When we think about what constitutes being a good citizen, routine activities like voting, letter writing, and paying attention to the news spring to mind. But in Citizen Speak, Andrew J. Perrin argues that these activities are only a small part of democratic citizenship—a standard of citizenship that requires creative thinking, talking, and acting.
For Citizen Speak, Perrin met with labor, church, business, and sports organizations and proposed to them four fictive scenarios: what if your senator is involved in a scandal, or your police department is engaged in racial profiling, or a local factory violates pollution laws, or your nearby airport is slated for expansion? The conversations these challenges inspire, Perrin shows, require imagination. And what people can imagine doing in response to those scenarios depends on what’s possible, what’s important, what’s right, and what’s feasible. By talking with one another, an engaged citizenry draws from a repertoire of personal and institutional resources to understand and reimagine responses to situations as they arise. Building on such political discussions, Citizen Speak shows how a rich culture of association and democratic discourse provides the infrastructure for a healthy democracy.
Commentary In American Life
edited by Murray Friedman Temple University Press, 2005 Library of Congress E184.36.P64C66 2005 | Dewey Decimal 296.05
Founded by the American Jewish Committee in 1945 as a monthly journal of "significant thought and opinion, Jewish affairs and contemporary issues," Commentary magazine has through the years had a far-reaching impact on American politics and culture. Commentary in American Life traces this influence over time, especially in creating the neoconservative movement. The authors of each chapter also consider the ways the magazine shaped and reflected major cultural and literary trends in the United States. The end result offers a full accounting of one of the most important journals of American political thought, providing insight into the development of American collective politics and culture over the last six decades.
The Cynical Society is a study of the political despair and abdication of (individual) responsibility Goldfarb calls cynicism—a central but unexamined aspect of contemporary American political and social life. Goldfarb reveals with vivid strokes how cynicism undermines our capacity to think about society's strengths and weaknesses. Drawing on thinkers from Alexis de Tocqueville to Allan Bloom and on such recent works as Beloved, Bonfire of the Vanities, and Mississippi Burning, The Cynical Society celebrates cultural pluralism's role in democracy.
Statistics on the American family are sobering. From 1975 to 2000, one-third of all children were born to single mothers, and one-half of all marriages ended in divorce. While children from broken homes are two to three times more likely to develop behavioral and learning difficulties, two-parent families are not immune to problems. The cost of raising children has increased dramatically, and married couples with children are now twice as likely as childless couples to file for bankruptcy. Clearly, the American family is in trouble. But how this trouble started, and what should be done about it, remain hotly contested.
In a multifaceted analysis of the current state of a complex institution, Family Transformed brings together outstanding scholars from the fields of anthropology, demography, ethics, history, law, philosophy, primatology, psychology, sociology, and theology. Demonstrating that the family is both distinctive in its own right and deeply interwoven with other institutions, the authors examine the roles of education, work, leisure, consumption, legal regulation, public administration, and biology in shaping the ways we court and marry, bear and raise children, and make and break family bonds.
International in approach, this wide-ranging volume situates current American debates over sex, marriage, and family within a global framework. Weighing mounting social science evidence that supports a continued need for the nuclear family while assessing the challenges posed by new advocacy for same-sex marriage, and delegalized coupling, the authors argue that only by reintegrating the family into a just moral order of the larger community and society can we genuinely strengthen it. This means not simply upholding traditional family values but truly grasping the family's growing diversity, sustaining its coherence, and protecting its fragility for our own sake and for the common good of society.
Nan Johnson demonstrates that after the Civil War, nonacademic or “parlor” traditions of rhetorical performance helped to sustain the icon of the white middle class woman as queen of her domestic sphere by promoting a code of rhetorical behavior for women that required the performance of conventional femininity. Through a lucid examination of the boundaries of that gendered rhetorical space—and the debate about who should occupy that space—Johnson explores the codes governing and challenging the American woman’s proper rhetorical sphere in the postbellum years.
While men were learning to preach, practice law, and set political policies, women were reading elocution manuals, letter-writing handbooks, and other conduct literature. These texts reinforced the conservative message that women’s words mattered, but mattered mostly in the home. Postbellum pedagogical materials were designed to educate Americans in rhetorical skills, but they also persistently directed the American woman to the domestic sphere as her proper rhetorical space. Even though these materials appeared to urge the white middle class women to become effective speakers and writers, convention dictated that a woman’s place was at the hearthside where her rhetorical talents were to be used in counseling and instructing as a mother and wife.
Aided by twenty-one illustrations, Johnson has meticulously compiled materials from historical texts no longer readily available to the general public and, in so doing, has illuminated this intersection of rhetoric and feminism in the nineteenth century. The rhetorical pedagogies designed for a postbellum popular audience represent the cultural sites where a rethinking of women’s roles becomes open controversy about how to value their words. Johnson argues this era of uneasiness about shifting gender roles and the icon of the “quiet woman” must be considered as evidence of the need for a more complete revaluing of women’s space in historical discourse.
Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X. Muhammad Ali. When you think of African American history, you think of its heroes—individuals endowed with courage and strength who are celebrated for their bold exploits and nobility of purpose. But what of black villains? Villains, just as much as heroes, have helped define the black experience.
Ranging from black slaveholders and frontier outlaws to serial killers and gangsta rappers, Hoodlums examines the pivotal role of black villains in American society and popular culture. Here, William L. Van Deburg offers the most extensive treatment to date of the black badman and the challenges that this figure has posed for race relations in America. He first explores the evolution of this problematic racial stereotype in the literature of the early Republic—documents in which the enslavement of African Americans was justified through exegetical claims. Van Deburg then probes antebellum slave laws, minstrel shows, and the works of proslavery polemicists to consider how whites conceptualized blacks as members of an inferior and dangerous race. Turning to key works by blacks themselves, from the writings of Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois to classic blaxploitation films like Black Caesar and The Mack, Van Deburg demonstrates how African Americans have combated such negative stereotypes and reconceptualized the idea of the badman through stories of social bandits—controversial individuals vilified by whites for their proclivity toward evil, but revered in the black community as necessarily insurgent and revolutionary.
Ultimately, Van Deburg brings his story up-to-date with discussions of prison and hip-hop culture, urban rioting, gang warfare, and black-on-black crime. What results is a work of remarkable virtuosity—a nuanced history that calls for both whites and blacks to rethink received wisdom on the nature and prevalence of black villainy.
The public spaces and buildings of the United States are home to many thousands of timepieces—bells, time balls, and clock faces—that tower over urban streets, peek out from lobbies, and gleam in store windows. And in the streets and squares beneath them, men, women, and children wear wristwatches of all kinds. Americans have decorated their homes with clocks and included them in their poetry, sermons, stories, and songs. And as political instruments, social tools, and cultural symbols, these personal and public timekeepers have enjoyed a broad currency in art, life, and culture.
In Marking Modern Times, Alexis McCrossen relates how the American preoccupation with time led people from across social classes to acquire watches and clocks. While noting the difficulties in regulating and synchronizing so many timepieces, McCrossen expands our understanding of the development of modern time discipline, delving into the ways we have standardized time and describing how timekeepers have served as political, social, and cultural tools in a society that doesn’t merely value time but regards access to time as a natural-born right, a privilege of being an American.
Achievement tests play an important role in modern societies. They are used to evaluate schools, to assign students to tracks within schools, and to identify weaknesses in student knowledge. The GED is an achievement test used to grant the status of high school graduate to anyone who passes it. GED recipients currently account for 12 percent of all high school credentials issued each year in the United States. But do achievement tests predict success in life?
The Myth of Achievement Tests shows that achievement tests like the GED fail to measure important life skills. James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, Tim Kautz, and a group of scholars offer an in-depth exploration of how the GED came to be used throughout the United States and why our reliance on it is dangerous. Drawing on decades of research, the authors show that, while GED recipients score as well on achievement tests as high school graduates who do not enroll in college, high school graduates vastly outperform GED recipients in terms of their earnings, employment opportunities, educational attainment, and health. The authors show that the differences in success between GED recipients and high school graduates are driven by character skills. Achievement tests like the GED do not adequately capture character skills like conscientiousness, perseverance, sociability, and curiosity. These skills are important in predicting a variety of life outcomes. They can be measured, and they can be taught.
Using the GED as a case study, the authors explore what achievement tests miss and show the dangers of an educational system based on them. They call for a return to an emphasis on character in our schools, our systems of accountability, and our national dialogue.
Eric Grodsky, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Andrew Halpern-Manners, Indiana University Bloomington
Paul A. LaFontaine, Federal Communications Commission
Janice H. Laurence, Temple University
Lois M. Quinn, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
Pedro L. Rodríguez, Institute of Advanced Studies in Administration
John Robert Warren, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Here's a story about a familythat comes from Tijuana and settles into the 'hood, hoping for the American Dream.
. . . I'm not saying it's our story. I'm not saying it isn't. It might be yours. "How do you tell a story that cannot be told?" writes Luis Alberto Urrea in this potent memoir of a childhood divided. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an Anglo mother from Staten Island, Urrea moved to San Diego when he was three. His childhood was a mix of opposites, a clash of cultures and languages. In prose that seethes with energy and crackles with dark humor, Urrea tells a story that is both troubling and wildly entertaining. Urrea endured violence and fear in the black and Mexican barrio of his youth. But the true battlefield was inside his home, where his parents waged daily war over their son's ethnicity. "You are not a Mexican!" his mother once screamed at him. "Why can't you be called Louis instead of Luis?" He suffers disease and abuse and he learns brutal lessons about machismo. But there are gentler moments as well: a simple interlude with his father, sitting on the back of a bakery truck; witnessing the ultimate gesture of tenderness between the godparents who taught him the magical power of love. "I am nobody's son. I am everybody's brother," writes Urrea. His story is unique, but it is not unlike thousands of other stories being played out across the United States, stories of other Americans who have waged war—both in the political arena and in their own homes—to claim their own personal and cultural identity. It is a story of what it means to belong to a nation that is sometimes painfully multicultural, where even the language both separates and unites us. Brutally honest and deeply moving, Nobody's Son is a testament to the borders that divide us all.
