Constructive Politics as Public Work

Political Theory 39 (5):630-660 (2011)
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This essay argues that fulfilling the promise of participatory democratic theory requires ways for citizens to reconstruct the world, not simply to improve its governance processes. The concept of public work, expressing civic agency, or the capacity of diverse citizens to build a democratic way of life, embodies this shift. It posits citizens as co-creators of the world, not simply deliberators and decision-makers about the world. Public work is a normative, democratizing ideal of citizenship generalized from communal labors of creating the commons, with roots in diverse cultures. Shaped through contention with forces which threaten shared ways of life and their commons, grounded in an understanding of human plurality, public work has political qualities that unmask sentimentalized civic discourses of modern elites. Public work places citizens, not markets or states, as the foundational agents of democracy. It opens a path beyond the political crisis.



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