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Deforming American Political Thought

Ethnicity, Facticity, and Genre

Michael Shapiro

Publication Year: 2006

By affirming the relativity of the American historical imagination, political theorist Michael J. Shapiro offers a powerful polemic against ethnocentric interpretations of American culture and politics. Deforming American Political Thought analyzes issues that range from the nature of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of an egalitarian nation to the persistence of racial inequality. Shapiro offers a multifaceted argument that transcends the myopic scope of traditional political discourse. Deforming American Political Thought illustrates the various ways in which history, architecture, film, music, literature, and art provide approaches to the comprehension of diverse facets of American political thought from the founding to the present. Using these seemingly disparate disciplines as a framework, Shapiro paints a picture of American political philosophy that is as distinctive as it enlightening. Shapiro explores the historically vital role of dissenting points of view in American politics and asserts its continuing importance in today’s political landscape. Exploring such diverse works as slave narratives, contemporary films, genre fiction, and blues and jazz music, Shapiro reveals that there have always been dissenting voices casting doubt on the moral purpose and exceptionalism of the American mind. An unprecedented inquiry into American politics, Deforming American Political Thought will surely serve to reinvigorate discussions about the essence of American political thought.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. viii

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pp. ix-xx

Many of the ideas incorporated in the investigations in this book were developed during pedagogical plans and their implementation. For several years I have taught a “scope and methods” course for beginning political science graduate students. Most courses under this rubric were invented during the 1960s, when departments of government became ...

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pp. xxi-xxii

I am indebted to many, for the invitations that led to the prototypes of my various chapters, for critical reactions to the different versions of each chapter, and for conversations about the ideas shaping this book. I am grateful to Hayward Alker, Benjamin Arditi, Kazi Ashraf, Jane Ben-nett, Jodi Byrd, Bill Carroll, Bill Connolly, Bill Chaloupka, Andrew ...

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1. Securing the American Ethnoscape: Official Surveys and Literary Interventions

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pp. 1-30

When Judith Shklar, the late and much-revered Harvard political theorist, delivered her presidential address at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting in 1990, she said that she felt her responsibilities “particularly deeply.” One aspect of that depth derived from her position ...

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2. The Micropolitics of Crime: Aesthetic Comprehension and the “Brutality of Fact”

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pp. 31-63

During the latter half of the twentieth century, Judith Shklar’s vocational model for political theory, analyzed in chapter 1, stood in dramatic contrast with that of another notable political theorist, Sheldon Wolin. While they both evinced deep commitments to American democracy, produced influential bodies of work, and served as mentors to genera-...

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3. Deforming America's Western Imaginary

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pp. 65-104

One of the legacies of the western political theory canon is the myth that the modern state emerged as a historically evolving contract in which individuals, seeking to avoid getting caught up in a war of “every man against every man,” assent to a centralized authority. For security reasons, or so the story goes, they participate in a collective sensibility ...

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4. Constructing America: Architectural Thought-Worlds

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pp. 105-130

When operatives of the Al Qaeda network crashed planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, they were attacking what they regarded as the quintessential architectural expression of American global hegemony. From their perspective, the attack was one battle in a prolonged war between in-...

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5. Composing America

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pp. 131-164

The first is the contrapuntal soundtrack of Spike Lee’s 1998 film, He Got Game, in which an American basketball story provides the main narrative. An African American father, in prison on a murder conviction for killing his wife (accidently, as a flashback shows), is temporarily paroled to try to convince...

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6. Democracy's RIsky Businesses: Pluralism and the Metapolitics of Aesthetics

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pp. 165-198

In this chapter on democratic theory, I seek both to rearticulate the central conceptual contributions in earlier chapters and to open up some new ground by focusing on the differential experiences of diverse ethnic Americans—in particular, Euro-, African, and Latino Ameri -cans—in their working lives. This latter focus presumes that people’s ...


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pp. 199-232


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pp. 233-245

E-ISBN-13: 9780813171531
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813124124

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2006