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Altered Civic Participation in the U.S. Census as a Dispute to the Myth of Equal Citizenship


This dissertation explores the utility of altered participation as a concept for understanding moments of civic noncooperation among America’s marginalized groups. Focusing specifically on limited interpretations of and shortsighted reactions to

noncooperation of U.S. residents in the 2010 U.S. Census survey, this research is based in political theory on civic engagement. The year 2010 marked both the most expensive and expansive communication campaign by the U.S. Census Bureau encouraging full participation in the survey. That year also hosted numerous examples of opposition to the survey. Researching the phenomenon of census noncooperation through the opinions of census boycotters and other civic nonparticipants as made evident through cultural works including literature and poetry will provide important insight into practices of civic nonparticipation and the conditions that inspire such practices to take place. Recognizing civic nonparticipation as an altered form of civic engagement requires a paradigmatic shift from politics as a consensus finding process among equal citizens, to politics as a process of dissensus through which overlooked portions of society exert their significance (Ranciere). This overlooked population becomes apparent by beginning from a critique of citizenship in America as allusive in substance even when attainable in title, instead of the traditional civic republican definition of a dutiful citizen. In this dissertation, I theorize civic nonparticipation as a form of altered participation, a political response to limited substantial citizenship (Glenn). Case studies explore varied manifestations of altered participation and range from the boycott of the survey by Latino immigrants and clergy to feigned compliance in the form of submitting fictional information. I hypothesize that the concept of altered participation will influence current interpretations of people who do not participate in U.S. civic activities, specifically the U.S. Census.

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