Dissertation Title: "Small Talk: The Socialities of Speech in Liberal Democratic Life"
Committee: Rogers M. Smith (Chair), Nancy J. Hirschmann, and Jeffrey Green
The goal of this project is to explore the democratic potency inherent in informal, everyday communications and in so doing, to develop a new theory of speech that is able to incorporate such “social speech,” and can be translated into policies that will harness its potential to improve democratic political outcomes, while also limiting its possible negative effects. I find that, where social speech is used positively and effectively, it can be an important tool for encouraging active, egalitarian, democratic citizenship; where it is used negatively, however, it can lead to alienation, ambivalence, diminished feelings of efficacy and societal fracturing. This new theory of speech will compliment and fill in the gaps left behind by more traditional political theories (which tend to emphasize the overtly political) and provide a richer understanding of the lived experience of the average democratic citizen. I approach this task from four directions: 1) rediscovering a classical political theory of social speech; 2) critiquing contemporary political theory’s singular focus on public, political speech; 3) developing a new theory of speech that emphasizes the power of social speech to: a) train citizens in their unique political culture, b) develop character traits that are useful for democratic citizenship, c) create emotional ties that bind communities, creating ingroups and outgroups, and d) build social capital; 4) empirical observation of the political effects of social speech situations.