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Town Meeting: A Representative but Non-Sovereign Institution


Lymperopoulos-Bountalis, Filippos (2019) Town Meeting: A Representative but Non-Sovereign Institution. Senior thesis (Major), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/AX73-H321.


Questions of democracy are fundamental for modern society. One of the main distinctions made in the study of democracy is between direct and representative democracy. While most democratic institutions today are representative, the roots of democracy lie in direct democracy, a system in which citizens vote directly on the issues rather than on candidates who will then make the decisions. One of the most historically significant institutions in the area of direct democracy, especially in the American tradition, is the town meeting. Unfortunately, most of the discussion on the town meeting has focused on the question of representation (for example attendance rates at meetings) resulting in a substitution of a broad discussion on democracy with a narrow discussion on representation. The aim of this thesis is not only to illustrate this issue, but also to indicate how the addition of another axis of analysis, power-external/sovereignty, can untangle some of the confusing aspects of the existing narratives regarding the town meeting. The thesis draws upon a variety of documents, such as 17th century town meeting records, the writings of Thomas Jefferson, a 20th century radio show, and present day news articles, in order to aid in the reconceptualization of core issues such as power and representation, as well as to provide new insights in topics such as the use of direct democracy for purposes of political education. The hope is to inspire more advances in our understanding of the limitations and shortcomings of our current framework of analysis for the town meeting, as well as to introduce different perspectives of analysis which, in combination with representation and power, can provide a more holistic understanding of the town meeting institution.

Item Type:Thesis (Senior thesis (Major))
Subject Keywords:U.S. history; New England; town meeting; direct democracy; autonomy; representation; sovereignty
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:History
Mechanical Engineering
Minor Option:Computer Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Dykstra, Maura
Thesis Committee:
  • None, None
Defense Date:9 June 2019
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:07252019-051751946
Persistent URL:
Lymperopoulos-Bountalis, Filippos0000-0002-7122-7793
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:11752
Deposited By: Filippos Lymperopoulos Bountalis
Deposited On:05 Aug 2019 16:15
Last Modified:08 Aug 2022 17:33

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