Date of Award

2002

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Elihu Katz

Abstract

The dissertation is a history of Election Day practices, and the public discourse about Election Day, in the city of Philadelphia, from the early 1700s to the present time. The questions animating the work are two-fold. First, a historical question: how and why did Election Day disappear as a public celebration in Philadelphia’s civic calendar? Second, a theoretical question: what general statements can we make about the message that the performance of an Election Day sends to a population like the voting public of Philadelphia? The answer to the first question is that the disappearance of Election Day’s more spectacular, obvious, and public features— especially those that emphasized bodily communication—was part of a more general shift in American public culture. This was shift away from populist, vulgar forms of publicity toward a more personalized, sedate, and textualized style. The answer to the second question is that Election Day, like many other forms of ritual, is a mode of communication that addresses particularly the tensions and paradoxes within a society—whether these be tensions between classes of people or between worldviews. Because Election Day is a public illustration of the democratic paradox, it provides an important forum in which the public can reflect upon and struggle with central questions within the culture. Its disappearance as public holiday thus marks a significant loss for democratic life.

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