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Asen - Quarterly Journal of Speech Vol 90 No 2 May 2004 pp...

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Quarterly Journal of Speech Vol. 90, No. 2, May 2004, pp. 189–211 A Discourse Theory of Citizenship Robert Asen This essay calls for a reorientation in scholarly approaches to civic engagement from asking questions of what to asking questions of how. I advance a discourse theory of citizenship as a mode of public engagement. Attending to modalities of citizenship recognizes its fluid and quotidian enactment and considers action that is purposeful, potentially uncontrollable and unruly, multiple, and supportive of radical but achievable democratic practices. Citizenship engagement may be approached through potential foci of generativity, risk, commitment, creativity, and sociability. A discourse theory reformu- lates the relationship between citizenship and citizen, reveals differences in enactments of citizenship, and calls attention to hybrid cases of citizenship. Keywords: Citizenship; Discourse; Civic Engagement; Democracy; Subjectivity In recent years, citizenship has been subjected to increased scrutiny. Commentators have devoted considerable energy to assessing the status of citizenship in contempor- ary U.S. society. Some see citizenship as on the wane. In an especially influential account, Robert Putnam asserts that “Americans have been dropping out in droves” from political and associational life. 1 Citing declines in voting, campaign volunteer- ing, letter writing, attendance at public meetings and rallies, club membership, and organizational office-holding, among other activities, Putnam warns of the poten- tially destructive consequences of declines in civic engagement for democratic politics. He identifies television as a prime culprit, which is especially baneful in his view because “citizenship is not a spectator sport.” 2 Echoing this language, the National Commission on Civic Renewal worries that “we are in danger of becoming a nation of spectators. … Too many of us,” the Commission bemoans, “lack confidence in our capacity to make basic moral and civic judgments, to join with our neighbors to do the work of community, to make a difference.” 3 For Matthew Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg, contemporary trends indicate that the modern era Robert Asen is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Correspondence to: Communication Arts, Vilas Hall, 821 University Avenue, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706- 1412. U.S. Email: [email protected] The author thanks Gerard Hauser, Raymie McKerrow, Darrin Hicks, Stephen Lucas, Susan Zaeske, and Erik Doxtader for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this article. A portion of this article was presented at the 2003 Alta Conference on Argumentation. ISSN 0033–5630 (print)/ISSN 1479-5779 (online) 2004 National Communication Association DOI: 10.1080/0033563042000227436
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190 R. Asen of the citizen is “quietly slipping away.” 4 No longer dependent on citizens’ voluntary compliance to administer policies, finance operations, or field armies, elites have reduced their role in governance.
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