agenda for Frontiers of Democracy

Frontiers of Democracy will take place this June 22-24, 2017 in Boston. It is hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, with the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, Everyday Democracy, the Charles F. Kettering Foundation, and the Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. Register now because two-thirds of the spaces are taken.

Draft Schedule (subject to additions and changes)

View the full conference schedule, including speaker bios and session descriptions, here.

Thursday, 6/22

5:00 PM                                Registration and Reception

5:45 PM                                Welcome and Opening Remarks: Peter Levine, Tisch College

6:00-7:00 PM                      @Stake: A game for generating ideas and discussion.

7:00-7:45 PM                      “Short Takes” talks, followed by group discussion:

  • Dr. F. Willis Johnson, senior minister of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri
  • Wendy Willis, Executive Director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium; Director of Oregon’s Kitchen Table at Portland State University
  • Jill Abramson, Harvard and former executive editor of The New York Times (invited).

Friday, 6/23          

8:00 AM                                 Breakfast/logistics

9:00-10:30 AM                     Plenary: Framework #1 for Civic Action:
Ceasar McDowell, Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT, presenting eight public engagement design principles to leverage the public’s voice in five strategic types of public dialogue

10:30-10:45 AM                  BREAK

10:45AM-12:15 PM            Concurrent Sessions. Choose among:

1. Civic Gaming
Joshua Miller
, University of Baltimore; Daniel Levine, Community Mediation; Sarah Shugars, Northeastern University

2. How to Teach Democracy in Authoritarian Nations
Tianlong You
, Arizona State; Haimo Li, University of Houston; Yao Lin, City University of Hong Kong

3. Are We Still Relevant? The role of Democratic Deliberation Innovators in a “Downgraded Democracy”
Jessie Conover, Healthy Democracy; Ashley Trim, Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic

4. How Do We Midwife the Emergence of Wise Governance Networks?
Tracy Kunkler
, Circle Forward; Tom Atlee, Co-Intelligence Institute; Steve Waddell, Networking Action

5. Beyond Novelty: What Sustainable Civic Media Practice Looks Like
Eric Gordon
and Gabriel Mugar, Emerson College Engagement Lab

6. Working to Instill Intellectual Humility in our Classrooms and Civic Life
Jonathan Garlick
, Tufts University and Lauren Barthold, Endicott College and Essential Partners

7. Crime, Safety and Justice: Creating Opportunities for Citizen Decision-Making
Amy Lee
and John Dedrick, Kettering Foundation; Martha McCoy, Everyday Democracy; Kristen Cambell, Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement

8. How to Start a Revolution
Maureen White
, strategy consultant; Pedja Stojicic, Senior Scholar for Stewardship and Engagement, ReThink Health

12:15PM                               LUNCH     

1:15-2:45 PM                       Plenary: Framework #2 for Civic Action
Archon Fung, Harvard Kennedy School: Analyzing Faces of Power.

3:45-3:00 PM                       BREAK

3:00-4:15 PM                       Plenary: Framework #3 for Civic Action:
A “Fishbowl” Discussion of a draft Strategic Framework from Civic Nation + Co., moderated by Edna Ishayik of Civic Nation. In the fishbowl:

  • Jeff Coates, National Conference on Citizenship
  • Felton (Tony) Earls, Harvard University
  • Lewis A. Friedland, University of Wisconsin
  • Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Tufts University
  • Taeku Lee, University of California-Berkeley
  • Carmen Sirianni, Brandeis University
  • Janet Tran, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute

4:15-6:00 PM                       “Short Takes” talks, followed by group discussion 

    • Hardy Merriman, President of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflic
    • Rekha Datta, Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University
    • Ashley Trim, Executive Director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University
    • Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts

Saturday, 6/24

8:00-9:00 AM                       Networking breakfast

9:00-10:30 AM                     Concurrent Sessions. Choose among:

9. Teaching Youth Participatory Politics in Higher Education
Chaebong Nam, Harvard University

10. Working in and with Faith Communities in Times of Democratic Crisis
Elizabeth Gish
, Western Kentucky University; John Dedrick, The Kettering Foundation

11. The Battle for the Soul of Our Republic
Adam Eichen and Laura Brisbane, Small Planet Institute

12. Democratizing Our Schools
Roshan Bliss, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation; J.A. Strub, Students Organizing for Democratic Alternatives; Shari Davis, Participatory Budgeting Project, and others

13. How might citizens use principles of opening governance to confront authoritarianism?
Jonathan Harlow and Erik Johnston, Research Network on Opening Governance, Arizona State University
Center for Policy Informatics

14. How to Make Public Engagement Truly Engaging
Maureen White, Former Public Engagement Campaign Manager, Go Boston 2030

15. Putting Democracy to Work: Community Action that Binds, Not Divides
Rob Jones and Meagan Picard, Founding Forward Democracy Labs

16. Social Emergency Response Centers
Kenneth Bailey, Lori Lobenstine, and Ayako Maruyama

10:30-10:45 AM                  BREAK

10:45AM-12:15 PM            Plenary: Framework #4 for Civic Action:
Participants will work in groups of eight to apply this framework and will add ideas to a Google doc.

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what gives some research methods legitimacy?

I’m back from a meeting of people who practice and advocate mixed-methods research (research that integrates quantitative and qualitative data). They have identified barriers or biases against such work. Editors and reviewers tend to be either quantitative or qualitative experts, journals impose tight word limits that are frustrating if you want to describe two complementary methods, and so on.

A more general question is how any type of scholarship gains legitimacy. I have observed several efforts to legitimize new methods, such as Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) and Participant Action Research (PAR), as well as defenses of older methods that are being squeezed out, such as philosophical argumentation within the discipline of political science.

