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The Civic Imagination: Making a Difference in American Political Life, Gianpaolo Baiocchi

Reviewed by Hahrie Han

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This book makes an important contribution to our understanding of the complex “imaginations” that ordinary citizens bring to their involvement in public life, as innovative for its content as for the way in which the book was researched and written. As trust in government has declined, many scholars have documented the shift away from traditional, electoral forms of partici­pation in public life. Yet few have provided the kind of rich, nuanced look at the ways in which ordinary people continue to work to improve their communities. This ethnographic account of citizen involvement in Provi­dence, Rhode Island, provides just that. The authors map the distinct theories of change in public life that people bring to the table, showing how these “civic imaginations” shape the choices they make about why and how to get involved.

The authors take as their starting point the observation that even as many people disavow “politics,” they are continually looking forward to identify ways to improve their society. As people think prospectively about what their worlds could be and take action to realize that vision, they engage in a process of meaning making that the authors describe with

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