Public Culture: Diversity, Democracy, and Community in the United States

Public Culture: Diversity, Democracy, and Community in the United States

Public Culture: Diversity, Democracy, and Community in the United States

Public Culture: Diversity, Democracy, and Community in the United States


In the United States today many people are as likely to identify themselves by their ethnicity or region as by their nationality. In this country with its diversity and inequalities, can there be a shared public culture? Is there an unbridgeable gap between cultural variety and civic unity, or can public forms of expression provide an opportunity for Americans to come together as a people?

In Public Culture: Diversity, Democracy, and Community in the United States, an interdisciplinary group of scholars addresses these questions while considering the state of American public culture over the past one hundred years. From medicine shows to the Internet, from the Los Angeles Plaza to the Las Vegas Strip, from the commemoration of the Oklahoma City bombing to television programming after 9/11, public sights and scenes provide ways to negotiate new forms of belonging in a diverse, postmodern community. By analyzing these cultural phenomena, the essays in this volume reveal how mass media, consumerism, increased privatization of space, and growing political polarization have transformed public culture and the very notion of the American public.

Focusing on four central themes--public action, public image, public space, and public identity--and approaching shared culture from a range of disciplines--including mass communication, history, sociology, urban studies, ethnic studies, and cultural studies-- Public Culture offers refreshing perspectives on a subject of perennial significance.


Marguerite S. Shaffer

This book began as part of an extended reflection about the current status of American studies. The process of redesigning the curriculum for the American studies major at Miami University and developing an introductory American studies survey forced me and my colleagues to ask fundamental questions about the field: specifically, what could American studies offer to students and scholars confronting a politically polarized, increasingly privatized, corporate, global culture? For me these are deeply personal questions about my responsibility and identity as an American studies scholar. In developing and teaching the introduction to American studies, I have struggled to promote both cultural competency and cultural agency. Similarly, in thinking about the curriculum for the major, I have wondered how to move students from detached cultural analysis to active cultural engagement. And as a scholar, I have questioned the insularity and public relevance of purely academic work. I have pondered how to integrate cultural critique with culture change—cultural analysis with cultural agency. Ultimately, these questions are about public culture.

Literary critic Terry Eagleton, in his recent book After Theory, begins with the pronouncement “The golden age of cultural theory is long past.” Eagleton traces the development of postmodern theory from the 1960s through the 1990s, detailing a shift from a politically engaged, intellectual commitment to egalitarian social change to an increasingly insular, elitist, academic focus on subaltern subjectivity. Although his critique is aimed broadly at the humanities, specifically cultural studies and literary criticism, it is also suggestive for the field of American studies. At a time when globalization has dramatically expanded the power and reach of multinational corporations, and the war on terror and ideological and political polarization challenge the core principles of participatory democracy in the United States, American studies can benefit from a reconsideration of its organizing topics . . .

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