On Record provides descriptive accounts of record keeping in a variety of important organizations: schools, from elementary to graduate school; consumer credit agencies, general business organizations, and life insurance companies; the military and security agencies; the Census Bureau and the Social Security Administration; public welfare agencies, juvenile courts, and mental hospitals. It also examines the legal status of records. The authors pose questions such as the following: Who determines what records are kept? Who has access to the records?
As an artifact of culture, the portable radio is an unusual but perfect subject for investigation by archaeologist Schiffer. Seeing the history of everyday objects as the history of the life of a people, he shows how the portable radio has reflected changes in American society as surely as clay pots have for ancient cultures.
Considers how Americans define the quality of their life experiences, as expressed in their perceptions, evaluations, and satisfactions. Based on research conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, the book uses data which are representative of the national population eighteen years of age and older, and employs the major social characteristics of class, age, education, and income. The authors cover such topics as the residential environment, the experience of work, marriage, and family life, and personal resources and competence. They also report on the situation of women and the quality of the life experience of black people.
This incisive study takes on one of the grimmest secrets in America's national life—the history of lynching and, more generally, the public punishment of African Americans. Jacqueline Goldsby shows that lynching cannot be explained away as a phenomenon peculiar to the South or as the perverse culmination of racist politics. Rather, lynching—a highly visible form of social violence that has historically been shrouded in secrecy—was in fact a fundamental part of the national consciousness whose cultural logic played a pivotal role in the making of American modernity.
To pursue this argument, Goldsby traces lynching's history by taking up select mob murders and studying them together with key literary works. She focuses on three prominent authors—Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Stephen Crane, and James Weldon Johnson—and shows how their own encounters with lynching influenced their analyses of it. She also examines a recently assembled archive of evidence—lynching photographs—to show how photography structured the nation's perception of lynching violence before World War I. Finally, Goldsby considers the way lynching persisted into the twentieth century, discussing the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and the ballad-elegies of Gwendolyn Brooks to which his murder gave rise.
An empathic and perceptive work, A Spectacular Secret will make an important contribution to the study of American history and literature.
Whether at parties, around the dinner table, or at the office, people talk about politics all the time. Yet while such conversations are a common part of everyday life, political scientists know very little about how they actually work. In Talking about Politics, Katherine Cramer Walsh provides an innovative, intimate study of how ordinary people use informal group discussions to make sense of politics.
Walsh examines how people rely on social identities—their ideas of who "we" are—to come to terms with current events. In Talking about Politics, she shows how political conversation, friendship, and identity evolve together, creating stronger communities and stronger social ties. Political scientists, sociologists, and anyone interested in how politics really works need to read this book.
The Trial in American Life
Robert A. Ferguson University of Chicago Press, 2006 Library of Congress KF220.F39 2007 | Dewey Decimal 345.7307
In a bravura performance that ranges from Aaron Burr to O. J. Simpson, Robert A. Ferguson traces the legal meaning and cultural implications of prominent American trials across the history of the nation. His interdisciplinary investigation carries him from courtroom transcripts to newspaper accounts, and on to the work of such imaginative writers as Emerson, Thoreau, William Dean Howells, and E. L. Doctorow. Ferguson shows how courtrooms are forced to cope with unresolved communal anxieties and how they sometimes make legal decisions that change the way Americans think about themselves. Burning questions control the narrative. How do such trials mushroom into major public dramas with fundamental ideas at stake? Why did outcomes that we now see as unjust enjoy such strong communal support at the time? At what point does overexposure undermine a trial’s role as a legal proceeding?
Ultimately, such questions lead Ferguson to the issue of modern press coverage of courtrooms. While acknowledging that media accounts can skew perceptions, Ferguson argues forcefully in favor of full television coverage of them—and he takes the Supreme Court to task for its failure to grasp the importance of this issue. Trials must be seen to be understood, but Ferguson reminds us that we have a duty, currently ignored, to ensure that cameras serve the court rather than the media.
The Trial in American Life weaves Ferguson’s deep knowledge of American history, law, and culture into a fascinating book of tremendous contemporary relevance.
“A distinguished law professor, accomplished historian, and fine writer, Robert Ferguson is uniquely qualified to narrate and analyze high-profile trials in American history. This is a superb book and a tremendous achievement. The chapter on John Brown alone is worth the price of admission.”—Judge Richard Posner
“A noted scholar of law and literature, [Ferguson] offers a work that is broad in scope yet focuses our attention on certain themes, notably the possibility of injustice, as illustrated by the Haymarket and Rosenberg prosecutions; the media’s obsession with pandering to baser instincts; and the future of televised trials. . . . One of the best books written on this subject in quite some time.”—Library Journal, starred review