The eyes of the country frequently turned to Chicago during the 1890s as the Windy City struggled with the promises and challenges of urban democracy. Americans of all classes feared the social dislocations and economic divisions of urbanization and industrialization, and the effects of political corruption and massive immigration on democratic politics. Yet many reformers were hopeful that new forms of social knowledge and urban reform could reinvigorate democracy. They saw the moment as one of great possibility.
A Fatal Drifting Apart: Democratic Social Knowledge and Chicago Reform explores the efforts of diverse groups within Chicago during the Progressive Era. This backdrop of industrialization, emerging classes, and ethnic and racial pluralism frequently riven with class conflict set the stage on which Chicago reformers took up the seemingly impossible challenge of enacting democracy. Laura M. Westhoff examines historic events and well-known individuals of the period and brings them together in an unusual framework that offers a new perspective on the reorientation of knowledge, civic identity, and democratic culture at the dawn of the twentieth century, which she terms democratic social knowledge. The book raises important questions that continue to resonate: In a democracy, who has the power to define social problems and offer solutions, and whose experience and knowledge are seen as legitimate?