Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements

University of Chicago Press
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Freedom Is an Endless Meeting offers vivid portraits of American experiments in participatory democracy throughout the twentieth century. Drawing on meticulous research and more than one hundred interviews with activists, Francesca Polletta challenges the conventional wisdom that participatory democracy is worthy in purpose but unworkable in practice. Instead, she shows that social movements have often used bottom-up decision making as a powerful tool for political change.

Polletta traces the history of democracy in early labor struggles and pre-World War II pacifism, in the civil rights, new left, and women's liberation movements of the sixties and seventies, and in today's faith-based organizing and anti-corporate globalization campaigns. In the process, she uncovers neglected sources of democratic inspiration—Depression-era labor educators and Mississippi voting registration workers, among them—as well as practical strategies of social protest. But Freedom Is an Endless Meeting also highlights the obstacles that arise when activists model their democracies after familiar nonpolitical relationships such as friendship, tutelage, and religious fellowship. Doing so has brought into their deliberations the trust, respect, and caring typical of those relationships. But it has also fostered values that run counter to democracy, such as exclusivity and an aversion to rules, and these have been the fault lines around which participatory democracies have often splintered. Indeed, Polletta attributes the fragility of the form less to its basic inefficiency or inequity than to the gaps between activists' democratic commitments and the cultural models on which they have depended to enact those commitments. The challenge, she concludes, is to forge new kinds of democratic relationships, ones that balance trust with accountability, respect with openness to disagreement, and caring with inclusiveness.

For anyone concerned about the prospects for democracy in America, Freedom Is an Endless Meeting will offer abundant historical, theoretical, and practical insights.

"This is an excellent study of activist politics in the United States over the past century. . . . Assiduously researched, impressively informed by a great number of thoughtful interviews with key members of American social movements, and deeply engaged with its subject matter, the book is likely to become a key text in the study of grass-roots democracy in America."—Kate Fullbrook, Times Literary Supplement

"Polletta's portrayal challenges the common assumption that morality and strategy are incompatible, that those who aim at winning must compromise principle while those who insist on morality are destined to be ineffective. . . . Rather than dwell on trying to explain the decline of 60s movements, Polletta shows how participatory democracy has become the guiding framework for many of today's activists."—Richard Flacks, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"In Freedom Is an Endless Meeting, Francesca Polletta has produced a remarkable work of historical sociology. . . . She provides the fullest theoretical work of historical sociology. . . . She provides the fullest theoretical picture of participatory democracy, rich with nuance, ambiguity, and irony, that this reviewer has yet seen. . . . This wise book should be studied closely by both academics and by social change activists."—Stewart Burns, Journal of American History

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About the author

Francesca Polleta is an associate professor of sociology at Columbia University. She is coeditor of Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jun 12, 2012
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Pages
294
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ISBN
9780226924281
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Americas (North, Central, South, West Indies)
History / United States / General
Political Science / General
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Democracy
Social Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Jeff Goodwin
Emotions are back. Once at the center of the study of politics, emotions have receded into the shadows during the past three decades, with no place in the rationalistic, structural, and organizational models that dominate academic political analysis.

With this new collection of essays, Jeff Goodwin, James M. Jasper, and Francesca Polletta reverse this trend, reincorporating emotions such as anger, indignation, fear, disgust, joy, and love into research on politics and social protest. The tools of cultural analysis are especially useful for probing the role of emotions in politics, the editors and contributors to Passionate Politics argue. Moral outrage, the shame of spoiled collective identities, or the joy of imagining a new and better society, are not automatic responses to events. Rather, they are related to moral institutions, felt obligations and rights, and information about expected effects, all of which are culturally and historically variable.

With its look at the history of emotions in social thought, examination of the internal dynamics of protest groups, and exploration of the emotional dynamics that arise from interactions and conflicts among political factions and individuals, Passionate Politics will lead the way toward an overdue reconsideration of the role of emotions in social movements and politics generally.

Contributors:
Rebecca Anne Allahyari
Edwin Amenta
Collin Barker
Mabel Berezin
Craig Calhoun
Randall Collins
Frank Dobbin
Jeff Goodwin
Deborah B. Gould
Julian McAllister Groves
James M. Jasper
Anne Kane
Theodore D. Kemper
Sharon Erickson Nepstad
Steven Pfaff
Francesca Polletta
Christian Smith
Arlene Stein
Nancy Whittier
Elisabeth Jean Wood
Michael P. Young
Jeff Goodwin
Emotions are back. Once at the center of the study of politics, emotions have receded into the shadows during the past three decades, with no place in the rationalistic, structural, and organizational models that dominate academic political analysis.

With this new collection of essays, Jeff Goodwin, James M. Jasper, and Francesca Polletta reverse this trend, reincorporating emotions such as anger, indignation, fear, disgust, joy, and love into research on politics and social protest. The tools of cultural analysis are especially useful for probing the role of emotions in politics, the editors and contributors to Passionate Politics argue. Moral outrage, the shame of spoiled collective identities, or the joy of imagining a new and better society, are not automatic responses to events. Rather, they are related to moral institutions, felt obligations and rights, and information about expected effects, all of which are culturally and historically variable.

With its look at the history of emotions in social thought, examination of the internal dynamics of protest groups, and exploration of the emotional dynamics that arise from interactions and conflicts among political factions and individuals, Passionate Politics will lead the way toward an overdue reconsideration of the role of emotions in social movements and politics generally.

Contributors:
Rebecca Anne Allahyari
Edwin Amenta
Collin Barker
Mabel Berezin
Craig Calhoun
Randall Collins
Frank Dobbin
Jeff Goodwin
Deborah B. Gould
Julian McAllister Groves
James M. Jasper
Anne Kane
Theodore D. Kemper
Sharon Erickson Nepstad
Steven Pfaff
Francesca Polletta
Christian Smith
Arlene Stein
Nancy Whittier
Elisabeth Jean Wood
Michael P. Young
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