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A gentler, more intimate, more accessible brand of heroism: A study of how the leaders of grassroots environmental activism create space for deliberative democratic processes

Severn, Roger Charles (2002) A gentler, more intimate, more accessible brand of heroism: A study of how the leaders of grassroots environmental activism create space for deliberative democratic processes. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Democracy is revitalised when hard-nosed community action forces its influence on the policy-making processes. The mobilisation of community campaigns commences with community heroes who have the personal qualities that will not allow them to stand by and allow what they perceive to be unjust to continue. My primary interest is in civil society and the concept of a participatory democratic system. In this thesis I challenge the ability of liberalism’s notions of self-interested individuals, competitive markets and rational choice to protect environments and create sustainable communities. Civic republicanism and civic environmentalism operating through voluntary civil associations in a truly deliberative system of democracy are more likely to create sustainable communities.

The thesis is about deliberative democracy and how the deliberation often commences at the grassroots level thanks to the heroic community leaders who fight for environmental justice. The heroes commence as political novices but as the conversation develops so does their political efficacy. The conversation expands from the micro of grassroots action into the meso arena of civil society, it is picked up in the public arenas of the press and broadcast media and through this the macro institutions of government are forced to join the public conversation. The course of the conversation gains momentum as it progresses from the micro realm of community concern, through the public conversations of civil society, to become an issue on the political agenda.

Case studies are used as illustrations in a theoretical discussion of grassroots activism, civil society and the ideal of strong deliberative democracy. The case narratives use the metaphor of the adventurous journey of heroes who have to cross the threshold from their private lives to lead a public campaign against antagonists who present obstacles to fulfilment of the community’s objectives. This metaphor, or comparative model, is used to create a consistency in the narratives.

The study concludes that deliberation is occurring at the micro and meso levels but the case studies presented here demonstrate that it has not yet become the mindset for governments and government agencies at the macro level. There is potential for deliberative democracy to produce more ecocentric decision-making by providing for community groups to participate in the pre-decision conversation. This potential is unlikely to be realised without community groups starting the conversation in the public sphere of civil society. The formation of groups requires competent leaders to come forward to lead the conversation. When this occurs more environmentally acceptable and sustainable decisions are made.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Stocker, Laura, Moore, Susan and Barns, Ian
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