Do-It-Yourself Democracy: The Rise of the Public Engagement Industry

Oxford Univ. Jan. 2015. 304p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199987269. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780199987283. POL SCI
Lee (sociology, Lafayette Univ.; coeditor, Democratizing Inequalities) spent five years doing fieldwork and other research to produce this ethnographic study of a new, still emerging field—the public engagement industry, which organizes and manages the large, deliberative events that are widely used by governments, businesses, and additional types of organizations. "Temporarily removing the moral halo" from the "democracy professionals" the author considers sincerely committed to delivering "heart-based authenticity," Lee discusses their backgrounds, values, and techniques, but most interesting, how they balance "their civic passions and their clients' business interests." She concludes that the industry has succeeded above all in producing "more of itself" and contains "more potential for social control than for liberation."
VERDICT While Lee is occasionally guilty of fairly dense academic jargon, most readers interested in the topic will overlook that problem given the book's well-written first-person accounts of the events she attended and for the nuanced but devastating critique of an industry she portrays as needing one.
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