How Civic Action Works: Fighting for Housing in Los Angeles
The ways that social advocates organize to fight unaffordable housing and homelessness in Los Angeles, illuminated by a new conceptual framework for studying collective action
How Civic Action Works renews the tradition of inquiry into collective, social problem solving. Paul Lichterman follows grassroots activists, nonprofit organization staff, and community service volunteers in three coalitions and twelve organizations in Los Angeles, as they campaign for affordable housing, develop new housing, or address homelessness. Lichterman shows that to understand how social advocates build their campaigns, craft claims, and choose goals, we need to move beyond well-established thinking about what is strategic.
Lichterman presents a pragmatist-inspired sociological framework that illuminates how social advocates grapple with the dilemmas and trade-offs of social problem solving. He reveals that advocates’ distinct styles of collective action produce different understandings of what is strategic, and what is legitimate and appropriate to say about social problems. Different styles of collective action accommodate varying social pressures and generate different dilemmas. Understanding these patterns helps us explain why coalitions fragment when members agree on many things, and what makes advocacy campaigns separate housing from homelessness or affordability from environmental sustainability. Lichterman concludes by turning this action-centered framework toward improving dialogue between social advocates and researchers.
Using extensive ethnography enriched by archival evidence, How Civic Action Works explains how advocates meet the relational and rhetorical challenges of collective action.
Paul Lichterman is professor of sociology and religion at the University of Southern California. He is author of the award-winning books Elusive Togetherness (Princeton) and The Search for Political Community, and the coeditor of The Civic Life of American Religion.