Diminished Citizenship: A Genealogy of the Development of ‘Soft Citizenship’ at the Intersection of Mass and Political Culture

Jennifer Miller

Advisor: Denise Albanese, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Roger Lancaster, Alison Landsberg

Johnson Center, #240A
April 21, 2014, 01:00 PM to 10:00 AM


This dissertation tracks the historical development of a citizenship subjectivity and corresponding set of practices referred to as soft citizenship. Soft citizenship is characterized by sentimentality, child-centricity, and familialism. It emerges in the early 1900s as a juxtapolitical model of thinking and doing citizenship constituted through the reform efforts of Anglo Saxon Protestant women. Although these women were politically disenfranchisement they were morally and economically empowered. Maternal activists embraced the temperance impulse of the previous century to gain unprecedented access to publicness. One of the objects women reformers claimed was cinema, which they argued influenced the moral development of children and should therefore be a national concern. Subsequent waves of soft citizens shared maternal reformers zest for mass cultural censorship. The dissertation argues that the proliferation of family values rhetoric beginning in the 1970s is an extension of preexisting tendencies in US mass and political culture. In this period the characteristics that I associate with soft citizenship began to seep into state politics saturating the public sphere with concerns about sex and other intimate affairs.