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Talking about Race

Community Dialogues and the Politics of Difference

Talking about Race

Community Dialogues and the Politics of Difference

It is a perennial question: how should Americans deal with racial and ethnic diversity? More than 400 communities across the country have attempted to answer it by organizing discussions among diverse volunteers in an attempt to improve race relations. In Talking about Race, Katherine Cramer Walsh takes an eye-opening look at this strategy to reveal the reasons behind the method and the effects it has in the cities and towns that undertake it.

With extensive observations of community dialogues, interviews with the discussants, and sophisticated analysis of national data, Walsh shows that while meeting organizers usually aim to establish common ground, participants tend to leave their discussions with a heightened awareness of differences in perspective and experience. Drawing readers into these intense conversations between ordinary Americans working to deal with diversity and figure out the meaning of citizenship in our society, she challenges many preconceptions about intergroup relations and organized public talk. Finally disputing the conventional wisdom that unity is the only way forward, Walsh prescribes a practical politics of difference that compels us to reassess the place of face-to-face discussion in civic life and the critical role of conflict in deliberative democracy.


"[Talking about Race] examines the content of community dialogues, offers interviews with a variety of individuals involved in these dialogues, and analyzes national data on attitudes on racial/ethnic diversity. . . .An especially interesting and relevant chapter analyzes the dynamics of public officials and residents in dialogue about racial issues. . . . Overall, this book is a comprehensive yet accessible study of a very important subject for an increasingly diverse democratic nation. . . . Highly recommended." 

N. Krause | Choice

"Talking About Race: Community Dialogues and the Politics of Difference represents a substantial undertaking by Katherine Cramer Walsh. Walsh embarks on a large-scale study of community dialogues on race in multiple sites to ask how public talk comes into being and what goes on within it. . . . She provides a rich review of literature on democracy theory, difference verses unity in dialogue, theories of urban public policy, and deliberation. What is particularly impressive is that the author consistently traces the intellectual lineage often back to the original canonized scholars. . . . This text’s greatest strength is the depth and diversity of the methodological approaches, its organization and transparency, in addition to the literature reviewed."

Manoucheka Celeste | Journal of Communication Inquiry

"Walsh’s text is careful and original. It fills a gap in our understanding of deliberative democracy and offers a substantial empirical contribution to the study of race in American public attitudes."

Melissa Harris-Lacewell | Perspectives on Politics

Table of Contents

Preface ix
1 Race, Dialogue, and the Practice of Community Life
2 Unity and Difference in Civic Life 
3 Public Talk That Aims to Listen to Difference 
4 The Community Choice to Pursue Interracial Dialogue 
5 Choosing the Action of Talk 
6 Negotiating Unity and Difference 
7 Scrutinizing and Listening to Stories 
8 Authority and Legitimacy in Dialogue 
9 Public Officials and Residents in Dialogue 
10 Beyond Romance and Demons 
Methods Appendix 

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