Summary of Avoiding Politics

How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life

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Avoiding Politics book summary
Even charitable people avoid open debate to maintain harmony. The result is apathy; they don’t seem to care. Do you?


6 Overall

6 Applicability

7 Innovation

4 Style


Nina Eliasoph describes the ways that volunteers get involved - or don’t get involved - in political activity. Most volunteers, she notes, intentionally shy away from discussing the core political issues related to their volunteer efforts. She suggests that these volunteers have learned apathy in order to avoid the confrontation that public political debate might provoke. The volunteers she studied are willing to raise difficult issues in private, but not in public. Instead of finding - as might be expected - that joining groups helps people become activists, she finds the opposite. Group membership seems to blunt personal action. Eliasoph can be academic and repetitious, in that she uses multiple examples to make a single point. So, while respecting her research and her passion, suggests this book is primarily aimed at political scientists and at readers who are truly concerned that more institutions should foster public debate and more of us should engage in it. The author is deeply worried about apathy’s effect on democracy. The question is, do you care?

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why volunteers avoid public discussion of political issues - even issues that affect their volunteer work; and
  • How the resulting apathy dangerously stifles civic involvement and free public debate.


The Limitations on Public Discussion
Generally, people involved in community volunteer work, such as anti-drug or child welfare programs, aren’t interested in getting involved in issues that don’t affect them in their personal lives.

For example, when volunteers in one coastal...
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About the Author

Nina Eliasoph teaches in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was a Visiting Scholar at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. She has published articles on sociology, politics and communications, and has produced radio news and public affairs programs.

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