Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban Participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era / Edition 1

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During America's Progressive Era at the beginning of the twentieth century, democracy was more alive than it is today. Social activists and intellectuals of that era formed institutions where citizens educated themselves about pressing issues and public matters. While these efforts at democratic participation have largely been forgotten, their rediscovery may represent our best hope for resolving the current crisis of democracy in the United States.

Mattson explores the work of early activists like Charles Zueblin, who tried to advance adult education at the University of Chicago, and Frederic Howe, whose People's Institute sparked the nationwide forum movement. He then turns to the social centers movement, which began in Rochester, New York, in 1907 with the opening of public schools to adults in the evening as centers for debate over current issues. Mattson tells how this simple program grew into a national phenomenon and cites its achievements and political ideals, and he analyzes the political thought of activists within the movement—notably Mary Parker Follett and Edward Ward—to show that these intellectuals had a profound understanding of what was needed to create vigorous democratic practices.

Creating a Democratic Public challenges us to reconsider how we think about democracy by bringing us into critical dialogue with the past and exploring the work of yesterday's activists. Combining historical analysis, political theory, and social criticism, Mattson analyzes experiments in grassroots democracy from the Progressive Era and explores how we might foster more public involvement in political deliberation today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Ultimately Mattson challenges readers to reconsider contemporary conceptions of democracy that view citizens as consumers, and he contributes to contemporary discussions of ways to invigorate democratic practice. Highly recommended for all readership levels.”

“In an era of quickening concern about citizenship and community in contemporary America, we have a lot to learn from the community-building activities of Progressive Era reformers. Kevin Mattson's instructive account of their successes and failures is a timely contribution.”
—Robert D. Putnam, Harvard University

“The ultimate lessons Mattson draws from his research are both timely and compelling. Clearly, attempting to connect citizen deliberation to the direct avenues of political power will be no easy task. Furthermore, those who struggle for a democratic community must understand that their efforts require more than the freedoms now available in a consumer society and that fledgling movements are always in danger of being swallowed up by large, bureaucratic institutions.”
—James R. Simmons, New Political Science

“The Progressive Era was filled with the rhetoric of democracy, but in recent years historians have found the meaning of progressivism rather in various hierarchies of power. Kevin Mattson's considerable accomplishment in this fine book is to recover the era's emergent democratic public and its localized activities, from adult education to political meetings. Mattson's openly committed history is important for its more complicated rendering of progressive democracy, for its elaboration of a lively public culture, and for the encouragement it offers to the project of participatory democracy.”
—Thomas Bender, New York University

Creating a Democratic Public, by Kevin Mattson, is one of those books that provide a new lens for viewing American political theory and practice. . . . What makes his contribution so original and valuable is his ability to make philosophical concerns about the meaning of democracy concrete. Practice informs theory throughout the book. Mattson not only succeeds in describing the huge flaws in our political system but also traces the flaws to their source and provides a historical analysis of a kind of institutional reform that could inform present-day efforts to create a participatory democracy.”
—Aaron D. Hoffman, Perspectives on Political Science

“Kevin Mattson's book recovers one of the most important moments in the history of genuinely democratic reform in American history. A major contribution to the rethinking of progressivism, this book also offers a usable past to those struggling in the present to render our politics and culture more democratic.”
—Robert Westbrook, University of Rochester

The author cogently argues the need for the development of a democratic public engaged in regular, public deliberation of local and national issues of import. Taking a progressive approach to the study of American history, he examines past attempts to make such discussion a regular part of public life, particularly the Social Centers Movement which developed in Rochester, New York in the early 1900s. Mattson's clear-eyed approach maintains the idealism of his desire to renew democracy, yet faces honestly the failures of the past and the possibility of their being repeated. Paper edition (unseen), $16.95. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271017235
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 12/9/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 881,725
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Mattson is Research Director of the Walt Whitman Center for the Culture and Politics of Democracy at Rutgers University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Creating a Democratic Public 1
1 Searching for a Public: From Beautifying Urban Space to Educating Citizens - The Work of Charles Zueblin 14
2 From Tent Meetings to the Forum Movement: Frederic Howe and the Democratic Public 31
3 "Buttressing the Foundations of Democracy": The Social Centers Movement 48
4 Envisioning Democracy: Social Centers and Political Thought 68
5 Thinking Democratically: The Political Thought of Mary Parker Follett 87
6 The Waning of the Democratic Public: World War I, Social Centers, and America 105
Conclusion: The Future of American Democracy 129
Notes 136
Select Bibliography 167
Index 205
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