the UK in a polycentric Europe

I’ve had deep connections to the UK since childhood and have always been committed to the idea of Britain in Europe. I believe that the UK has been much better off as a part of the EU, while the EU could benefit from particular British perspectives and institutions. For those reasons, Brexit saddened me.

However, I also believe in polycentricity. As a descriptive theory of the world, it says that there are (almost) always many centers of power, and they need not stack up neatly, with smaller, weaker units inside bigger and stronger ones. Jurisdictions and roles usually overlap and interrelate in complex ways.

As a reform agenda, polycentricity says that things work better when power is divided into many parts that partially overlap. Over-centralization is generally unwise.

“Europe” is already polycentric in this sense. Here is one person‘s diagram of important treaties among European nations. The treaty groups overlap in a classic polycentric way.

“Euler Diagram of Europe” from

This diagram is useful but far from complete. In addition to treaty arrangements, one could add other partnerships among nations, cities, companies, labor unions, universities, parties, professional groups, and more. Also, the image presents each nation as a unit, when many EU member states are federal or otherwise decentralized.

The picture is a little dated; the Union Jack will have to move outside of several circles where it appears above. However, the UK will not move outside of the polycentric network of Europe. Like it or not, Britain is “in.”

To British people who favor European integration, I would say: Brexit was bad. But you are still in Europe. The path forward is to encourage as much participation as possible in a wide range of cooperative ventures, whether among nations or among other kinds of entities. These cooperative activities should extend across Europe but not always be limited to the European continent.

To people who aspire to a federal Europe, I would say: Federalism, as implemented in republics like the USA, Germany, and Brazil, is one approach to combining centralization with decentralization. It assumes a Westphalian sovereign state that has ultimate power and attracts the deepest allegiance from all its citizens, with a neat tessellation of smaller and weaker units inside it that resemble each other and have similar relationships to the whole. This is by no means the only approach to making something large out of many smaller components. In the European context, federalism may have outrun its mandate and potential, at least for now. So everyone who wants to see Europe integrate should be willing to experiment with other overlapping associations.

To Euroskeptic Britons, I would say: You’re in Europe. You always have been, at least since prehistoric French people helped build Stonehenge. Sovereignty is an oversimplification, since power is always polycentric. By overestimating the importance of the national level of government, you have reaped a bunch of unnecessary problems and foreclosed some beautiful solutions, such as a borderless Ireland within the EU. Nevertheless, you and your children and your children’s children must belong to numerous networks and partnerships that cross the Channel. You should be working on making these partnerships work.

See also: Brexit: a personal reflection; modus vivendi theory; avoiding a sharp distinction between the state and the private sphere; British exceptionalism 2: the unique nature of the aristocracy; a range of federalism options for Israel-Palestine.

explore equity and inequity in the USA

On the Tufts Equity Research website is a user-friendly tool that allows anyone to explore data from our May 2021 national survey. The tool requires no specialized background or vocabulary to use. You can just select pairs of variables and see the results.

For instance, I looked at the proportion of Americans who report that other people act afraid of them because of their identity. The graphic shows the result for the whole population. The rate has doubled since last year, and I suspect that’s because we have feared each other during this year of pandemic and political conflict.

One can also look at differences by demographic category. For instance, 33% of Black Americans–versus 15% of whites–believe that they are feared because of their identity.

You can explore hundreds of other combinations on the site.

debating politics in a pandemic

A few months ago, I published Levine, P. (2020). Theorizing Democracy in a PandemicDemocratic Theory7(2), 134-142, with the following abstract:

The COVID-19 pandemic raises questions about the future of democracy and civil society. Some recent predictions seem to use the suffering to score points in ongoing political arguments. As a better example of how to describe the future during a crisis, I cite the prophetic voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. King does not merely predict: he calls for action, joins the action, and makes himself responsible for its success or failure. With these cautions about prediction in mind, I venture two that may guide immediate responses. First, communities may erect or strengthen unjustifiable barriers to outsiders, because boundaries enhance collective action. Second, although the pandemic may not directly change civic behavior, an economic recession will bankrupt some organizations through which people engage.

