Challenges of Ordinary Democracy

A Case Study in Deliberation and Dissent

By (author) Karen Tracy

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 July 2011

Length of book:

264 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271036908

Is there any place in America where passionate debate plays a more vital role in democratic discourse than local school board meetings? Karen Tracy conducted a thirty-five-month study of the board meetings of the Boulder Valley School District between 1996 and 1999 to analyze just how democracy operates in practice. In Challenges of Ordinary Democracy, she reveals the major role that emotion plays in real-life debate and discerns value in what might easily be seen as negative forms of discourse—voicing platitudes, making contradictory assertions, arguing over a document’s wording, speaking angrily, attacking a person's character. By illuminating this one arena of “ordinary democracy,” Tracy hopes to engender a new appreciation for how what she calls “reasonable hostility” can be a desirable ideal of communication for debating public policy issues.

“In Challenges of Ordinary Democracy, Karen Tracy draws us close to the workings of self-government in modern America. There, we can see the balance that must be struck between deliberative norms of civility and the emotional power of dissent and grievance. Tracy’s provocative idea of ‘reasonable hostility’ as a model for effective local politics will stir controversy, but she will certainly have stimulated more grounded thinking about the complex interactions of officeholders and citizens in free societies.”

—John Gastil, University of Washington