Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Michele H. Jackson

Second Advisor

Gerard A. Hauser

Third Advisor

Karen Tracy


Everyday assumptions about democracy and its limitations shape alternative public participation practices. This case study examines how participants in a multi-stakeholder city visioning process communicated to design a storytelling initiative with the aim of updating the city’s general plan based on community values. By framing public participation as a discursive practice, this analysis shows how a variety of participant discourses shaped communication design in ways that enabled and constrained public interaction in meaningful ways. This study employs discourse tracing (LeGreco & Tracy, 2009) methods to analyze how subjects (re)produced and navigated a variety of discourses to understand, design, and enact storytelling and values-identification processes. A broad data set included: (a) meeting and event observation, (b) interviews, (c) resident stories, (d) newspaper and newsletter articles and editorials, (e) planning and policy documents, and (f) professional planning white papers and reports.

Findings show that an autonomous city narrative organized attention and activity within city boundaries and downplayed resident differences. Multiple discourses about the limitations of ordinary democracy (Tracy, 2010) and about the tensions between ordinary democracy and alternative participatory practices, opened up particular communication design possibilities, while closing off others. Over time, discourses about planning problems, ordinary democracy, and storytelling as research reinforced each other in a reticulated manner so that storytelling was understood in relationship to discursive accountability formations. This made it possible for group members to extract values from individual stories and produce aggregate city values that represented an abstracted form of citizen judgment.