Elizabeth S. Clemens. Combinatorial Politics: Civic Benevolence and the Making of the American Nation-State

Monday, February 22, 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

February 22, 2-3:30pm in 420 Barrows Hall

Combinatorial Politics:  Civic Benevolence and the Making of the American Nation-State

As both nation and state, the United States is a puzzle.  How did a sense of shared nationhood develop despite the linguistic, religious, and ethnic differences among its settlers?  How did a global power emerge from an often anti-statist political culture?  How did some version of this collective identity come to be articulated with organized governance An important piece of the answer to these questions can be found in the unexpected political uses of benevolence, in the power of gifts to create ties among strangers and to mobilize communities.  From the early Republic through the Second World War – with many natural disasters, economic crises, and municipal projects in between – civic benevolence was an important method for eliciting both the commitments and the capacities needed to meet public challenges.  The legacy of this model for national action is a system of governance in which voluntarism and philanthropy are entwined with public policy and democratic deliberation.  This process of nation-state-building illuminates the mechanics of institutional change understood as recombinatorial organizing or the transposition of elements across fields.

Elisabeth S. Clemens is William Rainey Harper Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago. Her scholarship explores organizational and institutional change in the context of American political development. In addition to numerous articles and chapters, she has published The People’s Lobby: Organizational Innovation and the Rise of Interest Group Politics in the United States, 1890-1925 (Chicago, 1997) and edited a number of volumes, most recently Politics and Partnerships: Voluntary Associations in Americans Political Past and Present (Chicago, 2010). She is current completing a study of civic benevolence and the making of the American nation-state.