The Poetics of our Civics: Binary Tracks in Talk about Democracy and Engagement in the US

Debra Spitulnik Vidali (Emory)

While many young adults in the United States would be hard pressed to provide a comprehensive definition of the word “democracy,” many engage the meanings of democracy indirectly, as they grapple with the meaning and relevance of voting. To vote or not, and to register to vote or not, are highly salient issues for many as first time voters, and as election campaigns increasingly target young voters. This paper examines the interactional alignments that occur in their conversations, around meanings of democracy and voting, particularly in relation to pervasive modes of binary or dualistic classifications of political stance and political engagement. I argue that political subjectivity is located in such interactional alignments and “stances of (dis)engagement” with the public sphere and publicly circulating discourse. Data stem from over 100 hours of recorded conversations and interviews among young adults (ages 18-25) in the Atlanta area.

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