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Governing with Words
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Rather than considering political discussions and rhetoric as symbolic, inconsequential forms of politics, Governing with Words conceptualizes them as forms of government action that can shape institutions and societal norms. Daniel Q. Gillion refers to this theory as 'discursive governance'. Federal politicians' statements about racial and ethnic minority concerns aid the passage of minority public policies and improve individual lifestyle behaviors. Unfortunately, most of the American public continues to disapprove of politicians' rhetoric that highlights race. The book argues that addressing racial and ethnic inequality continues to be a tug-of-war between avoiding the backlash of the majority in this nation while advocating for minority interests. Even though this paradox looms over politicians' discussions of race, race-conscious political speech, viewed in its entirety, is the mechanism by which marginalized groups find a place in the democratic process. Such race-conscious discussions, the book argues, have ramifications both within and outside of government.


'Mark Twain once (apocryphally?) remarked that everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. Daniel Gillion moves beyond this stasis by showing when and how political leaders talk about race, pivot from talk to actions, and absorb both positive and negative reactions from listeners. Through a subtle, imaginative, careful, and impassioned analysis, he shows that words matter - politically, morally, emotionally, substantively. A fascinating story.'

Jennifer Hochschild - Harvard University, Massachusetts

'With a keen sense of history coupled with methodological rigor, Governing with Words breaks new ground on understanding the political dynamics of presidential rhetoric, on the impact of presidential 'race talk' on agenda setting in minority communities, and on the influence of presidential rhetoric in public life more generally. Findings from this path-breaking book will influence our understanding of minority politics, presidential politics, and the politics of agenda setting for years to come.'

Fredrick C. Harris - Columbia University, New York

'Meticulously researched and judicially argued … political scientist Daniel Gillion uses statistical analysis of primary data to determine how racial issues are discussed in American politics, focusing in particular on the role of White House incumbents and members of Congress and the federal government in shaping such discussions through their daily race-conscious remarks and speeches … This is an important book which all scholars and students of American politics and racial issues must read.'

Desmond King - University of Oxford

'What Professor Gillion demonstrates is that when explicit discussion of race and racial inequality is part of the political dialogue, it can catalyze policy formulation as well as make political messages more salient to minority citizens, with downstream implications for minority social and political behavior. Gillion’s concept of 'discursive governance’ offers a promising new theoretical framework for understanding political communication and representation. I applaud this highly original work.'

Claudine Gay - Harvard University, Massachusetts

'A vigorous and welcome defense of the idea that explicit discourse about racial inequalities is a necessary step toward overcoming those inequalities. Governing with Words shows why public figures must not shy away from confronting the injustices facing African Americans.'

Tali Mendelberg - Princeton University

'Gillion argues that silence from political elites on enduring racial inequities has failed to advance the cause of racial justice. Instead, by examining over fifty years of presidential speeches, he shows that race-conscious appeals to fairness can spur Congressional action and shape public opinion. This important book is both innovative and well timed.'

Vincent L. Hutchings - University of Michigan

'This is an incisive work that is a necessary piece of scholarship for understanding agenda setting and democratic ideas of governance in African American politics … Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.'

K. Anderson Source: Choice

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