A Crisis of Civility?: Political Discourse and its Discontents, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

A Crisis of Civility?

Political Discourse and its Discontents, 1st Edition

Edited by Robert G. Boatright, Timothy J. Shaffer, Sarah Sobieraj, Dannagal Goldthwaite Young


262 pages | 21 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2019-03-01
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The state of political discourse in the United States today has been a subject of concern for many Americans. Political incivility is not merely a problem for political elites; political conversations between American citizens have also become more difficult and tense. The 2016 presidential elections featured campaign rhetoric designed to inflame the general public. Yet the 2016 election was certainly not the only cause of incivility among citizens. There have been many instances in recent years where reasoned discourse in our universities and other public venues has been threatened.

This book was undertaken as a response to these problems. It presents and develops a more robust discussion of what civility is, why it matters, what factors might contribute to it, and what its consequences are for democratic life. The authors included here pursue three major questions: Is the state of American political discourse today really that bad, compared to prior eras; what lessons about civility can we draw from the 2016 election; and how have changes in technology such as the development of online news and other means of mediated communication changed the nature of our discourse?

This book seeks to develop a coherent, civil conversation between divergent contemporary perspectives in political science, communications, history, sociology, and philosophy. This multidisciplinary approach helps to reflect on challenges to civil discourse, define civility, and identify its consequences for democratic life in a digital age. In this accessible text, an all-star cast of contributors tills the earth in which future discussion on civility will be planted.


"The publication of this book is a call to join with the National Institute for Civil Discourse in its mission of improving our spaces for civic dialogue. Fundamentally, I believe that to achieve the aspirations expressed in our founding documents, we must be able to engage in civil public conversations among citizens of the greatest possible diversity all across the country."

- Gabrielle Giffords, from the Foreword

Table of Contents

Foreword by Gabrielle Giffords

Preface by Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer

Introduction: A Crisis of Civility? [Robert G. Boatright]

Part I: How Americans Think about Civility in Politics

1. Two Concepts of Civility [Simon Anthony Laden]

2. How People Perceive Political Incivility [Ashley Muddiman]

3. Perceptions of Incivility in Public Discourse [Kate Kenski, Kevin Coe, and Stephen A. Rains]

4. Signaling Incivility: The Role of Speaker, Substance and Tone [Emily Sydnor]

Part II: Instances of Civility and Incivility in Contemporary American Political Discourse

5. "Showdowns," "Duels," and "Nail-biters": How Aggressive Strategic Game Frames in Campaign Coverage Fuel Public Perceptions of Incivility [Dannagal Goldthwaite Young, Lindsay Hoffman, and Danielle Roth]

6. Crises and Civility: Twitter Discourse after School Shootings [Deana A. Rohlinger and Cynthia Williams]

7. Can Civility and Deliberation Disrupt the Deep Roots of Polarization? Attitudes toward Muslim Americans as Evidence of Hyperpolarized Partisan Worldviews [J. Cherie Strachan and Michael R. Wolf]

8. Disentangling Uncivil and Intolerant Discourse in Online Political Talk [Patricia Rossini]

Part III: Learning from the Past

9. Seeking a Mutuality of Tolerance: A Practical Defense of Civility in a Time of Political Warfare [John Gastil]

10. The Patron Saint of Civility? Benjamin Franklin and the Problems of Civil Discourse [Steven C. Bullock]

11. Enabling Civil Discourse: Creating Civic Space and Resources for Democratic Discussion [Timothy J. Shaffer]

Conclusion: The Real Morality of Public Discourse: Civility as an Orienting Attitude [Deborah Mower]

About the Editors

Robert G. Boatright is Professor of Political Science at Clark University and the Director of Research at the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) at the University of Arizona.

Timothy J. Shaffer is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Kansas State University and Principal Research Specialist for the National Institute for Civil Discourse.

Sarah Sobieraj is Associate Professor of Sociology at Tufts University.

Dannagal Goldthwaite Young is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Delaware.

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