Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life / Edition 1

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Pundits and social observers have voiced alarm each year as fewer Americans involve themselves in voluntary groups that meet regularly. Thousands of nonprofit groups have been launched in recent times, but most are run by professionals who lobby Congress or deliver social services to clients. What will happen to U.S. democracy if participatory groups and social movements wither, while civic involvement becomes one more occupation rather than every citizen’s right and duty? In Diminished Democracy, Theda Skocpol shows that this decline in public involvement has not always been the case in this country—and how, by understanding the causes of this change, we might reverse it.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Her sharp-eyed focus on the state's role in civic life is a useful corrective to the romantic localism and the airier kinds of cultural analysis so prevalent in American political thought today. — Kimberly Phillips-Fein
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806136271
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2004
  • Series: Julian J. Rothbaum Distinguished Lecture Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 876,361
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Theda Skocpol is Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology and Director of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University. She is the author of numerous books, including Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States and The Missing Middle: Working Families and the Future of American Social Policy.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
1 Warren Durgin's Gravestone - Understanding American Civic Democracy 3
2 How the United States Became a Civic Nation 20
3 Joiners, Organizers, and Citizens 74
4 From Membership to Management 127
5 Why Civic Life Changed 175
6 What We Have Lost 211
7 Reinventing American Civic Democracy 254
Notes 295
List of Tables and Figures 351
Index 355
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2003

    The Urge to Belong

    A very nicely written book that raises several speculations. The author points out that in the 19th century, many of the local groups that people joined were chapters of national or transnational organisations. This was part of their attractiveness. Joining a local group gave comradely ties with others across the nation, that you had never met, and probably would never meet. How peculiar was this to the US, as compared with the European countries from which many of these people recently left? Is there any way to quantify this? A little unfair to ask, perhaps, because of the sheer amount of research needed to flesh it out. But the above questions arise naturally out of the research summarised in the book. Historians have asked if the US was qualitatively different from other countries. ('Vineyard of liberty' etc.) The issues raised by the book give us another way to address the question. Perhaps Americans were more inclined to join such nation spanning groups because as an immigrant, footloose people, if they did not have centuries of binding to the same soil and neighbours, they wanted some other and multiple means of belonging? Was the striking success of the groups in some part due to such inchoate urgings? Another way to test would be to look into the history of similar groups in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Skocpol also points out that from the 1960s onwards, the membership of such groups in the US fell significantly. She advanced several reasons. But there is one possible reason for some of the decline that she did not mention. From the mid 1950s, TV became pervasive. Remember that joining a volunteer group is done in your recreational time. TV is a notorious competitor for that time, due to its convenience and cheapness. Plus, and more specifically, if one of your reasons (possibly unconscious) for joining a national group is to be part of a larger world, then TV assuages that to some extent. Granted, some of this may be illusory, but so what?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2003

    Enlightening social perspective on society

    Understanding history is a key competent of being able to view the world and understand what exactly is going on. Theda Skocpol¿s book Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life is a comprehensive detailed study of how organizations developed within American society and how organizations of tradition gave way to modern issue management organizations. This unique perspective is delivered from one of Americas unique treasures Skocpol¿s institutional knowledge and ability to breakdown the big issues into understandable prose is truly one of a kind. One of the best uses of comparative analysis within the book details how organizations used to include members from all facets of life and that individuals from all classes were members of the same organizations. Skocpol discusses how breaking down differences and barriers was an important part of how civic life developed. Being able to look at specific examples of individuals and the civic pride they had for being involved in government and society like Warren Durgin who was one of Abraham Lincoln¿s palm barriers. The analysis of how civic life changed the detail that went into the presentation of that information add a flavor to the book that leaves the reader with a broader perspective on the development of civil society. The concluding section on reinventing American Civic Democracy is an well expressed set of ideas about how to create inclusion and redevelop a strong sense of civic engagement through bridging the gap in society that is created from managed organizations back to institutional involvement within society. Expressing the idea that perhaps being apolitical and not focusing on politics is a mistake and that to energize individuals it is time to reinvent engagement to include working within political organizations. What I took away from Theda Skocpol's book Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life is that the way to build civic mobilization is to create and reinvent organizations to have local chapters and meetings that involve people as well as incorporating the modern uses of lobbyists and computerized mailing lists. That perhaps a mix of the best practices from history and current technology will yield a stronger society. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys look at civil society, engagement, and participation. The book is exceptionally well written had has an excellent flow to it that made it an enjoyable afternoon read.

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