Today, Faculti released the video of an interview with me based on this article. In the interview, I also mention Levine P. (2021) Why protect civil liberties during a pandemic?J Public Health Policy. 42(1):154-159. `

By the way, I think my second prediction (or worry) proved too pessimistic, at least in the USA, mainly because of the federal aid packages.

the new dean of Tisch College: Dayna Cunningham

I’m pasting the official announcement below; and here is a link to a longer article. As a member of the search committee, I share this news with enthusiasm and excitement, and I second the sentiments about Alan Solomont, who has built the college into the force it is today.

Dear members of the Tufts community,

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Dayna Cunningham as the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. She will assume the deanship on July 1.

With decades of leadership experience in not-for-profit organizations and higher education, Dayna has devoted her career to promoting civic participation, building robust community partnerships, and advocating for underrepresented communities.

Dayna comes to Tufts from MIT, where she was the founder and executive director of the Community Innovators Lab (CoLab), a center for urban planning and development that engages students and community groups to build large-scale collaborations that strengthen civic infrastructure in marginalized communities. One example of CoLab’s work is a partnership with the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative on infrastructure projects that build an ecosystem for economic democracy for people of color. Another example is CoLab’s Inclusive Regional Development program, which works with communities and practitioners to support innovative models for equitable development and well-being in Latin American countries.

Prior to founding CoLab, Dayna was the program director of the ELIAS Project at MIT, which was a collaboration between businesses, NGOs, and government to create initiatives that supported economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Before her career in higher education, Dayna spent several years as a civil rights attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, litigating voting rights cases in Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, and other Southern states. She also worked in philanthropy as an associate director at the Rockefeller Foundation, where she integrated racial equity into resource spending and designed an annual grants program addressing civil rights and policy issues in the U.S.

Dayna earned an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management, a JD from New York University School of Law, and an undergraduate degree from Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges.

Dayna’s experience and accomplishments are complemented by her longstanding commitment to active citizenship and community impact—values that are foundational to Tisch College. We are confident that Dayna will make invaluable contributions both in her leadership of Tisch College and as a member of the university administration.

We are grateful to Alan Solomont, A70, A08P, for eight years of outstanding service as the dean of Tisch College. A beloved member of the Tufts community who has had a profound impact on the university, he will be retiring at the end of June. We would also like to acknowledge the diligence and thoughtful recommendations of the search advisory committee, led by School of Arts and Sciences Dean Jim Glaser.

Please join us in welcoming Dayna Cunningham to her role as the Omidyar Dean of Tisch College.


Anthony P. Monaco

Nadine Aubry
Provost and Senior Vice President

results of the Civic Spring Project

Last spring, the Institute for Citizens and Scholars (formerly the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation) jumped into action to support community-based organizations that would help young people to address the crisis of the pandemic. Their Civic Spring Project funded Groundwork Elizabeth (NJ); The Institute of Engagement (Houston, TX); Kinston Teens, Inc (NC); the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence (KY); Youthprise (MN), and the Newark (NJ) Youth One Stop and Career Center. Along with funds, these organizations received in-kind support and were included in a professional learning community.

Now CIRCLE has published a detailed evaluation. (I did not play any role in it, although at an earlier stage, I was one of many colleagues who had advised on the design of the project and then helped to select the grantees.)

Almost all the youth in these projects said they learned the kind of content that they would learn in a civics class, which demonstrates that hands-on, out-of-school projects can teach the facts and skills that we also value in an academic context.

Sixty-one percent felt that they had made their communities better places to live. For instance, “the Kentucky Student Voice Team members extensively documented the experiences of Kentucky students during the pandemic and used those findings to inform policymakers. … Minnesota Young Champions recruited young Minnesotans to engage in advocacy work to extend unemployment benefits to young people.”

CIRCLE also presents nuanced findings about the conversations that included youth and adults or that convened people from various programs and roles. They report some challenges: power dynamics, lack of clarity about roles, and some issues with communication. For instance, “The same behaviors regarding [the Community of Practice] were interpreted differently–the CoP planners intended for flexibility and responsiveness, but CoP participants perceived this as unclear purpose and lack of intentionality in the planning, schedule, design, and implementation of the CoP. Different stakeholders held different goals and they were communicated at different times and through different fora.”

Collaboration is hard, especially when people come from different walks of life; and we’re not very good at it these days. (See my recent Medium post.) A classic problem is permitting flexibility while also giving clear direction. We get better at these tasks with practice and reflection, which is exactly what this project offered.