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Cultural Politics

Vol. 8 (2012) through current issue

Cultural Politics is a welcome and innovative addition. In an academic universe already well populated with journals, it is carving out its own unique place—broad and a bit quirky. It likes to leap between the theoretical and the concrete, so that it is never boring and often filled with illuminating glimpses into the intellectual and cultural worlds.” Lawrence Grossberg, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Moving beyond the boundaries of race, gender, and class, Cultural Politics examines the political ramifications of global cultural productions across artistic and academic disciplines. The journal explores precisely what is cultural about politics and what is political about culture by bringing together text and visual art that offer diverse modes of engagement with theory, cultural production, and politics.

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Decolonizing Democracy

Transforming the Social Contract in India

By Christine Keating

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Deforming American Political Thought

Ethnicity, Facticity, and Genre

Michael Shapiro

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.

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Demanding Democracy

American Radicals in Search of a New Politics

Marc Stears

This is a major work of history and political theory that traces radical democratic thought in America across the twentieth century, seeking to recover ideas that could reenergize democratic activism today. The question of how citizens should behave as they struggle to create a more democratic society has haunted the United States throughout its history. Should citizens restrict themselves to patient persuasion or take to the streets and seek to impose change? Marc Stears argues that anyone who continues to wrestle with these questions could learn from the radical democratic tradition that was forged in the twentieth century by political activists, including progressives, trade unionists, civil rights campaigners, and members of the student New Left.

These activists and their movements insisted that American campaigners for democratic change should be free to strike out in whatever ways they thought necessary, so long as their actions enhanced the political virtues of citizens and contributed to the eventual triumph of the democratic cause. Reevaluating the moral and strategic arguments, and the triumphs and excesses, of this radical democratic tradition, Stears contends that it still offers a compelling account of citizen behavior--one that is fairer, more inclusive, and more truly democratic than those advanced by political theorists today.

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Democracy and Knowledge

Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens

Josiah Ober

When does democracy work well, and why? Is democracy the best form of government? These questions are of supreme importance today as the United States seeks to promote its democratic values abroad. Democracy and Knowledge is the first book to look to ancient Athens to explain how and why directly democratic government by the people produces wealth, power, and security.

Combining a history of Athens with contemporary theories of collective action and rational choice developed by economists and political scientists, Josiah Ober examines Athenian democracy's unique contribution to the ancient Greek city-state's remarkable success, and demonstrates the valuable lessons Athenian political practices hold for us today. He argues that the key to Athens's success lay in how the city-state managed and organized the aggregation and distribution of knowledge among its citizens. Ober explores the institutional contexts of democratic knowledge management, including the use of social networks for collecting information, publicity for building common knowledge, and open access for lowering transaction costs. He explains why a government's attempt to dam the flow of information makes democracy stumble. Democratic participation and deliberation consume state resources and social energy. Yet as Ober shows, the benefits of a well-designed democracy far outweigh its costs.

Understanding how democracy can lead to prosperity and security is among the most pressing political challenges of modern times. Democracy and Knowledge reveals how ancient Greek politics can help us transcend the democratic dilemmas that confront the world today.

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Democracy in America

In Two Volumes

Alexis de Tocqueville

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Democracy in Print

The Best of The Progressive Magazine, 1909–2009

Edited by Matthew Rothschild

Democracy in Print captures many of the most influential voices from a century of United States history who have spoken out on the struggle to make real the promise of democracy for all Americans, railed against abuses of corporate power, renounced American empire, championed environmental causes, opposed war, and waged peace. It chronicles voices of the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, the labor movement, and the gay rights movement. And on every page, it declares the importance of an independent media, by culling the best of The Progressive magazine over the last one hundred years.
    Readers will discover the vision of the magazine’s founder, Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, and his suffragist wife, Belle Case La Follette. They’ll find historic gems from the likes of Jane Addams, Carl Sandburg, Huey Long, and John Kenneth Galbraith, and profound essays by Theodore Dreiser, Barbara Ehrenreich, Noam Chomsky, Upton Sinclair, Arundhati Roy, James Baldwin, Edwidge Danticat, and Edward Said. The collection is leavened with humor from Kate Clinton, Will Durst, Michael Feldman, and Molly Ivins, and graced by poems from such writers as Mahmoud Darwish, Rita Dove, Martín Espada, Maxine Kumin, Adrienne Rich, and Sandra Cisneros. Fascinating interviews bring readers into conversations with prominent cultural figures, including Chuck D, the Dalai Lama, Allen Ginsberg, Amy Goodman, Harold Pinter, Patti Smith, Susan Sarandon, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
    Eminently browsable, this book is for anyone concerned with American democracy, the global community, and the perils of the planet. With contributions by actors and Supreme Court justices, comedians and Nobel Prize-winners, Democracy in Print offers all readers nourishing food for thought.

