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Harry C. Boyte

Lecturer; Founder of Public Achievement, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Augsburg College
National Coordinator, American Commonwealth Partnership
Chapter Member: Minneapolis-St. Paul SSN
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About Harry

Boyte’s research and practical work focuses on civic agency, democracy and populist politics. He is particularly interested in examining what politics are required for ordinary people, especially those steeped in experiences of subordination, to develop the skills and confidence to direct their lives, to shape the world around them, and to democratize power in contemporary societies. Boyte is an architect of the "public work" framework of citizenship, which represents an alternative to state centered liberal citizenship and varieties of communitarian citizenship such as deliberation and associational membership. Boyte was a co-founder, with Elinor Ostrom, Jane Mansbridge, Peter Levine, Rogers Smith, Steve Elkin and Karol Soltan in a day long meeting on "civic studies," a framework of citizenship and politics that seeks to go beyond the liberal-communitarian dispute in political and social theory. Boyte has served as National Coordinator of the American Commonwealth Partnership, a broad alliance of higher education, civic, business and philanthropic groups which worked in collaboration with the White House Office of Public Engagement and the U.S. Department of Education to strengthen higher education as a public good, during 2012, the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act. During the Clinton Administration, he was National Coordinator of New Citizenship, an alliance of civic, higher education, and philanthropic groups which worked in collaboration with the White House Domestic Policy Council to analyze the gap between citizens and government and to propose solutions. He also founded Public Achievement, an international youth civic education initiative, now active in 23 countries, based on the conceptual framework of public work.


Reclaiming Democratic Populism

Governance through Engaged Citizenship

In the News

Quoted by Lyndsay Cowles and Tony DeCesare in "Unlock the Schools," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 6, 2018.
Opinion: "What is Democracy?," Harry C. Boyte, Education Week, March 15, 2016.
Opinion: "The Fight For America’s Soul," Harry C. Boyte, Bill Moyers, December 16, 2015.
Opinion: "What is 'Public' Education?," Harry C. Boyte, Education Week, September 22, 2015.
Opinion: "Universities, Public Spaces and the Democratic Way of Life," Harry C. Boyte, Huffington Post, March 30, 2015.
Opinion: "Sunday Dialogue: Violence in America," Harry C. Boyte, New York Times, December 23, 2012.
Opinion: "Democracy Colleges as Schools for Citizenship," Harry C. Boyte, DemocracyU, January 16, 2012.
Opinion: "Making Good Policy for Our Families," Harry C. Boyte, New York Times, January 1, 2012.
Opinion: "On Dr. King’s Legacy," Harry C. Boyte, New York Times, September 2, 2011.
Opinion: "Teacher’s Lessons," Harry C. Boyte, New York Times, March 20, 2011.
Opinion: "The Faces of American Populism," Harry C. Boyte, New York Times, January 28, 2010.
Opinion: "Taking the Public out of Public Art," Harry C. Boyte (with Nan Kari), Wall Street Journal, August 6, 1997.
Opinion: "Neighborhood Power – A New Constituency Entering National Political Life," Harry C. Boyte, New York Times, August 19, 1979.
Makes regular contributions by Harry C. Boyte to Huffington Post.


"Civil Society and Public Work" in The Oxford Handbook of Civil Society, edited by Michael Edwards (Oxford University Press, 2011), 324-336.
Argues that conventional associative and deliberative frameworks of citizenship make a large mistake in slighting "work" and workplaces, or even posing work as the realm of necessity, not politics. Calls for bringing work back into the center of civic action, for the sake of building popular power (civic agency) and reversing global trends toward privatization, or dismantling of the commonwealth.
"Constructive Politics as Public Work: Organizing the Literature" Political Theory 39, no. 5 (2011): 630-660.
Explains the framework of citizenship as public work. Develops civic agency, and its concepts of the citizen as co-creator and politics as productive, not simply distributive.
"Reframing Democracy: Governance, Civic Agency, and Politics" Public Administration Review 65, no. 5 (2005): 536-546.
Describes the implications of a public work framework for reconceptualizing democracy, politics, and public affairs professional practice.
"Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life" (PennPress, 2004).
Develops an account of the politics of public work as a global alternative to communitarian civic engagement (such as service and voluntarism), on the one hand, and distributive politics (such as advocacy, protest, and mobilizing), on the other. This account shifts from a scarcity framework to a more expansive sense of “abundance” grounded in real-world labors.
"Free Spaces: The Sources of Democratic Change in America " (with Sara M. Evans) (University of Chicago Press, 1992).
Develops a theory of free spaces – sustained political environments in the life of communities and their institutional fabric – in which relatively powerless groups have room for self-definition and democratic learning experiences. Argues that these can be found at the heart of all genuinely democratic movements.
"CommonWealth: A Return to Citizen Politics " (Free Press, 1989).
Analyzes the “commonwealth political tradition” in America as the tap root of citizen-centered politics different from the politics of the market, on the one hand, and from state-centered socialism and social democracy, on the other.