Socialization to civil society

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Richard G. Braungart


Socialization, Civil society, Community, Voluntary associations

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


Civil society is being promoted as an antidote to degenerative forms of individualism and as a space in which dilemmas of collective action can be overcome. Though the field of political socialization has investigated the significance of civil society to patterns of voting and related political behaviors, no research has served to investigate the socialization patterns that lead to participation in civil society and to the pursuit of enlightened self-interest. This dissertation identifies citizens within a single community who model enlightened self-interest and who are highly involved in that community's voluntary associations. Semi-structured interviews of the subjects in this dissertation focused on descriptions of these subjects and their life histories. These individuals were found to value family and social life, learning and education, and self-reliance. They tended to recognize and ad on the needs of their community and their perceptions of themselves were that they are competent, hard working, honest and civil. These model citizens also expressed their understandings of community life and involvement in civil society. Their life histories revealed a variety of influences and experiences that led to their involvement in civil society. The majority of the subjects mentioned supportive families, relatively stable communities with adequate space for play and recreation, and opportunities for interpersonal skill development through peer interaction in church and school. School and church life also provided for non-familial adult influence in the lives of these subjects. Furthermore, church provided alternative worldviews from family beliefs. In adulthood, work life provided the skills and access to the networks of civil society and the numerous voluntary associations of the community. The subjects' involvement in their community was also frequently related to their commitment to raising their own children. The subjects often began their involvement while looking out for the welfare of their own children and then expanded their self-interests to a broader enlightened self-interest These findings provide learning outcomes related to the descriptions of these model citizens and suggest the importance of structuring mediating institutions in civil society so that they not only encourage civic involvement but also provide the opportunities for such involvement.


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