Tales Of The State

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Overview

The relationship between politics and storytelling is one with a well-established lineage, but public policy analysis has only recently begun to develop its own appreciation of the power of narrative to explain everything from political traditions to cyberspace. This unique collection of original essays helps further that project by surveying stories of and about all kinds of American politics—from welfare, race, and immigration; to workfare, jobs, and education; to gay rights, national security, and the American Dream in an age of economic globalization.

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Editorial Reviews

Jennifer Hochschild
A fascinating, infuriating, eye-opening book. It succeeds in wedding high literary and anthropological theory with the mundane details of presidents' politicking and policy-makers' number crunching. Readers will swing between resistance to thinking of their own perspective as merely a narrative, and sudden awareness of how this framing really does illuminate some puzzling aspects of the American polity. They may not be fully convinced, but they will certainly be better off for wrestling with the issuesthat this book so cleverly raises...
Princeton University
A fascinating, infuriating, eye-opening book. It succeeds in wedding high literary and anthropological theory with the mundane details of presidents' politicking and policy-makers' number crunching. Readers will swing between resistance to thinking of their own perspective as "merely" a narrative, and sudden awareness of how this framing really does illuminate some puzzling aspects of the American polity. They may not be fully convinced, but they will certainly be better off for wrestling with the issues that this book so cleverly raises.
American Political Science Review
Tales of the State offers interesting examples of the role of the stories, or narratives, in politics and public policy. The collection overall makes important contributions to a more pluralistic approach to policy analysis. The book contributes to its goal, and it is one worthy of more attention from political scientists.
Schneider
Tales of the State offers interesting examples of the role of stories, or narratives, in politics and public policy. Although some chapters are stronger than others, the collection overall makes important contributions to a more pluralistic approach to policy analysis. The editors justify the approaches repreented in their volume on the grounds that "stories are used by,elites and masses alike to make sense of events according to a less than factually documented storyline p.1, "Stories" re efined as discrete narratives that explain social or olitical phenomena, : such as apartheid or welfare dependency.
The ditors attribute to stories a foundational role and contend that stories are: "already there" p. 5. The fundational role is illustrated in two ways, and most political scientists and policy analysts will understand both. First, stories are "already there" in the sense that they are written into the perceptions of individuals, so that the facts surrounding events are selectively understood in light of predominate stories. Second, stories are foundational for behavior when behavior is motivated by an attempt to emulate norms or values that are found in narratives. The role of stories in politics and policymaking is explained as follows:
Political actors use stories as scripts for engaging in political performances, from lobbying to policy formulation, from mass mobilization to posturing by political leadership. And since it is almost always the case that more than one story can be told to make sense of any particular areas of concern or issue, stories are necessarily not innocuous and disinterested but instead are potentially dangerous and interested. They, are critically constitutive elements in shaping political practice and public policy" p. 6.

