Miller Center

Colloquium - Progressive Publicity and the Origins of Political Consulting

Adam Sheingate
October 12, 2007
12:30PM - 12:30PM (EDT)

Adam Sheingate
Adam Sheingate

Adam Sheingate, Associate Professor of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University

As a part of the progressive era lexicon, the term "publicity" carried multiple meanings. On one hand, it evoked notions of free speech, government transparency, and public deliberation – liberal ideals deemed critical for a functioning democracy. On the other hand, it referred to an orchestrated campaign to attract and hold public attention – one that employed modern communication and persuasion techniques. These multiple meanings had contradictory implications: whereas the progressive ideal of publicity promised the revelation of fact, its practice depended upon a subjective rendering of events to appear fact-like. Out of this contradiction, however, a host of new communications practices developed in government, politics, and business. Experiments in the use of press releases, paid advertisements, and public relations campaigns sought new ways to cultivate public support for government programs, political candidates, and corporations. These innovations also elevated the prominence of self-described publicity experts, individuals whose talents in the techniques of communication were deemed essential to modern political life. These experts are the forerunners of the modern political consultant, and their contribution to progressive era politics helps to explain why this period in American political development takes on such a contemporary cast.

Adam Sheingate is Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University and specializes in both American and comparative politics. His first book, The Rise of the Agricultural Welfare State: Institutions and Interest Group Power in the United States, France, and Japan (Princeton University Press, 2001), was named a Choice “Outstanding Academic Title” for 2001. He has also written articles that have appeared in American Journal of Political Science, British Journal of Political Science, Social Science History, Studies in American Political Development, and Governance. Currently, he is writing a book tentatively titled Building a Business of Politics: The Origins and Development of Political Consulting in the United States.

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