In A Politics of the Ordinary, Thomas Dumm dramatizes how everyday life in the United States intersects with and is influenced by the power of events, on the one hand, and forces of conformity and normalcy on the other. Combining poststructuralist analysis with a sympathetic reading of a strain of American thought that begins with Emerson and culminates in the work of Stanley Cavell, A Politics of the Ordinary investigates incidents from everyday life, political spectacles, and popular culture.
Whether juxtaposing reflections about boredom in rural New Mexico with Emerson's theory of constitutional amendment, Richard Nixon's letter of resignation with Thoreau's writings to overcome quiet desperation, or demonstrating how Disney's Toy Story allegorizes the downsizing of the American white-collar work force, Dumm's constant concern is to show how the ordinary is the primary source of the democratic political imagination.
"The apparent excesses in Emerson's and Thoreau's voices may be heard as efforts, addressed first to themselves, not to give in to a madness of despair over, and yet of hope for, an American democracy, a new world. Tom Dumm's politics of the ordinary responds with mutually modifying ideas of the political and of ordinary life in which the ordinary is not one more order, violently conformed to, but the name of any time at which our desires for a better world find new chances of expression, and habitation. To provide such encounters of effective surprise requires a capacious interest in the unmarked eventfulness of the world, in the ways we ornament, perhaps in a choice of song, our getting along, and in posing awakening explorations and juxtapositions of texts—matters that Tom Dumm's sometimes narrative, sometimes pedagogical, sometimes lyrical, always risky prose asks of itself, and receives."-Stanley Cavell
"An untimely book in the best sense of that term. While others announce the solidity of common sense and the necessity of moral certainty, Thomas dumm explores the mysterious indeterminancy of ordinary life itself. Along the way he reveals how important this very indeterminancy is to politics and ethics. And his compelling engagement with thinkers such as Emerson, Thoreau, Cavell, and Deleuze illuminates the place of the extrordinary within the ordinary."-William Connolly