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Office of News and Information
Johns Hopkins University
3400 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-2692
Phone: (410) 516-7160 / Fax (410) 516-5251

March 3, 1998
Leslie Rice, lnr@jhu.edu
Steve Libowitz, sal@jhu.edu

Civility Is More than Good Manners

Dennis Rodman kicks a cameraman. Roberto Alomar spits at an umpire. Some guy from Fresno cuts off a car on the L.A. freeway and a high speed chase begins.

What in the world has become of civility?

A 1996 survey in U.S. News & World Report found that 89 percent of Americans feel incivility is a serious problem. Ninety-one percent believe its decline contributes to violence.

It's a subject on the minds of many Americans. And now it is generating scholarly interest as well.

From March 26 though 28, The Johns Hopkins University will host an international conference titled "Reassessing Civility: Forms and Values at the End of the Century." And while the closing speaker is well-known etiquette expert Miss Manners (Judith Martin), the heart of the matter is two days of scholarly talks and panel discussions on topics ranging from civility in ancient times, in the military and in the schools, to rudeness, to a roundtable on civility in American society today.

"In the past several years there has been an increasing discourse in the public arena on a perceived decline of civility," says Pier-Massimo Forni, Hopkins professor of Hispanic and Italian Studies and one of the two co-directors of the conference. "The time seems right for a serious reassessment of civility--one aimed at providing strong intellectual moorings to the current debate."

What organizers hope to achieve is not a discussion on which fork to use at the table, but rather a scholarly assessment of the relevance of manners, politeness and civility in society today.

"The conservative view right now is that we've lost something as a society in terms of politeness," says co-director Giuila Sissa (pictured at right), chair of Hopkins' Department of Classics and an expert on civility and gender roles. "To some extent that may be true, but what also begs to be looked at is whether something new is being created. For example, new codes of behavior are being played out in the workplace between the genders. And there is a new politeness being introduced between ethnic groups."

The conference is part of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, an ongoing research effort headed by Forni and Sissa. The project involves the study of civility by a variety of academics, as well as field research in area public high schools, health care and prisons--closed or restricted systems where breaches of civility have serious consequences.

Admission to "Reassessing Civility: Forms and Values at the End of the Century" is free and open to the public. The schedule and location of events are included in the accompanying program guide. The work of the Civility Project can be found on the project's Web site: http://www.civility.mse.jhu.edu/.

For more information about the conference, call (410) 516-7556.

NOTE: Follow this link for a list of some of the people closely involved with the Johns Hopkins Civility Project and conference and their areas of expertise.

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