Name: Tony DeRosa, '09
Leadership Studies, Political Science, Latin American and Iberian Studies
Phi Beta Kappa, ODK, Pi Sigma Alpha, Golden Key, Sigma Delta Pi, Phi Beta Delta

The title of your senior honors thesis is "Deliberative Democracy at the Local Level." How did you first become interested in the topic?

I first became interested in the topic in the spring of my junior year when I took the course Contemporary Debates in Democratic Theory with Dr. Thad Williamson. Of all the material we covered, the idea of citizen deliberation as a vehicle to better public policy outcomes stood out. 

Regarding the local dimension of my research, I argue that social capital — or the bonds that tie citizens together — is best strengthened by deliberation at the level of a city or town. Local politics, while imperfect, is less likely to devolve into partisan bickering and people have a common frame of reference within their own communities.

What is deliberative democracy? How is it different than just talking about politics?  

Mere political talk, as some deliberative democrats refer to it, lacks many of the traits that deliberative democrats argue are essential for good deliberation. Formal deliberation is more inclusive, structured, and is a deeper form of engagement. Also, deliberative democracy hopes to bring citizens together to make actual decisions that will be implemented either through the power vested in a group or by confronting government with the group's decision. Political talk rarely involves anything concrete and is typically informal discussion among friends and family, or the type of conversation on political message boards online.

How does your research relate to leadership?  

Whereas deliberative democracy is a characteristically horizontal, egalitarian theory, it appears that leaders must necessarily emerge if deliberation is to go anywhere. So while deliberative democrats are wary of the role of "leader," the success of deliberation in the real world will be contingent on sound leadership. 

How has doing this research benefited you and added to your academic experience at Jepson and at UR?

This research has complemented my study of democratic theory and allowed me to gain insight into the growing body of empirical work on deliberation. This was by far the most elaborate project I have ever undertaken, so it was a valuable experience. The most fascinating thing to me was finding connections between deliberative democracy and disciplines represented within the Jepson curriculum, such as social psychology and political theory. The fact that my conclusion ultimately dealt directly with a leadership challenge was both exciting and surprising.

What made you decide to go the honors route?

The advice of trusted professors made the difference in my decision to go forward with the project. They convinced me that it would be a good decision and valuable to my academic development. They were right!

What are your plans for next year?

I will be teaching Spanish, most likely at the high school level, in Connecticut under the Teach For America program for the next two years. Afterwards, I plan to seek a Ph.D. in Political Theory, ideally with one of the many professors working on deliberative democracy.

Summer 2009