Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Membership

Overview

How can we build thriving political communities? In this provocative account of how societies are bound together, Rogers Smith examines the importance of 'stories of peoplehood', narratives that promise economic of political power and define political allegiances in religious, cultural, racial, ethnic, and related terms. Smith argues that no nations are purely civic: all are bound in part by stories that seek to define elements intrinsic to their members' identities and worth. These types of stories can support ...
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Overview

How can we build thriving political communities? In this provocative account of how societies are bound together, Rogers Smith examines the importance of 'stories of peoplehood', narratives that promise economic of political power and define political allegiances in religious, cultural, racial, ethnic, and related terms. Smith argues that no nations are purely civic: all are bound in part by stories that seek to define elements intrinsic to their members' identities and worth. These types of stories can support valuable forms of political life but they also pose dangers that must be understood if they are to be confronted. In contrast to much contemporary writing, Stories of Peoplehood argues for community-building via robust contestation among sharply differing views. This original argument combines accessible theory with colourful examples of myths and stories from around the world and over 2,500 years of human history.
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Editorial Reviews

Foreign Affairs
Behind nations, states, regions, and other political groupings lies the notion of a distinct "people" who share a common identity and are bound together by rights and obligations. In this important inquiry into the sources and changing character of political community, Smith argues that the "we" in "we the people" does not emerge organically from particular economic, territorial, demographic, ancestral, linguistic, or cultural circumstances. Rather, it is constructed through interactions between leaders and followers who tell stories of blood and inheritance in the search for a stable and legitimate organization of authority. Smith ambitiously claims that a universal logic lurks behind such projects. Sampling widely across eras and regions, he explores the processes by which a shared sense of political "peoplehood" is generated and sustained and ends with a reflection on the dilemmas and normative implications of the process. Strong perceptions of peoplehood, he notes, can foster democracy and self-determination but also unleash chauvinism, racism, and violence. Smith finds some hope, however, in the stories of American history, which offer open, inclusive, and expanding narratives of political community.
From the Publisher
"[A]n exceptional starting point for dialogue regarding the relative health of American democracy and what might be done to reinvigorate it." Brian J. Gerber, Texas Tech University, Political Science Quarterly

"Rogers Smith's fresh and incisive intervention in debates about national solidarity exemplifies the combination of historical depth and theoretical acuity that have made Smith one of the most respected and influential political scientists of his generation." David A. Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley, author of Postethnic America

"This well-researched and provocatively argued work will interest theorists and students of comparative and American politics. Highly recommended." Choice

"In a book of formidable erudition and learning, Smith succeeds brilliantly in reviewing the vast literature on nationalism, reformulating it into a highly innovative and important thesis about peoplehood and demonstrating the analytical purchase of the derived 'ethically constitutive stories' as an approach to building better societies. Written in elegant prose, Smith's argument is illustrated with a dazzling array of examples, historical and contemporary, imagined and real. Many social scientists declaim the need for scholarship engaged with real political and social problems but few succeed as impressively as Rogers Smith does here. This is political science for our times, applying rigorous analysis to compelling moral challenges. I cannot recommend this book too strongly..." Desmond S. King, Oxford University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521813037
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2003
  • Series: Contemporary Political Theory Series
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Rogers M. Smith is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published over seventy articles and is author or co-author of the following books: The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America (with Philip A. Klinkner, 1990); Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History (1997); Citizenship without Consent: The Illegal Alien in the American Polity (with Peter H. Schuck, 1985); and Liberalism and American Constitutional Law (1985, rev. ed. 1990).

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: on studying stories of peoplehood 1
Pt. I Explaining the political role of stories of peoplehood
1 Elements of a theory of people-making 19
2 The role of ethically constitutive stories 72
Pt. II Constructing political peoplehood in morally defensible ways
3 Ethically constitutive stories and norms of allegiance 129
4 A pioneering people 175
References 213
Index 226
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