Podcast: Roderick Hart, “The Language of Civic Life: Past to Present”

When everyday citizens interact about politics today, they often do so (1) anonymously and (2) in digital space, which results in a kind of aggressive chaos. But what happens when people identify themselves to one another in place-based communities as they do, for example, when writing letters to the editor of their local newspaper? How does that change public discussion?

This talk by Roderick Hart operationalizes the concept of “civic hope” and reports the results of a long-term study of 10,000 letters to the editor written between 1948 and the present in twelve small American cities. Hart’s argument is that the vitality of a democracy lies not in its strengths but in its weaknesses and in the willingness of its people to address those weaknesses without surcease. If democracies were not shot-through with unstable premises and unsteady compacts, its citizens would remain quiet, removed from one another. Disagreements – endless, raucous disagreements – draw them in, or at least enough of them to sustain civic hope.

Roderick Hart is the Allan Shivers Centennial Chair in Communication at the University of Texas at Austin and the founding director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life. He is the author of twelve books, the most recent of which is Political Tone: How Leaders Talk and Why. He is also the author of DICTION 7.0, a computer program designed to analyze language patterns. Dr. Hart has been inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at the University of Texas and has also been designated Professor of the Year for the State of Texas from the Carnegie/C.A.S.E. Foundation.

Rachel Thompson

About Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson earned her bachelor’s degree in Social Anthropology and Comparative Literature from Harvard University. Her honors thesis explored literature’s evolving role in the digital age through an ethnographic study of an online literary magazine. She also co-founded and directed the Harvard Organization for Prison Education and Reform, a network of eight volunteer groups that tutor in prisons across Massachusetts and work on advocacy initiatives relating to mass incarceration and education. Before joining CMS, Rachel worked in Boston-area art museums — the Harvard Art Museums and the Peabody Essex Museum — with a focus on developing teaching curriculum for makerspaces as well as integrated digital media experiences for visitors. At MIT Rachel is interested in interrogating the ethics of American incarceration media, from made-in-prison podcasts to exploitative reality television. She works as a Research Assistant in the Global Media Technologies and Cultures Lab under the direction of Lisa Parks. Extracurricularly, Rachel has a passion for retrieving the past; in her spare time, she works on restoring film cameras and mid-century modern furniture and really just wants to talk to someone about The Twilight Zone.

 
 

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