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.

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