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Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education Hardcover – September 16, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0226014661 ISBN-10: 0226014665 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 254 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (September 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226014665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226014661
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,127,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Danielle S. Allen is dean of the Division of the Humanities as well as professor in the Department of Classical Languages and Literatures, Department of Political Science, and Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. She is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Anthony P Spanakos on June 15, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this book, Allen argues that `talking to strangers' is one of the most fundamental aspects and responsibilities of democratic citizenship. Drawing on Aristotle and Ralph Ellison (with some commentary on Habermas and plenty of criticism of Hobbes), Allen aims to show that citizenship needs to address issues of distrust and she focuses on interracial distrust in the US as her main case study. She argues that there was essentially a change in the constitution (politeia) of the United States following Brown v. the Board of Education (as there had been other constitutional changes in the history of the US). She focuses on the sacrifice of Elizabeth Eckford, the young black student who had sewn a black and white dress for her first day of school in an all-white school, the same one who is in a famous photo in which she is prevented from going to school by a disapproving white crowd. Both she and the white protestors, Allen argues, were engaged in citizenship practices- but they were very different ones (one a dominant one, one marked by suffering). This leads to a discussion of Ellison (and Arendt) on the nature of sacrifice and invisible citizens. She argues for habits of citizens in conjunction with institutions. The book is implicitly and explicitly Aristotelian and she writes a considerable amount about Philia (fellowship). Allen argues that the idea of `oneness' (instead of `wholeness') derived from Hobbes- via- Kant, is responsible for many problems (constrains minority rights, etc). She sees, within Aristotle, Ellison and others, a plurality which allows for a practice of fellowship that is vital to democratic life, a kind of fellowship that is established by talking to strangers.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Irami Osei-Frimpong on February 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education concerns the importance of trust and vulnerability in a functional democracy, and how these two qualities manifest in the extra-legal customary habits of citizenship.

The author, Danielle Allen, takes a fifty year old iconic picture, the picture of young black Elizabeth Eckford being shouted down by a angry white mob as she entered Central High School in 1957 Arkansas, as the point of departure for her treatment of the extra-legal habits of citizenship. Allen's point was that though this picture was taken five years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the difference between the changing of a law and the changing of the attitudes of a people is strikingly important.

Allen's main argument is that we need to rethink the importance of our political habits of speech and friendship, and think carefully about how casual we are with the losing side of any political debate. The "winner-take-all" mentality is antithetical to the virtues of democracy, and breeds anger and resentment that's not easily or rightfully assuaged. If nothing else, the book got me to realize the importance of saying, "Hello" to people on the street.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Deborah Meier on October 4, 2009
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It's an important; best read and discussed with a friend. Don't miss this if you are concerned about the state of democracy, schooling, or our climate of civility. Deborah Meier
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Intromort on August 25, 2013
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Professor Allen's chief objective in this book is to present readers with a solution to the problem of inter-citizen discord within a political community, and specifically within the American regime. Drawing upon the Aristotelian conception of the word "constitution" (politeia) as that which determines the arrangement of political power and offices, Allen identifies the mid-twentieth century civil rights era as a significant yet unresolved moment of re-constitution in American history. Despite the passage of certain laws intended to impose legal equality on all Americans, the question of race relations continues to flare up in the midst of periodic racial conflagrations that inevitably pit white Americans against black Americans. (The 2012 Martin-Zimmerman incident in Florida is a recent example.) Yet, regardless of America's peculiar history with the institution of slavery, Allen blames the present-day tensions on a "collective biography" of philosophic principles traceable to Thomas Hobbes and his preoccupation with obtaining "oneness," as opposed to "wholeness," within the political community. This concern for oneness, she says, drives us toward the unachievable and dangerous goal of unanimity, a goal that is incompatible with a pluralistic society and which impels us to erase intrasocietal differences through an unjust system of domination and acquiescence.

Allen's solution to this problem is what she calls "political friendship," an idea she derives from a collective analysis of Aristotle's Politics, Nicomachean Ethics, and Rhetoric. Friendship itself is a substitute for justice, in particular, the sort of inflexible justice commanded by strict logic. But friendship manages to secure peace and order while simultaneously generating trust or goodwill in a way that justice alone cannot.
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