responses to urban crisis, as
reflected in the core teaching of past civic capacity
scholars. Instead of referring to “governmental and
non- governmental actors concerned with collective
Eli Turkel is a third-year doctoral student
in urban affairs and public policy at the
University of Delaware, focusing on the
civic technology movement in the United
States. His civic technology movement
research is scholarly as well as practical.
He endeavors to understand the forces
propelling the movement and engage with
his community to further the movement. His
dissertation focuses on the location, levels,
and correlations of the diffusion of the civic
technology movement. His is a co-organizer
of Open Data Delaware, which provides
spaces for community members to work on
individual and collective projects, organizes
hackathons, and hosts trainings.
Book Reviews
Galia Cohen, Editor

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