Last Update: 11/1/14
Brian Adams joined the political science department at SDSU in 2003 after earning his Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine. Brian’s research explores why local governments do not live up to their democratic potential. As small jurisdictions, localities should be “closer to the people,” allowing for more extensive citizen participation and greater accountability. Yet participation in local government is dismally low, and local officials are often unresponsive to citizen demands. Local governments, rather than being hotbeds of democratic activity are often corrupt and unresponsive entities dominated by elites. What accounts for this pattern?
Brian’s 2007 book Citizen Lobbyists: Local Efforts to Influence Public Policy explores citizen participation in local politics, examining how citizens try to influence local policy and what issues are most likely to generate citizen participation. On what types of issues do citizens participate? Is their participation constructive or obstructionist? On the local level citizens have a wide range of participatory opportunities: in addition to voting and other forms of “thin” participation, they can also attend local meetings, circulate petitions, and talk directly to local officials. Citizens take advantage of these opportunities and they benefit from their participation in terms of promoting favorable policy and acquiring knowledge about the policy process. But given the manner in which citizens participate and the issues they choose to influence there is little benefit to the political system as a whole.
Brian’s second book, Campaign Finance in Local Elections: Buying the Grassroots examines whether the campaign finance system undermines the capacity of local elections to enhance the democratic character of American elections more generally. As the smallest units in the American political system, localities have the potential to contribute to democratic practices by fostering accessibility to the political system, promoting competitiveness, and reducing the biases seen in state and national elections. Yet the manner in which local candidates raise and spend campaign funds undermines these goals.
Currently, Brian is working on a research project exploring how citizens discuss policy issues. When citizens talk about issues such as health care or immigration, do they offer evidence and reasoned arguments to support their conclusions, or do they simply state their opinions without providing any support? Do they engage in constructive dialogue that works through opposing viewpoints, or are they unable to deal with disagreement? Answering these questions is important because it highlights whether citizen deliberation—often promoted as a way to improve the health of American democracy—will create the desired benefits.
In addition to research and teaching courses at SDSU, Brian has done two stints of teaching overseas. In 2009, he spent six months at Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea on a Faculty Fulbright grant, teaching American Politics to Korean students and researching Korean local government, For the 2011-12 academic year he taught at the Hopkins-Nanjing center in Nanjing, China, teaching courses on democracy and American politics to Chinese master’s students.
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