Governing Small-Town America Today: The Promise and Dilemma of Dense Networks

Thomas J. Catlaw, Margaret Stout

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


This essay examines the governance of small towns in the United States. Small towns have received little attention in the public administration literature to date, yet 1 in 10 Americans still lives in one, representing roughly 75 percent of all municipalities in the United States and some 33 million people. Small towns are characterized as dense, multiplex networks that lend unique dynamics to local politics. However, they face significant social, economic, technological, and demographic trends that compromise towns' prevailing frame of reference, fracture their networks, and alter the traditional setting of small-town governance. In the face of these issues, "thicker," more active ways of engaging the public are needed to reknit community bonds and build civic capacity. Service learning for master of public administration students is proposed as a way to develop the emotional intelligence necessary to make sense of the complex social dynamics of small towns and to facilitate the hard work of building enabling relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-229
Number of pages5
JournalPublic Administration Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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