Creative Coercion in Post-Katrina New Orleans: a Neighborhood Strategy to Address Conflict in Networks

Stephen Danley


The study of relationships within networks has traditionally focused on concepts such as cooperation, collaboration and other forms of partnership (Brown & Keast 2003). The assumption has been that actors in a network have shared vision and are working together. This study tests that idea by using mixed methods and ethnography to examine 15 neighborhood associations in post-Katrina New Orleans, and 71 of their relationships within policy networks. Contrary to our typical understanding of networks, neighborhood associations engage not just in partnership, but also in power struggles. When excluded from policy networks, neighborhood associations use creative coercion to ensure their voice is heard. Facing a power deficit, these associations look for informal levers to assert themselves into policy negotiation. The result is creative and coercive measures, such as co-opting elections, bribery, blackmail and what one neighborhood activist calls ‘guerrilla warfare.’ These conflicts force a reconsideration of networks. Networks are not solely homes of collaborative action; they are also the location of sharp power struggles over priorities.



urban neighborhood, social action, urban conflict, networks

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