What is the state of democracy at the turn of the twenty-first century? To answer this question, seven scholars lived for a year in five North Carolina communities. They observed public meetings of all sorts, had informal and formal interviews with people, and listened as people conversed with each other at bus stops and barbershops, soccer games and workplaces. Their collaborative ethnography allows us to understand how diverse members of a community not just the elite think about and experience “politics” in ways that include much more than merely voting. This book illustrates how the social and economic changes of the last three decades have made some new routes to active democratic participation possible while making others more difficult. Local Democracy Under Siege suggests how we can account for the current limitations of U.S. democracy and how remedies can be created that ensure more meaningful participation by a greater range of people.
1. Experimenting with Democracy
2. Landscapes in Transition
PART I: LIMITING DEMOCRACY
3. Hope, Fear, and Political Autobiography
4. Racial Framing
5. Public Goods for Private Ends: The Redirection of Schooling
PART II: GOVERNING UNDER NEOLIBERALISM
6. Local Politics and the Contemporary American Scene
7. Imagining Local Futures: Who Sets Priorities for the Present?
8. Public Business as Usual
PART III: STRUGGLING FOR DEMOCRACY
9. Against American Plutocracy: Democratizing Our Communities, One by One
10. Counter Experiments for Democracy: Activism on New Political Terrain
11. It’s Up to Us: From Local Politics to a Democratic America?
Appendix: Democracy and Political Theory: Why Participatory Democracy?
About the Authors
"This book opens up the crucial questions of what democracy means in the U.S. today and the ways in which everyday Americans struggle to make themselves heard. Conceptually, methodologically, and theoretically this book realizes the potential for anthropological analysis as a way to understand the dangers of increasing inequality in the contemporary U.S. It is a major contribution." ~Ida Susser,author of Norman Street: Poverty and Politics in an Urban Neighborhood
"Debates about democracy often get stuck at the national scale. But the capacity for ordinary people to shape the conditions of their lives through politics and public speech is often greatest at the local level. This important book opens up anthropological perspectives on how this happens. It situates the challenges of local politics amid the constraints of neoliberalism, but also reports on the creative solutions different communities have developed to the distinctive problems they face." ~Craig Calhoun,President, Social Science Research Council
"A luminous work about everyday citizens that should free up local democratic energies across the land!" ~Aihwa Ong,author of Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty
"Produces new insights into the ‘makeover’ of local government" ~Choice
"Local Democracy Under Siege argues persuasively that American democracy is at a pivotal moment where the forces of exclusion and the ideology of market rule contest with new forms of political activism and engaged citizenship. Readers will see many of the same issues that North Carolina faces in their own communities and will take away new perspectives on power, race, class, and activism from this cogent and timely analysis." ~Louise Lamphere,Past President of the American Anthropological Association