- Neo-Pragmatism, Communication, and the Culture of Creative Democracy
Swartz, Campbell, and Pestana offer this original application of neo-pragmatism with the expressed desire to "rethink commonly accepted notions of community in order to imagine new possibilities for social, political, and economic organization—in short, new ways of imaging solidarity and citizenship with others, especially those who languish outside the range of our moral radar" (p. 2). Neither the rethinking of community nor the postulating of ideas for solidarity are unfamiliar concepts in the world of neo-pragmatism; perhaps those objectives are defining characteristics of neo-pragmatism itself. If that is the case—and fans of Richard Rorty will likely agree—then the value of the volume is in its concentration on communication in American culture, a subtle but important distinction from the neo-pragmatist concern for linguistic issues. The book also calls to mind Dewey's 1939 essay, "Creative Democracy—The Task Before Us," which defined the culture at hand: "Democracy is the faith that the process of experience is more important than any special result attained, so that special results achieved are of ultimate value only as they are used to enrich and order the ongoing process" (1998, p. 343).
The approach in this volume is from the authors' positions as communication and social justice scholars, emphasizing a decidedly humanist perspective insofar as they see our identity as a product of discourse based on the selectivity of those we choose to engage. Thus, we are defined by our conversations which, the authors [End Page 69] argue, have become socially stratified and culturally prejudiced. In the world of McMansions and societies of "marketplace diversity," they stress that "fundamental to understanding communication as epistemic and creative are notions of power and alienation" (p. 108). This idea is developed throughout the text by repeated lambasts against some of the more egregious cultural practices that have compromised the ideals of American democracy. Although never brought to the fore by Swartz, Campbell, and Pestana, the cases in point for the book's themes can be assembled to illustrate the sick irony in the fate of our communities; our freedoms of choice perpetuate a culture that rewards correct decisions and penalizes those who run counter by ultimately limiting their choices through capitalist sociopolitical mechanisms. Their argument is that fostering a creative democracy, "a society that continues dynamically to evolve in its ability to be inclusive, fair, and just through the active participation of all its citizens," (p. 12) will cure the ills of a society that has appropriated communication as a vector for exclusion, rather than a means of true, egalitarian discourse.
The book is divided into three sections that set out the approach, provide the literature review behind the thesis, and then advance education and learning models for a culture of creative democracy. The arrangement is logical and flows from the high theory to the context in which we find ourselves, from the philosophers to the social activists, and then from the institutional practices that have created our repressed condition to the prescriptions for improving human creativity. The sections are not balanced, however, as Swartz, Campbell, and Pestana devote half of the text to the initial section to provide a context for their argument. That context includes criticism of American culture insofar as it does not practice what it promises; there is a disjunction between praxis and phronesis that disagrees with the timbre of "reflexive critical scholarship" (p. 67) that stems from John Dewey's approach. The first chapter is an explication of a handful of quotations about Dewey's views on democracy and community that quickly take a highly normative tone. The authors take aim at Republican politics, industrialization, antigay policies, capitalism, and even Americanism itself as the connection to Rorty's (1989) notion of liberalism (i.e., cruelty is the worst thing we can do) is developed for the argument. Endorsing a clear ideological position is not a problem in and...