Multidimensional Aspects of Local Political Systems: a Conceptual Approach To Public Policy

Date01 December 1970
Published date01 December 1970
Subject MatterArticles
University of Oklahoma
LAST DECADE of political science research is characterized by the
development of empirical theory.
The behavioral mood and its emphasis
on observable phenomena was the immediate predecessor of current attempts
to develop systematic statements of relationships. The normative philosopher was
viewed as a consumer of the past, yet the early social science attempts to &dquo;explain&dquo;
behavior were equally inadequate in their emphasis on raw empiricism. The cur-
rent renaissance of political theory attempts to build bridges between divergent
schools of thought within a context of common concern for political action. In
the process, conflicts over theory and methods, philosophy and empiricism, have
seriously constrained our search for knowledge about local political systems.3
Research on local politics has progressed from a social engineering to a politi-
cal analysis approach. Further developments await the meshing of approaches into
theoretically meaningful, empirical statements about normative ends (public
policy). The reformist approach to local politics emphasized &dquo;specialized report-
ing,&dquo;~ and shortly before this decade we were able to categorize the literature on
local systems into such classes as history, municipal reforms, law, government struc-
ture, politics (e.g., histories of partisan activity), management, and power.5 A
category emphasizing empirical-theoretical concern for systematic statements of
relationships was impossible. In 1957, Daland described this stage as follows: &dquo;The
technique is normally to describe existing governmental arrangements, measure
them against a set of ’principles’ or basic considerations, and prescribe a remedy
which involves greater integration in one form or another.&dquo; 6
The need for comparative studies is now occupying political scientists,7 and
there is an increasing concern for theoretical constructs.&dquo; The goal is to maximize
NOTE: I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Lawrence K. Pettit of the American
Council on Education, Daniel Rich of Pennsylvania State University, and Larry B. Hill
and Mary Ann Armour of The University of Oklahoma. An earlier version of this
paper was presented at the Southwestern Political Science Association Convention,
Houston, Texas, April 3-5, 1969.
See Eugene J. Meehan, The Theory and Method of Political Analysis (Homewood: Dorsey
Press, 1965) ; David Easton, ed., Varieties of Political Theory (Englewood Cliffs: Pren-
tice-Hall, 1966) ; and Ithiel de Sola Pool, ed., Contemporary Political Science: Toward
Empirical Theory (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967).
William T. Bluhm, Theories of the Political System ( Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965).
Robert C. Wood, "The Contributions of Political Science to Urban Form," Urban Life and
Form, Werner Z. Hirsh, ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963), p. 101.
Laurence J. R. Herson, "The Lost World of Municipal Government," American Political
Science Review, 51 (June 1957), 330-45.
Robert J. Daland, "Political Science and the Study of Urbanism," American Political Science
Review, 51 (June 1957), 491-509.

Ibid., p. 492.
Thomas R. Dye, ed., Comparative Research in Community Politics ( Proceedings of the Con-
ference on Comparative Research in Community Politics, University of Georgia, 1966).
Daland, op. cit., p. 509.

