Pluralism: Friend or Foe?

November 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

In my work as Research Services Librarian at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida I often assist students working on projects, some of which are quite extensive.  The Senior Research requirement for students in our College of Arts and Sciences includes a thoroughly documented, original paper.

The scope and complexity of these senior research papers often rival a master’s thesis, depending on the topic and the student’s approach.  Recently, one of the students I was assisting told me her working title, for a paper in political science, is “The Evolution of Hyperpluralism in News Media: A Comparative Approach to Understanding Today’s News Media Rhetoric.”  This particular student is a real stand-out, majoring in political science and communication studies, with a minor in Russian Studies.

I asked her to tell me what “hyperpluralism” means and why she had chosen this particular angle of approach.  She said that the origin of the term, which she had seen in a textbook, was unclear and that she was interested in determining the term’s first use and the context for that “coinage.”  This kind of question is, for a librarian, exactly the kind of challenge we enjoy.

Turns out that American University political science professor James Thurber used the term in his book Rivals for Power: Presidential-Congressional Relations (Congressional Quarterly, 1996).  Thurber’s book is now in its 4th edition (2009).  Jonathan Rauch, writing in The New Republic (June 6, 1994) describes what he calls “The Hyperpluralism Trap.”

Thurber says that “the United States is experiencing ‘hyperpluralism,’ or extreme competition among groups that makes it almost impossible to define the public good in terms of anything other than the collection of narrow special interests.”

Rauch criticizes both “left-populism” and “right-populism.”  On balance, Rauch is critical of a lot of the “liberal agenda,” but he does acknowledge a lot of posturing from conservatives, too.

Here’s my bottom line:  yes, we may plaquing up our political arteries these days with “hyperpluralism,” but we’re also getting blockages of understanding from our “hypermedia.”  The layering of the two is noxious, or, to borrow from a famous writer, “a snare and a delusion.”  Who originated that phrase?  Another good question for a librarian.

Contributed by Sims Kline. Posted originally on The Sustainable Governance Blog.


The Newspaper: A Tactile Experience

November 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

I dropped by the website recently of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and looked around the place.  There are fascinating reports, commentaries, and statistics on the state of play for newspapers, journalists, and what is termed “digital youth.”

No one, so far as I know, has ever called me a digital youth, but I am trying to keep up with the avalanche of the non-analog.  I keep wondering as digital devices become smaller and smaller, containing larger and larger collections of information, will I still be able to see, I mean literally, to see them…?

Everyone is using digital—and mobile–platforms to read nearly everything.

Take newspapers for example.  Nieman Reports noted that a survey of middle-school and high school civics and history teachers found a majority switching from newspapers to Web sites of news organizations as teaching aids, and that almost all employed Web sites of national news organizations rather than those of their local newspapers.

“A survey of activity at newspaper Web sites found a dramatic increase of views by national publications such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal accompanied by a decline in visitors to local newspaper Web sites. A survey of news consumer habits among teenagers and young adults found that newspaper reading had nearly vanished in both groups.”

For me the newspaper has always been a tactile experience.  To open up an unread newspaper, to feel the crispness, to smell and to touch the acidic paper and inks, to scan headlines, section front pages, subheads, graphics, to fold, tear out, mark up, in short: to engage the newspaper in a series of physical acts—this is what I’m looking for along with my news fix.

I’ve been a news and newspaper junkie for years.  Which is why I worked as a copy boy pre-computer for two major daily newspapers, hung out with the reporters, dictationists, editors, compositors, book reviewers, foreign correspondents and once, in my “finest hour” was dispatched urgently in a taxicab to the White House to pick up documents just released.

Really, I had it bad and it was good.  As a high school sophomore I ordered a subscription to weekly transcripts of “Meet The Press,” when it was a literate, in-depth program which included a panel of the nation’s top journalists.

After a lapse of a few years, I’ve started subscribing again to my local daily newspaper.  Walking out on the driveway in the morning and seeing that just-published slice of life waiting for me, there is anticipation and engagement, again.

          —- Contributed by Sims Kline

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