Shaping Citizens by Public Deliberation: A Tricky Enterprise (United States and France, 1870–1940)

Special Report: Participating in History
By Paula Cossart, William Keith

This essay focuses on promoting, in democratic regimes, citizenship education by developing areas in which individuals come together to discuss public issues. We show that very similar ideals of public discussion took shape in France during political rallies featuring debate in the last third of the nineteenth century and in the United States, especially in the public forums of the 1920s and 1930s. Both institutions expected participants to adopt standards and practices of communication which corresponded to a rational view of citizenship. This comparison reveals important similarities with respect to their goals, but also their successes and failures with these techniques. We conclude our analysis by reflecting on the lessons we can learn for contemporary projects of deliberative democracy.


  • political rallies
  • forums
  • United States
  • deliberation
  • citizenship
  • discussion
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