Taylor Horn

Date of Award


First Advisor

Asma Abbas

Second Advisor

Daniel Neilson


This thesis is concerned with the static nature of the US political sphere, despite invocation of endless rhetoric of change and reinvention within it. The investigation turns to one institution key to the modern liberal democratic system, the electoral campaign, and explores how it contributes to the system's tendency to reproduce itself, rather than to create a meaningful radical transformation. I begin by examining the falsely maintained Right/Left divide in US politics, and its true nature as a fundamentally conservative consensus. I then view the history of the campaign through an institutional ethnographic approach, with voters, candidate, and political consultants as key nodes in this study. The ethnography traces the move from a party-centered campaign of the elite, to a candidatecentered campaign, characterized by fluid political affiliation, anti-elitist rhetoric, and more direct appeals to individual voters. Finally, I examine how this strict adherence to the desires of the individual citizen, which often contain contradictory communitarian and individualistic impulses, makes new policy extremely difficult and renders democracy a static, performative noise. I assert that the general citizenry's renewed respect for representation, rather than reproduction, will not forfeit democratic accountability and will allow the imagining of a more dynamic democracy.

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