Beyond the seesaw model: Public commitment in a culture of self-fulfillment

Sociological Theory 13 (3):275-300 (1995)
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Abstract

Communitarian sociological theory and research of the past 30 years has often assumed that a growing culture of self-fulfillment, or "personalism," is ultimately incompatible with commitment to the public good. This article argues that this "seesaw model" does not exhaust the possible relations between personalism and public commitment. It borrows insights from radical democratic theories to argue the existence of a form of public commitment that is enacted through, rather than impeded by, personalism. A cultural analysis that highlights everyday practices enables us to conceptualize this personalized form of public commitment, which goes unrecognized in communitarian accounts, and which gets discussed only in formal theoretical, or social-psychological, terms in radical democratic theories. A case example of personalized public commitment in recent grass-roots environmentalism illustrates the limits in the seesaw model and speaks back to radical democratic theories of public commitment by illuminating how the individualized commitment they theorize may work in everyday cultural practice. I conclude with suggestions for further theoretical work on personalism

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