Avoiding Politics: How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life / Edition 1

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Overview

Nina Eliasoph's vivid portrait of American civic life reveals an intriguing culture of political avoidance. Open-ended political conversation among ordinary citizens is said to be the fount of democracy, but many Americans try hard to avoid appearing to care about politics. To discover how, where, and why Americans create this culture of avoidance, the author accompanied suburban volunteers, activists, and recreation club members for two and a half years, listening to them talk - and avoid talking - about the wider world, both within their groups and in their encounters with government, the media, and corporate authorities. This is a unique book which challenges received ideas about culture, power, and democracy, while exposing the hard work of producing apathy. Its clear exposition of the qualitative methods used also makes it exceptionally useful for students of political and cultural sociology, communications, and politics.
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Editorial Reviews

Tikkun Magazine
Eliasoph's book is a powerful antidote to the on-dimensional cynicism generated by media descriptions of what Americans really care about.
Jane Slaughter
I recommend this book to any activist who's sick of boring meetings and would like to argue for changing her group's culture.
The Progressive
From the Publisher
"'Listening to the silence,' as Americans struggle to avoid civic engagement, Nina Eliasoph has discovered a terriby important truth: political apathy is not 'natural:' it has to be produced. By showing us how apathy is produced she suggests some ways o produce its opposite. She also vividly introduces us to a side of American life about which most academics haven't a clue. This is a book of the first importance for anyone who cares about the future of American democracy" Robert Bellah, Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley

"With a gift for unusual and graphic language and an ear tuned to unspoken inferences, Nina Eliasoph uncovers layer upon layer of meanings in the 'plain text' of her volunteer group respondents. She hears the voices of the silent, penetrates the heart of the heartless, and knows what knowledgeable scholars do not yet understand. Avoiding Politics is a delightful entry into the backstage worlds of people who are 'ordinary'only in the universality of their attempts to escape from the politics that shapes their lives." Robert E. Lane, Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, Yale University

"Nina Eliasoph is a dazzling new entry in the debates over the empirical nature of participatory democracy (challenging Habermas Verba, Putnam, Gamson, Schudson, Wyatt, Noelle-Neumann and the rest). She argues that participatory democracy is failing not because space and time for citizen interaction are unavailable, but because American culture has 'decided' (1) that interest politics are the only kind of politics, and (2) that such politics are divisive and discouraging to decent citizens banded together for badly needed companionship, and even for 'doing good'!" Elihu Katz, Trustee Professor at the Annenberg School of Communication, University of Pennsylvania, and Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Communications at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"Eliasoph's book is a powerful antidote to the one-dimensional cynicism generated by media descriptions of what Americans really care about." Tikkun

"In this interesting and useful book, Eliasoph...examines the ways in which Americans 'avoid politics' in their daily lives....an impressive examination of the crucial question of democracy: can there be democracy without citizens? Recommended at all levels." Choice

"I recommend this book to any activist who's sick of boring meetings and would like to argue for changing the culture of her group--or anyone who's ever wondered why they should care at all." Jane Slaughter, Metro Times

"...it is provocative and well worth reading. It makes a stimulating contribution to the field of political participation and participant observation research." Jon S. Ebeling, Perspectives on Political Science

"...her book is a big, innovative help in the ongoing attempt to think and rethink strategies for producing something else, for creating spaces in which 'public' talk is neither trivial or inhibited." American Journal of Sociology

"Avoiding Politics is well grounded in the history and theory of political participation and brings forth an insightful critique of that theory through well-documented qualitative work." Rhetoric & Public Affairs

"...Eliasoph's hallmark accomplishment has been to reveal something consequential but heretofore all invisible. Avoiding Politics has taught me a lot about the political ambivalence of my students, about the hollow way everyday Americans, and the developers who sell us our houses, use the word "community", and about my own puzzlement over how to fit my politics into the mechanics of a comfortable middle-class life." Qualitative Sociology

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521587594
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2005
  • Series: Cambridge Cultural Social Studies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1 The mysterious shrinking circle of concern 1
2 Volunteers trying to make sense of the world
3 "Close to home" and "for the children": trying really hard not to care 64
4 Humor, nostalgia, and commercial culture in the postmodern public sphere 85
5 Creating ignorance and memorizing facts: how Buffaloes understood politics 131
6 Strenuous disengagement and cynical chic solidarity 154
7 Activists carving out a place in the public sphere for discussion
8 Newspapers in the cycle of political evaporation 210
9 The evaporation of politics in the US public sphere 230
App. 1 Class in the public sphere 264
App. 2 Method 269
Notes 280
References 304
Index 320
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2004

    A Good Read!

    Nina Eliasoph describes the ways that volunteers get involved ¿ or don¿t get involved ¿ in political activity. Most volunteers, she notes, intentionally shy away from discussing the core political issues related to their volunteer efforts. She suggests that these volunteers have learned apathy in order to avoid the confrontation that public political debate might provoke. The volunteers she studied are willing to raise difficult issues in private, but not in public. Instead of finding ¿ as might be expected ¿ that joining groups helps people become activists, she finds the opposite. Group membership seems to blunt personal action. Eliasoph can be academic and repetitious, in that she uses multiple examples to make a single point. So, while respecting her research and her passion, we suggest this book is primarily aimed at political scientists and at readers who are truly concerned that more institutions should foster public debate and more of us should engage in it. The author is deeply worried about apathy¿s effect on democracy. The question is, do you care?

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