Verba, Sidney

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Verba, Sidney 1932


Sidney Verba is Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor of Government at Harvard University and was director of the University Library from 1984 to 2007. Professor Verba has held many important positions in the discipline of political science, including chairman of the American Political Science Association and coordinator of national research committees. Verba is also a fellow of a number of academies and learned societies and has received numerous prizes, including the 2002 Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Verba is one of the leading scholars in the field of political behavior. Since the mid-twentieth century, this branch has become so internalized in the way political scientists conduct their research that they no longer think of it as a special subdiscipline. Verbas textbook, Designing Social Inquiry (1994), authored with Gary King and Robert Keohane, beautifully summarizes how research problems in political science should be formulated, how variables are identified, how data is collected, and how hypotheses are tested and conclusions drawn.

Verbas contribution to political science is basically of a substantive nature. In one of his most famous books, the prize-winning Participation in America (1972), written with Norman H. Nie, Verba stresses that participation constitutes the very core of democracythe more participation, the more democracy. Participation widens citizens horizons and teaches them responsibility for others. Participation has consequencesfor power and influence and for what issues are pursued and decided upon. However, participation is not equally distributed between social groups. Socioeconomic status is the best explanation for the variation in participationthe SES (socioeconomic status) model. There is a conflict between participation and representation. When new channels are opened up for political participation, those citizens who have time and money increase their influence further. The well-to-do are thus overrepresented in political parties and organizations, and they are especially among the most active in the Republican Party. But there are also countervailing powers. Verba underscores the political consciousness of black citizens, which he saw in the 1970s as an important political potential.

The level of political inequality also varies between countries. It is especially striking in the United States, whereas the correlation between social status and participation is much less marked in such countries as Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, and Germany. These nations were included in Verbas The Civic Culture (1963), a book that took a pathbreaking classificatory approach to the comparative study of political systems, published by Verba in cooperation with political scientist Gabriel Almond (19112002). In Europe, the political mobilization of the underprivileged by the labor movement has leveled out but not obliterated differences in participation; the SES model is still valid.

Verbas ongoing interest in political equality is reflected in the titles of many of his books: Participation and Political Equality (1978), Equality in America (1985), and Voice and Equality (1995). In The Private Roots of Public Action (2001), written with Nancy Burns and Kay Lehman Schlozman, Verba draws attention to another important source for the variation in political participationthe lack of equality between the sexes.

SEE ALSO Almond, Gabriel A.; Behaviorism; Culture; Democracy; Democracy, Representative and Participatory; Inequality, Gender; Inequality, Political; Participation, Political; Political Science, Behavioral


Verba, Sidney, and Gabriel Almond. 1963. The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Countries. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Verba, Sidney, and Norman H. Nie. 1972. Participation in America: Political Democracy and Social Equality. New York: Harper and Row.

Verba, Sidney, and Gary R. Orren. 1985. Equality in America: The View from the Top. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Verba, Sidney, Nancy Burns, and Kay Lehman Schlozman. 2001. The Private Roots of Public Action: Gender, Equality, and Political Participation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Verba, Sidney, Gary King, and Robert O. Keohane. 1994. Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Verba, Sidney, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Henry E. Brady. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Verba, Sidney, Norman H. Nie, and Jae-on Kim. 1978. Participation and Political Equality: A Seven-Nation Comparison. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Leif Lewin