Nonprofits as “Schools of Democracy”: A Comparative Case Study of Two Environmental Organizations

Jennifer Dodge, Sonia M. Ospina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article presents a comparative case study of two nonprofit organizations that do community organizing in the environmental field and asks how do nonprofits school citizens in democracy? Although the literature suggests the importance of social capital, a practice approach surfaces important political dimensions that have not been sufficiently explored. We find that distinct organizational practices create contexts for participants to exercise specific ways of being and doing—called “subject positions”—vis-à-vis the state and their political community. These practices support member participation by serving to construct “citizens”—rather than customers or clients—who develop skills in critical thinking and who exercise agency in the organization and the policy field they seek to influence. These practices represent key mechanisms for schooling citizens in democracy in these nonprofit organizations and link participation in the organization with broader political participation. We discuss implications for theory and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)478-499
Number of pages22
JournalNonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2015


  • civic engagement
  • civic participation
  • nonprofit organization
  • practice theory
  • schools of democracy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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