The Charlene Conrad Liebau Library Prize for Undergraduate Research display case on the second floor of the Doe Library now features an exhibit on 2014 prize winner Matthew William Enger’s Order from Chaos: Ethnogenesis, Direct Democracy and Statecraft in California,1948-1958.
Abstract: In the large corpus of academic literature addressing Californian politics in the 1950s, very little scholarship considers the relationship between the state’s robust system of direct democracy, exemplified by the initiative process, and the transformative demographic and economic changes that were then remaking the state. In the course of preparing this thesis, the author found that: (1) the fundamental political, economic and social incentives that sustained a culture of direct democracy in the 1950s have barely changed over the course of sixty years; (2) decades-long political battles centering on old age pensions and public housing peaked in the early part of the 1950s specifically through the initiative process, setting a firm precedent for related disputes in succeeding decades; and (3) white, established, middle-class Californians were psychologically motivated to pursue specific types of policy through the initiative process because of rapid demographic changes that were leaving the state and its cities poorer and less white than they had ever been before. One major consequence of having direct democracy at the onset of a demographic transformation is that elite economic interests and their political allies could usually exploit the initiative process to protect white privilege and maintain existing power structures to the detriment of marginalized communities. As demographic transformation continues to remake the face of the state, the kinds of public policies enacted at the ballot will more and more reflect the priorities of the younger, and more linguistically and culturally diverse California of today.
The full paper is available on eScholarship: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/39x5g29j
The exhibit was curated by Jeffery Loo and designed by Aisha Hamilton.