Art in the Public Square: Democracy and the Associational Life of Culture in America

Kidd, Dustin Mark , Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Corse, Sarah, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Hays, Sharon, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Bryson, Bethany, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Singerman, Howard, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines government funding for the arts through the lens of democratic political philosophy. Recent scholarship has established an important relationship between participation in civic associations and the success of democratic political institutions. I use democratic theory to argue that artistic practices are an overlooked form of associational life that can make unique contributions to democratic effects at the levels of the individual, political institutions, and the public sphere. Specifically, I identify the positive democratic benefits of community arts and counter hegemonic arts, in contrast to the anti-democratic effects of the elite arts. I then make use of the theory through an examination of the controversies that affected the American art world-especially the National Endowment for the Arts-in the late 1980s and early 1990s, finding that the points of controversy actually stem from the most democratic artistic practices. The theoretical approach used here stands as a counter-point to the work of Bourdieu and others who have focused their study of the arts solely on the elite arts and the role of the arts as mechanisms of hege' monic social reproduction. I provide a framework for recognizing the ways that art can actually function for anti-elite purposes and serve as a means of challenging hegemony.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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