Challenges of Ordinary Democracy: A Case Study in Deliberation and Dissent

Paperback | January 19, 2011

byKaren Tracy

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Is there any place in America where passionate debate plays a more vital role in democratic discourse than local school board meetings? Karen Tracy conducted a thirty-five-month study of the board meetings of the Boulder Valley School District between 1996 and 1999 to analyze just how democracy operates in practice. In Challenges of Ordinary Democracy, she reveals the major role that emotion plays in real-life debate and discerns value in what might easily be seen as negative forms of discourse—voicing platitudes, making contradictory assertions, arguing over a document’s wording, speaking angrily, attacking a person's character. By illuminating this one arena of “ordinary democracy,” Tracy hopes to engender a new appreciation for how what she calls “reasonable hostility” can be a desirable ideal of communication for debating public policy issues.

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From the Publisher

Is there any place in America where passionate debate plays a more vital role in democratic discourse than local school board meetings? Karen Tracy conducted a thirty-five-month study of the board meetings of the Boulder Valley School District between 1996 and 1999 to analyze just how democracy operates in practice. In Challenges of Or...

Karen Tracy is Professor of Communication at the University of Colorado, Boulder.Karen Tracy is Professor of Communication at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:264 pages, 9 × 6.05 × 0.65 inPublished:January 19, 2011Publisher:Penn State University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0271036907

ISBN - 13:9780271036908

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Contents

List of Figures and Tables

Acknowledgments

1. Public Meetings: Ordinary Democracy’s Home

2. A Historical Snapshot: Three Years of BVSD Life

3. “Democracy”: An Ideal with Traction

4. Citizen Participation, Doing Dissent

5. Newspapers in the Cycle of Political Upheaval

6. The Campaign: The Usefulness of Platitudes and Personal Attack

7. A Fight over Words and Policy

8. One Meeting: Six Observations

9. Reasonable Hostility in Ordinary Democracy

Postscript: Education Governance in Twenty-First-Century America

Appendix: The Method and Data

References

Index

Editorial Reviews

“Karen Tracy’s perceptive analysis stays at the ground level; ‘ordinary’ means ‘local’ and ‘observable’ speech that reflects routine concerns--speech that aims to do a solid day’s work in the public world. . . . Her central goal is simply to describe and make sense of the ordinary democratic talk of local government, something as understudied as it is celebrated in political theory. . . . Challenges of Ordinary Democracy posits ‘reasonable hostility’ as the appropriate communicative ideal for local deliberative forums such as school board meetings. . . . Passionate expressions of dissent are to be expected in functioning democratic politics, Tracy concludes, rather than avoided and neutralized. In advocating realism over idealism and by paying close attention to details, Tracy rightly directs those interested in understanding contemporary democracy to the sometimes messy everyday practices in the unassuming places all around us.”—Albert W. Dzur, Political Science Quarterly