Conversations in Concentric Circles

Last night, Michael Silberman, Deans’s National Meetup Director visited our class and lectured us about his experiences at the Dean Campaign in 2003 and 2004. Blogging It In sums up the wisdom of crowds behind the Dean Campaign or you can read Silberman’s detailed account in the anthology; Mousepads, Shoe Leather, and Hope (chapter nine). Here’re a few of my thoughts after class.


I might be repeating my blogging from the spring semester but it is getting more and more obvious to me that Dean’s use of the internet was not just a purely strategic choice. Well, there were no other choices because of the lack of money, resources, and staffers according to Garrett Graff. But it was also a strategic choice aimed at cultivating a more transparent and collaborative process. I am fascinated by Joe Trippi’s understanding or idea of trusting the base and let the campaign come out from their efforts. Instead of perceiving a campaign as a traditional command-demand hierarchy he approached the campaign as concentric circles. Collaboration and conversations spread through these concentric circles. The base owned the campaign was the message as well as the fact.


However, Garrett Graff pointed out that Dean could only do this because he was behind. Frontrunners will never give up control like this    because they cannot afford it. As much as I admire Trippi´s approach, I agree (not just because Graff is my professor). Sey and Castells explain in the reflections part of Mousepads, Shoe Leather, and Hope (chapter eightteen) that politicians are afraid of opening up the process because it will be time consuming and “erode representative democracy” (p.227). Furthermore, Sey and Castells note that controlling the message is an obsession just like money for any campaign. Zephyr Teachout and Thomas Streeter (part of the Dean Campaign) are also uncertain that politics will become more open (see p. 240). They make the distinction between distributed work and decentralized power. For instance, if I send a suggestion to Starbucks it is not “transforming my lack of power in the organization into a fact of power” (p.241). Though, there is a tension between using the internet as a strategic tool to win the next election by any means and using the internet to cultivate a democratic society (p. 234).


Where do Obama’s and McCain’s campaigns fit into the appraoch of concentric conversations?


One response to “Conversations in Concentric Circles

  1. Great post. The concentric circle conversation seemed to take place effectively in the Dean campaign because of the small group “Meet-Ups.” Peter Block states, in his book Community: the Structure of Belonging, “Instead of surrendering our identity for the sake of belonging, we find in the small group a place that can value our uniqueness” (p. 31). The Dean’s “Meet-up” had fostered effective conversation that valued the uniqueness of each individual, thereby giving the members a sense of belonging.

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