The editors claim that "the primary goal of policy analysis should not be to distinguish reasoned deliberation from instances of rumor mongering, but to interrogate all policy making activity for its narrativity and assess the consequences given the persuasiveness of particular tales" p. 6. Despite this apparent nod toward strict constructionists and many postmodernists that there are no "facts" against which "stories" or "representational practices" can be juxtaposed, the editors reject the notion that all stories are equally legitimate. "Although it might not be possible to get entirely beyond narratives to a purely factual basis of the world, some tales are tall tales, not only in that they do not accord with established facts, but also because such stories constitute a form of denial or a construction of reality that erases alternative knowledges, perhaps covering up what would otherwise be obvious facts" p. 8.
At times, the reader may be somewhat confused by seemingly contradictory statements that, on the one hand, argue for the primacy of interrogating stories and assessing their consequences rather than comparing factual with narrative knowledge but, on the other hand, acknowledge that there often are facts available and it is well worth one's time to interrogate stories against accepted facts. Some of the articles rely mainly on the first approach-examining the consequences of stories without much regard for their factual basis-but most use a "contextual constructionism" to examine both the facts underlying various claims as well as the consequences of those claims. Joel Best's article, "The Vanishing White Man: Workforce 2000 and Tales of Demographic Transformation," is an excellent example, as he examines in detail the origin of a major common misinterpretation of workforce demographic changes. From the original study, the authors could have concluded, based on the data, that the proportion of white males in the workforce would decline from 48% to 45% by 2000. Instead, the authors wrote that "the small net growth of workers will be dominated by women, blacks, and immigrants. White males . . . will comprise only 15 percent of the net additions to the labor force between 1985 and 2000" quoted by Best, p. 176. Best offers possible explanations and traces the consequences of this particular claim made in the social science study.
Another approach is illustrated in Michael J. Shapiro's chapter, "Winning the West, Unwelcoming the Immigrant: Alternative Stories of `America."' He traces hostility toward immigrants back through history, attributing much of it to the notion that a unified, homogeneous, white, national, Euro- pean "culture" first "conquered" the West against the "sav- age" Indians and has been constantly threatened by other races and cultures. Against this orthodoxy, Shapiro takes an ethnohistory position and argues that Indians were not merely driven off or defeated but left lasting cultural marks on "America. "Certainly, many of the Native American cultures became to some extent Europeanized, but it also is the case that English colonial culture became in part Indianized, with lasting historical effects'." p. 24. The history of culture, he. argues, has been a process of coinvention, not the single achievement of one dominant culture. "Unified and fixed national cultures are fictions, productions of national fantasies" p. 26.
Other chapters take similar approaches in examining how particular stories rise to ascendancy, how alternative stories are just as likely given the facts and events, and the consequences of accepting one story rather than another. Carl Swidorski offers a Marxist analysis of constitutional tales; John Kenneth White examines how contemporary U.S. presidents have used storytelling to gain popular legitimacy; Sanford Schram deconstructs the politics of the language found in the Contract with America; Leslie Vaughn analyzes the rhetoric of Clarence Thomas in his confirmation hearings. There are interesting short articles on welfare, gay rights, NAFTA, globalization, black criminality, and many others.
The editors initially posed three goals for the book. First, highlight the role of narrative in politics and policymaking. In this the book succeeds admirably, as its 19 chapters examine stories across a wide array of policy arenas and political events. Second, promote a "more politicized policy analysis." This goal is not clearly explained. The editors could mean that the book will introduce into the adversarial political arena counternarratives to the dominant elite-inspired stories and their consequences. Or they could mean by "politicized" that: they hope to democratize policy analysis by illustrating how elite-inspired narratives are deficient either in their factual bases or in crowding out equally likely narratives that would have more democratic consequences. Some of he chapters fall into the first category and become little more than-"claims" that have no more legitimacy than the stories they seek to replace. This would be a devastating approach to policy analysis, in my judgment, because it would only encourage the type of degenerative, hyperpluralistic politics that has produced numerous policy failures over the past decade. The second possible meaning of the phrase "politicize" is to democratize policy analysis, but to do so while adhering to common standards of evidence and reasoning. Building on these two, the third goal is to "undermine the validity of the elite/folk distinction" that permits some elites, experts to construct tales of the state and discourages others common folks from finding a voice in public policy. The book contributes to this goal, and it is one worthy of more attention from political scientists.
—Anne L. Schneider, Arizona State University, American Political Science Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780847685035
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group Inc
  • Publication date: 8/14/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Sanford F. Schram is visiting professor in the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College. Philip T. Neisser is associate professor of politics at the State University of New York at Potsdam.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction Part 2 Part I. Origin Stories Chapter 3 Winning the West, Unwelcoming the Immigrant: Alternative Stories of "America", Chapter 4 Constitutional Tales: Capitalist Origin Stories and U.S. Democracy Chapter 5 Pluralizing the American Dream Part 6 Part II. Institutions, Actors, and Narratives Chapter 7 The Storyteller-in-Chief: Why Presidents Like to Tell Tales Chapter 8 Self-Legitimating Narratives: The House Republicans and the Contract with America Chapter 9 Native Son: Stories of Self-Creation in the Judicial Politics of Clarence Thomas Part 10 Part III. Identity Stories in Public Policy Chapter 11 Talking Straight: Disidentification and Gay Rights Chapter 12 "It's Not Just Naked Women": Regulating Transgressive Identities in Cyberspace Chapter 13 Welfare Queens: Policing by the Numbers Chapter 14 Tales of Black Criminality: Racial Determinism and Fatal Narratives Part 15 Part IV. Tales of Domestic Policy Chapter 16 Welfare Migration as a Policy Rumor: A Statistical Accounting Chapter 17 Tales of the City: The Secret Life of Devolution Chapter 18 The Entrepreneurial Gloss: The Myth of Small Business Job Growth Chapter 19 The Vanishing White Man: Workforce 2000 and Tales of Demographic Transformation Chapter 20 Schooling Stories: Three Paths, Two Tragedies, and a Vision Part 21 Part V. Tales of Global Policy Chapter 22 Rumors of Apartheid: Myth and Stereotype in U.S. Foreign Policy Toward South Africa Chapter 23 National Security Tales and the End of the Cold War Chapter 24 NAFTA Discourse: Tales of Sovereignty, Science, and Adjustment, Chapter 25 Is It Global Economics or Neo-Laissez Faire?

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