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Citizen Speak

The Democratic Imagination in American Life

When we think about what constitutes being a good citizen, routine activities like voting, letter writing, and paying attention to the news spring to mind. But in Citizen Speak, Andrew J. Perrin argues that these activities are only a small part of democratic citizenship—a standard of citizenship that requires creative thinking, talking, and acting.

For Citizen Speak, Perrin met with labor, church, business, and sports organizations and proposed to them four fictive scenarios: what if your senator is involved in a scandal, or your police department is engaged in racial profiling, or a local factory violates pollution laws, or your nearby airport is slated for expansion? The conversations these challenges inspire, Perrin shows, require imagination. And what people can imagine doing in response to those scenarios depends on what’s possible, what’s important, what’s right, and what’s feasible. By talking with one another, an engaged citizenry draws from a repertoire of personal and institutional resources to understand and reimagine responses to situations as they arise. Building on such political discussions, Citizen Speak shows how a rich culture of association and democratic discourse provides the infrastructure for a healthy democracy.

Author Information

Andrew J. Perrin is assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is coauthor of Women of Courage: Jewish and Italian Immigrant Women.


“What a wonderful book!This original contribution to our understanding of political participation and discursive citizenship breaks new ground in its subject matter, methodology, and range of reference.Stretching our conceptions of mobilization and offering beautifully realized accounts of individuals in group settings, it illuminates questions fundamental to the study of culture, politics, and democracy.”--Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University

— Ira Katznelson

Citizen Speak improves our understanding of the conditions that foster active citizenship and the cultural conditions that lead citizens to be involved in politics. This book makes a convincing case that a focus on democratic imagination and talk can add crucial new dimensions to our conception of citizenship as it is practiced in today’s society.”--Michèle Lamont, professor of sociology, Harvard University

— Michèle Lamont

"A good book, containing many interesting ideas and discussions, and with a creative research design and coding scheme."
— Choice

" Citizen Speak is a first-rate example of the sociological imagination at work. This is fitting, since the book makes a case for the importance of imaginaiton--specifically the 'democratic imagination'---in American life. . . . The book maps the contours of this imagination and examines the ways in which variation across group settings enhances or constrains it."
— Brian Steensland, American Journal of Sociology

"A well-written, concise and original addition to the empitrical study of democratic processes and civic life in the United States."
— Juergen Petersen, Political Studies Review

Audience: Professional and scholarly;