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Politics in America, Pre-Internet


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This class focused on how membership, participation and media worked in the age of capitali-intensive top-down broadcast politics. It is part of "The Politics of the Internet," a course I am teaching at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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Politics in America, Pre-Internet

  1. 1. DPI-665 Politics of the Internet “ Politics in America, Pre-Internet” February 8, 2012 Micah L. Sifry CC-BY-NC-SA Audio:
  2. 2. The “Structure of the People” <ul><li>Civic organizations </li></ul><ul><li>Membership/activism </li></ul><ul><li>Media </li></ul>
  3. 3. The Civic Nation <ul><li>Until the late 1950s/early 1960s: cross-class voluntary federations had millions of dues-paying members and elected leadership </li></ul>
  4. 4. The New Civic Model <ul><li>From mid-1960s to present: An explosion of professionally managed advocacy groups without chapters or members </li></ul>
  5. 5. What Changed? <ul><li>Rights movements  </li></ul><ul><li>Public interest groups  </li></ul><ul><li>Business associations  </li></ul><ul><li>Political action committees  </li></ul><ul><li>Voluntary federations  </li></ul>
  6. 6. Why? <ul><li>Attitudes about race, gender and patriotism changed, disrupting old federations </li></ul><ul><li>Activist federal government arrived, making DC presence more essential (and local less so) </li></ul><ul><li>Mass communications technology (TV, direct mail) </li></ul><ul><li>Non-profit and foundation sector exploded, changing opportunity space for civic entrepreneurs </li></ul><ul><li>Higher education and “expertise” valued more </li></ul>
  7. 7. Participation is “professionalized” <ul><li>Canvassing replaces self-organization </li></ul><ul><li>Groups outsource local mobilization to national canvassing firms </li></ul><ul><li>Money displaces participation </li></ul><ul><li>Canvassing attracts young idealist people but offers no stepping-stones upward or voice in campaigns </li></ul>
  8. 8. The Result: Top-Down Broadcast Politics <ul><li>Elite-led </li></ul><ul><li>Gatekeepers </li></ul><ul><li>Expensive </li></ul><ul><li>Lowest-common denominator content </li></ul><ul><li>Limited participation by non-elites </li></ul>
  9. 9. Next: From Mass Media to a Networked Public Sphere
  10. 10. Your next blog post is due Wednesday, Feb 15 Discuss any of the readings from Feb 1 - Feb 13