Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Elizabeth Hodges

Second Advisor

Joshua Eckhardt

Third Advisor

David Golumbia


Inspired by the lack of Congressional compromise during the 2013 federal shutdown, I explore how compromise works in large groups and representative bodies. An on-line survey, personal interviews, and a discourse analysis of the Congressional Record yield a diverse collection of data, including personal and public stories of compromise. I examine the stories and other data through an eclectic mix of contemporary scholarship, borrowing literary theory from the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin, socio-linguistic concepts from American linguist James Paul Gee, and moral philosophy from Israeli thinker Avishai Margalit. I also incorporate the work of political scientists Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, as well as the political campaign coverage of writer and essayist Joan Didion.

My examination shows that differences in Discourse, Gee’s expansive model of the discourse community, underpin the uncompromising mindset that dominated the 2013 shutdown. I show that public and personal compromise have obvious differences in terms of scope and complexity, but that all successful compromises, of any size, rest on a bedrock of trust. My research uncovered more effective ways of brokering legislative compromise in the future. I also learned that public opinion polls do not influence legislative decisions. Instead, regular, personal contact, whether by phone, fax, or e-mail, is the best way to engage and influence legislators. Finally, I consider the challenges and limitations of my research, including the difficulty of collecting a large, diverse survey sample, and scheduling personal interviews with public officials.


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