the use of available data within theoretical frameworks upon which there is some
While normative’° and empirically related theories&dquo; have received
some attention, the need for conceptions of phenomena becomes evident. For
example, Gutman comments: &dquo;These conceptual orientations -
or models -
the purpose not only of explaining the phenomena or problems about which
research is conducted, but perhaps more important, the models constitute the
major resources for defining the nature of the phenomena so that scholars and
scientists can be relatively certain about what it is they are trying to observe and
The following is a brief attempt to categorize theory building about local
political systems. Subsequently, a conceptual scheme is presented which, within
broad gauge methodology, attempts to ask questions 13 about the local system in
the context of the ends of that system. There has been a common concern for those
ends viewed as political action. The political philosopher focuses on the moral
quality of action, and the empiricist attempts to explain that action. 14 These ends,
actions, and outcomes have led to a renewed emphasis on public policy,’ which
can serve as a bridge-builder between normative and empirical approaches. An
ultimate function of social science knowledge is the explanation of human and
societal consequences of alternative goal choices
A systems theory approach to local politics focuses on predictable interactions
between sets of local variables:~7 An interest in ecology represents environmental
concerns, studies of groups suggest their role in aggregating and articulating de-
mands and supports, decision-making studies attempt to explain the &dquo;black box,&dquo;
and public policy studies focus on outputs. However, there have been few
instances where local activity is viewed as a total system of action for theoreti-
Henry J. Schmandt, "Toward Comparability in Metropolitan Research," Dye, op. cit., p. 7.
See Morton White, "The Philosopher and the Metropolis in America," Hirsch, op. cit.,
pp. 81-97; Anwar Syed, The Political Theory of American Local Government (New
York: Random House, 1966); and Robert J. Pranger, "The Status of Democratic
Values and Procedures in a Changing Urban America," Western Political Quarterly, 21
(September 1968), 496-507.
For example, Robert A. Dahl, Who Governs? (New Haven: Yale U. Press, 1961 ) ; Oliver
P. Williams and Charles R. Adrian, Four Cities (Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania
Press, 1963) ; Robert E. Agger, et al., The Rulers and the Ruled (New York: Wiley,
1964); and Wallace S. Sayre and Herbert Kaufman, Governing New York City (New
York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1960).
Robert Gutman, "Urban Studies as a Field of Research," American Behavioral Scientist, 6
(February 1963), 12.
On the necessity of question-asking in this context, see James Q. Wilson, "Problems in the
Study of Urban Politics," Essays in Political Science, Edward H. Buehrig, ed. (Bloom-
ington : Indiana U. Press, 1966), p. 131.

Ibid., p. 132.
James Q. Wilson, ed., City Politics and Public Policy (New York: John Wiley, 1968).
See Gutman, op. cit., p. 15.
For a systems approach to the interaction of interlocal variables, see Christen Jonassen,
"Functional Unities in Eighty-eight Community Systems," American Sociological
Review, 26 (June 1961), 399-407.

cal purposes. Such an approach has been advocated 18 and developed in several
Cities have been conceptualized as social systems composed of citizens inter-
acting with an environment within a planning framework.~9 System maintenance
is attained through coercive, bargaining, legal-bureaucratic and identification
mechanisms. Wood suggests that the urban political process is a system of com-
ponents : social mobilization, need expression, the effectuation of responses to
needs, issue resolution (ordering of needs), issue validations (institutions and
authority), externalized relations (e.g., suburbs), and oUtpUtS.20 Although case
studies usually take a &dquo;qualitative generalizations&dquo; approach and lack unifying
frameworks,22 Mowitz and Wright23 suggest a scheme of physical, biological,
scientific, institutional, and value variables. Research has also been conducted
on local correlates of expenditures treated as policy outputs.2¢
In general, there has been concern for the relationship between the environ-
ment of the local system and its resultant impact on behavior .25 Although it is
infrequently couched in systems terminology, a body of ecologically related studies
treats the relationship between the environment and elements of the system. 26
For example, government structure and demographic characteristics are related, 27
and community structure has been treated spatially in order to build theory from
ecological concepts .2&dquo; The idea of a metropolitan system with functionally inter-
dependent economic and social subsystems developed coterminously with the use
of social area analysis, a means for measuring total differentiation based on, e.g.,
social rank, life style, and ethnicity.2s
Gutman, op. cit.
James L. Green, Metropolitan Economic Republics (Athens: U. of Geor-
gia Press, 1965).
John E. Bebout and Harry C. Bredmeier, "American Cities as Social Systems," Journal of
the American Institute of Planners, 29 (May 1963), 64-76.
Wood, op. cit.
Schmandt, op. cit., p. 20.
For example, Edward C. Banfield, Political Influence (New York: Free Press of Glencoe,
1961); and Edward Sofen, The Miami Metropolitan Experiment (Bloomington: Indi-
ana U. Press, 1963).
Robert J. Mowitz and Deil S. Wright, Profile of a Metropolis (Detroit: Wayne State U.
Press, 1962).
Werner Z. Hirsch, "Expenditure Implications of Metropolitan Growth and Consolidation,’’
Review of Economics and Statistics, 41 (August 1959), 232-41; Seymour Sacks and
William F. Hellmuth, Financing Government in a Metropolitan Area (New York:

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