Public Discourse in America: Conversation and Community in the Twenty-First Century

Overview

A distinguished group of scholars and prominent figures here offers thoughtful new perspectives on the tenor and conduct of public life in contemporary America. Originating in a shared concern that our civic culture was becoming coarser and more polarized, Public Discourse in America provides a critical corrective to this widespread misperception about declining civility in public culture and the ways we as citizens negotiate our differences.

Together these essays explore the ...

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Overview

A distinguished group of scholars and prominent figures here offers thoughtful new perspectives on the tenor and conduct of public life in contemporary America. Originating in a shared concern that our civic culture was becoming coarser and more polarized, Public Discourse in America provides a critical corrective to this widespread misperception about declining civility in public culture and the ways we as citizens negotiate our differences.

Together these essays explore the current condition and centrality of public discourse in our democracy, investigating how it has changed through our history and whether it fails to approach our widely held, but often unarticulated, ideal of "reasoned and reasonable" public deliberation. Contributors consider whether rationality is really the best standard for public discussion and argument, and isolate the features and principles that would characterize a truly exemplary, more productive public discourse at the beginning of the twenty-first century. They investigate why public conversations work when they work well, and why they often fail when we need them the most, as in our nation's so often aborted "national conversation" on race.

Taking a comprehensive look at institutional and leadership practices in recent public debates over a variety of "hot button" public policy issues, Public Discourse in America outlines how such conversations can be used to reintegrate our fragmented communities and bridge barriers of difference and hostility among communities and individuals.

These essays speak to urgent and perennial questions about the nature of American society, the responsibilities of leaders, the rules of democracy, and the role of public culture in times of crisis, conflict, and rapid change. Public Discourse in America originated in the work of the Penn National Commission on Society, Culture, and Community, convened in 1996 by Judith Rodin, President of the University of Pennsylvania. Distinguished members of the Commission, leading experts, commissioned researchers, and leaders in America's nascent public discourse movement offer unexpected insights and an optimistic vision of the health of our politics and culture.

Readers—of all political persuasions—from the halls of political power to the streets of urban neighborhoods, from newsrooms and studios to think tanks and universities, will find these essays opening up new paths to robust public discussion, more engaged citizenship, and stronger communities.

Contributors include:
Joyce Appleby, Thomas Bender, Derek Bok, Alex Boraine, Graham G. Dodds, Christopher Edley, Jr., Drew Gilpin Faust, Neal Gabler, Richard Lapchick, Don M. Randel, Richard Rodriguez, Jay Rosen, David M. Ryfe, Michael Schudson, Neil Smelser, and Robert H. Wiebe.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Is civility declining in American public life? Are we arguing in a 'reasoned and reasonable' manner? An exaltation of scholars and public figures offer their views."—Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Substantively illuminating, this book casts new light on a range of important issues. Highly recommended."—Cass R. Sunstein

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812221619
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/4/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith Rodin is President of the Rockefeller Foundation and President Emerita of the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of The University and Urban Revival: Out of the Ivory Tower and Into the Streets, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press. Stephen P. Steinberg is Advisor to the President at the University of Pennsylvania and former Director of the Penn National Commission on Society, Culture, and Community.
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Table of Contents

Prologue: The Work of the Penn National Commission
—Judith Rodin
Introduction: Incivility and Public Discourse
—Judith Rodin and Stephen P. Steinberg

PART ONE. PUBLIC DISCOURSE AND DEMOCRACY
1. The Thinning of American Political Culture
—Thomas Bender
2. Primary Tensions in American Public Life
—Robert H. Wiebe
3. Deliberative Democracy and Public Discourse
—David M. Ryfe

PART TWO. CHALLENGES OF PUBLIC DISCOURSE: TALKING ABOUT RACE
4. Affirmative Action and the Culture of Intolerance
—Christopher Edley, Jr
5. The North American
—Richard Rodriguez
6. Sports and Public Behavior
—Richard Lapchick
7. Performance, Debate, or Productive Conversation? Imagining an Exemplary Conversation on Race
—Drew Gilpin Faust and Members of the Penn National Commission

PART THREE. LEADING THE PUBLIC'S CONVERSATION: STUDIES IN CONTEMPORARY DISCOURSE LEADERSHIP
8. Leadership in a Complex Democratic Society
—Michael Schudson
9. Political Leadership in the Great Health Care Debate of 1993-1994
—Derek Bok
10. Part of Our World: Journalism as Civic Leadership
—Jay Rosen
11. Modeling Public Discourse in Popular Culture
—Neal Gabler

PART FOUR: DISCOURSE OF RECONCILIATION: TRUTH, APOLOGY, AND FORGIVENESS
12. Creating a National Discourse: Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa
—Alex Boraine
13. Political Apologies and Public Discourse
—Graham G. Dodds

PART FIVE: Thickening Public Discourse: Principles and Practices
14. The Principles of Public Discourse: What Is Good Public Discourse?
—David M. Ryfe
15. A Paradox of Public Discourse and Political Democracy
—Neil Smelser
16. The Practice of Public Discourse: A Study of Sixteen Discourse Organizations
—David M. Ryfe
17. Lessons from the Field: Practitioner Perspectives on Public Discourse Programs
—Jay Rosen and Members of the Penn National Commission

PART SIX: CREATING COMMUNITY THROUGH PUBLIC DISCOURSE
18. Building Community in the Twenty-First Century
—Joyce Appleby
19. The Myth of Academic Community
—Don M. Randel
20. The University as Discourse Community
—Judith Rodin
21. Creating Community in Cyberspace: Criteria for a Discourse Technology Project
—Stephen P. Steinberg

Epilogue: The Centrality of Public Discourse
—Stephen P. Steinberg

Notes
Contributors
Bibliography
Index
Members of the Penn National Commission on Society, Culture and Community
Acknowledgments

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