Disavowing politics: Civic engagement in an era of political skepticism

Elizabeth A. Bennett, Alissa Cordner, Peter Taylor Klein, Stephanie Savell, Gianpaolo Baiocchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Today, Americans are simultaneously skeptical of and engaged with political life. How does widespread cynicism affect the culture of civic participation? What are the implications for democracy? This study synthesizes data from a one-year collective ethnography of seven civic groups and theoretical work on boundary making, ambiguity, and role distancing. The authors find skepticism generates "disavowal of the political," a cultural idiom that allows people to creatively constitute what they imagine to be appropriate forms of engagement. Disavowal generates taboos, and the authors show how disdain for conflict and special interests challenges activism around inequality. Political disavowal both facilitates and constrains civic engagement in an era of political skepticism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)518-548
Number of pages31
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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