Public Affairs and Democratic Ideals

Critical Perspectives in an Era of Political and Economic Uncertainty

By Curtis Ventriss

Subjects: Political Science, Public Administration, Democracy, Public Policy
Paperback : 9781438481241, 280 pages, July 2021
Hardcover : 9781438481258, 280 pages, January 2021

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Table of contents


1. Introduction

Section 1: The Importance of Publicness and Critical Democratic Thought

2. Conditioning Factors: Neo‑Managerialism and the Modern State

3. A Conceptual Foundation: Reinvigorated Publicness

4. A Substantive Approach: Critical Democratic Thought

5. Rationality, the Public Sphere, and the State

Section 2: Contemporary Challenges

6. The Enduring Implications of the Economic Crisis of 2008

7. Public Affairs in an Epoch of Space: Challenges to the Public Sphere

8. A Critical Analysis of the Role of Citizen Involvement in Public Affairs: A Reexamination

9. Conclusion: Reflections of a Sympathetic Critic


Argues for refocusing attention on publicness and the critical exploration of underlying assumptions that are foundational to the study and practice of public affairs.


We live in an era where many citizens feel increasingly uncertain about their futures, having to deal with stagnant wages, globalization, and wealth and income inequality, while, at the same time, policymakers appear unable or unwilling to reach any viable policy consensus on a wide range of major issues. Public Affairs and Democratic Ideals addresses these vexing conditions and the challenge they pose for public management and administration. Curtis Ventriss argues for reordering intellectual and policy priorities with a focus on publicness and the role of critical democratic thought in public affairs. Too often, the assumptions that underlie the prevailing theory and practice of addressing major political and economic problems remain unquestioned, with economic and political conflicts displaced into issues of administration and leadership. Ventriss calls for a reinvigorated notion of publicness based, in part, on a public social science, civic experimentation, and policies designed and tailored to the unique needs of various publics. As a way to move forward, this book offers ideas for redefining professionalism, promoting civic initiatives, and rethinking professional education for public service.

Curtis Ventriss is Professor Emeritus of Public Policy at the University of Vermont.


"Public Affairs and Democratic Ideals is an intellectual tour de force. Weaving together rich strands of scholarly and philosophical literature from multiple disciplines, Curtis Ventriss throws down the gauntlet and puts the intellectual agenda of public affairs on the frontlines. Ventriss challenges readers to rethink and reconceptualize the theoretical foundations of publicness in the social sciences generally and in public administration and policy specifically. He asserts that we, as scholars, have neglected fundamental and essential questions about the ideological, political, and economic forces that shape modern power and governance arrangements, and instead have privileged narrow empirical investigations and positivist inquiries about pedestrian matters. In doing so, Ventriss suggests that we have undermined attention to the 'public' aspects of the field and specifically to how democratic ideals, processes, and institutions can be incorporated into community life. Agree or disagree with his conclusions, there can be no doubt that Ventriss has presented us with a timely and provocative book that demands serious consideration if we are to deal effectively with the challenges of public life in the twenty-first century. " — Tina Nabatchi, Syracuse University

"Curtis Ventriss has alerted us: we public administration and public policy academics and practitioners have entered a cul-de-sac. We are driving around in circles cut off in a meaningful way from those citizens we are supposed to work with, not on. He calls us to the road again: a highway with three big lanes to travel—redefining our profession, moving toward disaggregated policymaking, and rethinking public service education. The destination of this journey is nothing less than a new substantive relationship to what we mean by 'public' and 'public interest. ' Let's get moving!" — Michelle Dennis, University of California, Los Angeles