The Social Bond and Place: A Study of How the Bureau of Land Management Contributes to Civil Society

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Virginia Tech

Civil society is a widely discussed concept, often proposed as a means to address problems associated with a weakening of the social fabric. Nearly all civil society literature works from the notion that creating more or richer discourse around any given issue will help build agreement about the key values and in so doing, civil society will emerge. What this literature has not yet turned its attention to is, what is necessary for a strong social bond, which is a prerequisite for the possibility of social discourse in the first place, to exist. Historically, the social bond has been built on common religious, cultural and/or political perspectives. However, the constitutive power of the institutions that comprise each of these areas has diminished substantially. This research draws on concepts developed in the field of environmental psychology to understand how place can serve as the basis for the development of a social bond and subsequent emergence of civil society. Two concepts drawn from environmental psychology -- place attachment and place identity -- are used to demonstrate how individuals and groups become connected to place, and how such a connection shapes and contributes to social relations. Specifically, this study contributes to the body of civil society literature by illuminating how a public agency can foster the development of the social bond by drawing explicitly and symbolically on place and in doing so, contributes to the emergence of civil society -- or on the other hand, fails to foster it as effectively as it could by being attentive to the role that place can play in creating the social bond.

Civil Society, Public Lands, Citizen Participation