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Democratic Authority

A Philosophical Framework

David M. Estlund

Democracy is not naturally plausible. Why turn such important matters over to masses of people who have no expertise? Many theories of democracy answer by appealing to the intrinsic value of democratic procedure, leaving aside whether it makes good decisions. In Democratic Authority, David Estlund offers a groundbreaking alternative based on the idea that democratic authority and legitimacy must depend partly on democracy's tendency to make good decisions.

Just as with verdicts in jury trials, Estlund argues, the authority and legitimacy of a political decision does not depend on the particular decision being good or correct. But the "epistemic value" of the procedure--the degree to which it can generally be accepted as tending toward a good decision--is nevertheless crucial. Yet if good decisions were all that mattered, one might wonder why those who know best shouldn't simply rule.

Estlund's theory--which he calls "epistemic proceduralism"--avoids epistocracy, or the rule of those who know. He argues that while some few people probably do know best, this can be used in political justification only if their expertise is acceptable from all reasonable points of view. If we seek the best epistemic arrangement in this respect, it will be recognizably democratic--with laws and policies actually authorized by the people subject to them.

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Democratic Faith

Patrick Deneen

The American political reformer Herbert Croly wrote, "For better or worse, democracy cannot be disentangled from an aspiration toward human perfectibility." Democratic Faith is at once a trenchant analysis and a powerful critique of this underlying assumption that informs democratic theory. Patrick Deneen argues that among democracy's most ardent supporters there is an oft-expressed belief in the need to "transform" human beings in order to reconcile the sometimes disappointing reality of human self-interest with the democratic ideal of selfless commitment. This "transformative impulse" is frequently couched in religious language, such as the need for political "redemption." This is all the more striking given the frequent accompanying condemnation of traditional religious belief that informs the "democratic faith."

At the same time, because so often this democratic ideal fails to materialize, democratic faith is often subject to a particularly intense form of disappointment. A mutually reinforcing cycle of faith and disillusionment is frequently exhibited by those who profess a democratic faith--in effect imperiling democratic commitments due to the cynicism of its most fervent erstwhile supporters.

Deneen argues that democracy is ill-served by such faith. Instead, he proposes a form of "democratic realism" that recognizes democracy not as a regime with aspirations to perfection, but that justifies democracy as the regime most appropriate for imperfect humans. If democratic faith aspires to transformation, democratic realism insists on the central importance of humility, hope, and charity.

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Democratic Governance

Mark Bevir

Democratic Governance examines the changing nature of the modern state and reveals the dangers these changes pose to democracy. Mark Bevir shows how new ideas about governance have gradually displaced old-style notions of government in Britain and around the world. Policymakers cling to outdated concepts of representative government while at the same time placing ever more faith in expertise, markets, and networks. Democracy exhibits blurred lines of accountability and declining legitimacy.

Bevir explores how new theories of governance undermined traditional government in the twentieth century. Politicians responded by erecting great bureaucracies, increasingly relying on policy expertise and abstract notions of citizenship and, more recently, on networks of quasi-governmental and private organizations to deliver services using market-oriented techniques. Today, the state is an unwieldy edifice of nineteenth-century government buttressed by a sprawling substructure devoted to the very different idea of governance--and democracy has suffered.

In Democratic Governance, Bevir takes a comprehensive look at governance and the history and thinking behind it. He provides in-depth case studies of constitutional reform, judicial reform, joined-up government, and police reform. He argues that the best hope for democratic renewal lies in more interpretive styles of expertise, dialogic forms of policymaking, and more diverse avenues for public participation.

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