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Civic Hope is a history of what everyday Americans say - in their own words - about the government overseeing their lives. Based on a highly original analysis of 10,000 letters to the editor from 1948 to the present published in twelve US cities, the book overcomes the limitations of survey data by revealing the reasons for people's attitudes. While Hart identifies worrisome trends - including a decline in writers' abilities to explain what their opponents believe and their attachment to national touchstones - he also shows why the nation still thrives. Civic Hope makes a powerful case that the vitality of a democracy lies not in its strengths but in its weaknesses and in the willingness of its people to address those weaknesses without surcease. The key, Hart argues, is to sustain a culture of argument at the grassroots level.Read more
- Highly original analysis of 10,000 letters to the editor collected over a period of sixty-five years, supplemented by survey and interview data
- Offers insight into the textured nuances of public opinion, tracking changes over time and across geographic and partisan differences
- Makes an original argument about how the people next door persevere to keep democracy alive through a culture of argument at the grassroots level
Reviews & endorsements
'Professor Hart is amongst the most well-known and highly-regarded students of political language. It should come as no surprise, then, that his recent book offers a careful analysis of political language, this time in letters to the editor. And his findings - focused on ‘civic hope’ even in a period of heightened political polarization - offer a unique perspective, not just on what we can learn from newspaper content, but on the centrality and importance of a ‘culture of argument’ in American democracy.' Stuart Soroka, University of MichiganSee more reviews
'Civic Hope sheds light on an often-overlooked but, as Hart compellingly argues, foundational aspect of American democracy. Drawing on a stunning collection of letters to the editor from a dozen US cities, as well as a rich set of associated surveys and interviews, Hart demonstrates what the humble letter to the editor can tell us about timely issues in contemporary political communication and timeless questions about democracies and publics. A masterwork of substance and style, this book should be essential reading for anyone interested in understanding and promoting healthy public discourse.' Michael A. Xenos, University of Wisconsin, Madison
'Civic Hope is a beautifully written analysis of letters to the editors of local newspapers in 12 mid-sized American cities from 1948 to 2012. It shows how ‘the people next door’ persevere to renew the possibility for participatory democracy through their arguments. Hart’s thesis is that a culture of argument and complaint at the grassroots is what makes democracy flourish. The letters provide a different metric for assessing public opinion, one that reaches well beyond the omnipresent public opinion poll, to enrich understanding of the textured nuances of the public’s beliefs. It is a fascinating story as it traces changes over time across geographical and partisan differences. In these turbulent political times, this book offers a gift of hope.' Ann Crigler, University of Southern California
'Hart offers a corrective to the gloom and cynicism that suffuses discourse about politics and democracy today. Despite its undeniable problems, American democracy is surviving due to argumentative, sometimes cantankerous citizens and their humble acts of democratic citizenship. Hart wants us to look away from the spectacles that seem to be the stuff of daily politics and look instead to how ordinary people make sense of politics through a lens of their own.' Regina Lawrence, University of Oregon
'How is participatory democracy maintained and renewed? Rodrick P. Hart persuasively argues that it is through the expression of ordinary citizens, their concerns, their arguments and their complaints, as found in the letters to the editors of local newspapers. In tracing these texts across 60 years and a range of geographic contexts, he reveals and reminds that citizen discourse is often the best indicator of public opinion, and that the voices of ordinary people are critical to the health of democracy.' Dhavan V. Shah, University of Wisconsin, Madison
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- Date Published: March 2018
- format: Paperback
- isbn: 9781108435628
- length: 370 pages
- dimensions: 228 x 152 x 20 mm
- weight: 0.51kg
- contains: 36 b/w illus. 25 tables
- availability: In stock
Table of Contents
Part I. The Need for Civic Hope:
1. Can politics be fixed?
2. Can citizenship be revived?
3. Is civic hope the answer?
Part II. The Search for Civic Hope:
4. People who write letters
5. People who read letters
Part III. The Texture of Civic Hope:
6. Why letters are compelling
7. Why letters are irritating
8. How letters have changed
9. How letters differ
Part IV. The Future of Civic Hope:
10. Sustaining a culture of argument
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