The Ecology of Neighborhood Participation and the Reproduction of Political Conflict


Building on three years of participant observation and 30 life-history interviews with activists in the Los Angeles community of Venice, this article introduces an ecological perspective to examine neighborhood participation and the reproduction of political conflict. As the official local space of community politics, the city-funded Venice Neighborhood Council has experienced dramatic conflict. Observers have framed the conflict as occurring between liberal and conservative groups. Despite the history of conflict between so-called ‘groups’, the individuals involved are in flux. Venice is a complex arrangement of different neighborhoods and multiple interests. Tensions between long-term neighborhood affiliations, formal bureaucracy and grassroots organizations affect how activists weigh competing associations embedded in the spatial landscape. The ecology of neighborhood participation underscores that conflict is not an outcome of stable substantive positions, but rather it occurs as the reassembling of overlapping and competing interests over time.