Speaking out in public: Citizen participation in contentious school board meetings

  • Tracy K
  • Durfy M
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A high level of citizen involvement in civic life is presumed crucial to the well-being of democracy, but the actual discourse of citizen involvement has rarely been analyzed. This article analyzes citizen participation in the school board meetings of one US community that was in the midst of conflict. After providing background on education governance practices and the community that was studied, citizen participation is examined. Citizen commentaries at school board meetings are shown to be a distinct speech genre and the genre is described. Then, we characterize the discourse practices used to express negative sentiment. Feeling-limned description, avowal of feelings, rhetorical questions, reported speech, use of god and devil terms, and using meeting rules as weapons were the main negative sentiment strategies. In the conclusion we suggest when low levels of citizen involvement should be acceptable, and why `reasonable hostility' is a desirable form of citizen expression.

Author-supplied keywords

  • citizen discourse
  • democracy
  • emotional expression
  • public participation
  • reasonable hostility
  • school board meetings

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  • Karen Tracy

  • Margaret Durfy

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