Skip to content
Register Sign in Wishlist

Boundaries of Obligation in American Politics
Geographic, National, and Racial Communities

$31.99 (P)

Part of Cambridge Studies in Public Opinion and Political Psychology

  • Date Published: March 2010
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521691840

$ 31.99 (P)

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:
Hardback, eBook

Looking for an examination copy?

If you are interested in the title for your course we can consider offering an examination copy. To register your interest please contact providing details of the course you are teaching.

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • This book shows how ordinary Americans imagine their communities and the extent to which their communities’ boundaries determine who they believe should benefit from the government’s resources via redistributive policies. By contributing extensive empirical analyses to a largely theoretical discussion, it highlights the subjective nature of communities while confronting the elusive task of pinning down “pictures in people’s heads.” A deeper understanding of people’s definitions of their communities and how they affect feelings of duties and obligations provides a new lens through which to look at diverse societies and the potential for both civic solidarity and humanitarian aid. This book analyzes three different types of communities and more than eight national surveys. Wong finds that the decision to help only those within certain borders and ignore the needs of those outside rests, to a certain extent, on whether and how people translate their sense of community into obligations.

    • It focuses on local, national, and racial communities, which are usually treated separately in other books
    • In a discussion that is largely theoretical, it provides evidence of what ordinary Americans actually think about obligations and their communities
    • In an age of identity politics, it takes seriously the idea that people choose their identities and communities
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    “Geography matters for political behavior and it matters through people’s perceptions of it. In Boundaries of Obligation in American Politics, Cara Wong demonstrates this fundamental aspect of politics through deep and detailed attention to theory and careful data analysis. This book is a major contribution to our understanding of race relations and political life in the United States. It brings important fresh insights to our understanding of contextual effects in the realm of political thought and action. We will be learning and drawing inspiration from this book for years to come.”
    —Katherine Cramer Walsh, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    “Wong has written an important book that will surely be of interest across the social sciences. The larger issues she explores, through the creative use of national public opinion survey data, are the way social groups define their boundaries, determining insiders and outsiders, and how these definitions in turn delimit feelings of obligation. For scholars interested in the dynamics of group identity, inter-group relations in increasingly diverse societies and their implications for public policy and social equity, this book is a must-read.”
    —Michael Jones-Correa, Cornell University

    “Boundaries of Obligation offers a compelling account of the central role of ‘community’ in American political life. Perceptions of who is in and who is not, and what those bonds demand and barriers preclude, profoundly shape public opinion on redistributive policies. This ambitious study, informed by theoretical insights drawn from a range of separate research traditions and grounded in the rigorous analysis of extensive national survey data, reveals how and why imagined boundaries of race, nation and geography become politically consequential. Wong’s research sparkles with new insights and deepens our understanding of politics as practiced by ordinary Americans. This book is sure to be widely read.”
    —Claudine Gay, Harvard University

    “Boundaries of Obligation provides nothing less than a new way to think about American politics and the world beyond our borders. Anyone who has puzzled over a claim about who counts as a “true American,” or who hopes that Americans might care more about world hunger or global warming, will want to read this book. Wong makes it crystal clear that our sense of community can rise above the identifications of race, citizenship, and where we live. Most important, this book shows that these boundaries of obligation explain our political actions above and beyond our interests, prejudices, and ideologies. Wong proves that we need to ask where people draw the lines around their communities. All researchers interested in racial politics, ethnic conflict, political participation and philosophical ideas about community and obligation will want to read this exciting and timely new book.”
    —Lynn Sanders, University of Virginia

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2010
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521691840
    • length: 286 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 150 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.38kg
    • contains: 28 b/w illus. 11 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Community and special obligations
    2. The boundaries of imagined communities
    3. Community and geography
    4. Restricting national boundaries
    5. Blurring the color line

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Immigration and Integration Policy
    • Racialization and Citzenship
  • Author

    Cara J. Wong, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
    Cara Wong is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She holds a PhD in political science from University of California, Berkeley, and has taught previously at the University of Michigan and Harvard University, Massachusetts. Her research interests include American government and politics, political psychology, and race, ethnicity, and politics. She has published numerous articles on racial and ethnic politics, voting behavior, citizenship, social capital, and multiculturalism in edited volumes and in the following journals: the Journal of Politics, the British Journal of Political Science, Public Opinion Quarterly, Political Behavior, Political Psychology, and the Du Bois Review.

Related Books

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×
warning icon

Turn stock notifications on?

You must be signed in to your Cambridge account to turn product stock notifications on or off.

Sign in Create a Cambridge account arrow icon

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.