It is worth considering what gives scholarly methods legitimacy in the first place. I would offer a roughly Weberian theory. For Weber, “modernity” means secularization and specialization. Under those two conditions:

  1. It pays to demonstrate a specialized skill or capacity, because desirable social roles are now doled out to specialists—not (or at least not officially) to people who have social rank and pedigree.
  2. Specialists not only receive, but they also need, tools and methods that require scarce resources. A particle physicist needs a supercollider, to name an extreme example. If you can’t get access to the necessary instruments, you can’t practice the trade.
  3. The society as a whole lacks confident, consensus beliefs about ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, and aesthetics (the classic four pillars of philosophy). But you can’t talk or think very well without having beliefs about those matters, and it’s difficult to justify them satisfactorily to people who disagree. Therefore, we make routine progress within smaller communities that share beliefs or that may even be defined by their shared beliefs.

You can see the result of these conditions in the development of academic fields. For instance, classicists used to be numerous and influential in universities. They possessed specialized skills: fluency in Greek and Latin and the experience of having already read all the major ancient classics at least once. These texts were widely believed to be better (ethically and aesthetically) than most or all of what had been written since. However, whole categories of people could not read them; for instance, very few women were taught Greek or Latin. They certainly couldn’t see the rare ancient manuscripts needed for the philological work of establishing authentic texts. Thus, being a classicist was rewarded with status and with scare resources, such as access to teaching jobs and libraries.

As the Greco-Roman classics receded in importance and lost their privileged place in the culture, people began to want to study modern literature. But virtually everyone in a country like England could read works in English. How then could English literature professors justify their special social role? One step was to develop a canon of difficult works that could claim to be as valuable as the ancient classics were. Having read Shakespeare and Milton set you apart a bit. Another step was to introduce philology and epigraphy to the study of modern texts. (That also required direct access to manuscripts and rare printed volumes). And a third step was to develop specialized and non-intuitive ways of reading, such as by applying theoretical frameworks.

Already in the eighteenth century, the editors of The Literary Magazine could claim legitimacy on the basis of specialization: “a selection has been made of men qualified for the different parts of the work, and each has the employment assigned him, which he is supposed most able to discharge” (quoted in Kramnick 2002).

At that time, there was still considerable consensus about values. In modernity, however, ethical, metaphysical, epistemological, and aesthetic values are seen as controversial and perhaps culturally relative. Fortunately, you needn’t justify a given philosophical premise in order to write an ordinary work of literary criticism today; you can just cite a major theorist who has been deemed legitimate within the scholarly community. Names of theorists become tokens that justify premises, much as scripture might justify spiritual assumptions within a traditional religion.

This is a purely external, sociological explanation of the development of modern literary criticism. I believe that the discipline yields valuable insights, so I welcome its development. Indeed, if literary criticism produced little public value, it might collapse. Specialized occupations need public support in the long run. Still, a Weberian perspective allows us to identify specialization and a reliance on canonical theorists as two responses to modernity, irrespective of whether the resulting scholarship is any good.

Most disciplines have used these means to capture scarce positions that bring status and resources.

  • Many natural and some social sciences use advanced mathematical techniques, which are difficult to learn. Physics and economics enjoy relative prestige in part because they use harder math than kindred disciplines do.
  • Many natural scientists need expensive instruments.
  • Ethnographers seem at first to be doing what anyone can do—observing human beings in their settings. But if you have done fieldwork in an isolated village in the global South, you have bona fides to be an ethnographer instead of a layperson.
  • Quantitative social science requires not only math skills but also large-n data, which is expensive to collect.
  • Qualitative researchers who achieve inter-rater reliability among numerous observers have the budgets and institutional support to hire and train those observers.
  • Some humanistic research requires access to rare objects.
  • Some practitioners of CPBR and PAR have social capital and cultural fluency in both academia and in highly disadvantaged communities. Their ability to code-switch sets them apart.

Within these communities, certain philosophical premises are typically shared. For instance, in most of the social sciences (both qualitative and quantitative), a moral value is something that a person or group holds and that has causes and consequences. It is not something that can be shown to be right or wrong, better or worse. However, a belief about the divine is incompatible with science and thus (implicitly) false. Among theologians, obviously, both of those assumptions are widely rejected. You have to be a kind of moral relativist to speak the language of social science, but that is a minority position in philosophy and theology.

Under such conditions, an approach like mixed-methods research struggles for legitimacy. Perhaps integrating quantitative and qualitative data would yield the most reliable findings under a range of common circumstances. However, the Weberian logic of modernity encourages some researchers to maximize their specialization in math, others to maximize their specialization in ethnography; and mixed methods fall uncomfortably in between.

One solution is a Weberian judo move: as experts criticize your lack of expertise, use their momentum against them by defining what you do as a difficult new specialization. That was one tactic recommended in the conversation about mixed methods. I find it more interesting to think about ways to combat the harmful consequences of modernity in intellectual life so that we begin to assign legitimacy differently. Obviously, the ideal way would be to reward solutions to public (including cultural) problems, rather than academic methods for their own sake. But that is a hard shift to accomplish.

[Citing Jonathan Brody Kramnick, “Literary Criticism Among the Disciplines,” Eighteenth-Century Studies, Volume 35, Number 3, Spring 2002, pp. 343-360. See also the future of classics and why social scientists should pay attention to metaphysics.]

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loyalty in intellectual work

(Los Angeles) Academics and scholars most commonly relate to institutions, movements, or fields of practice by assessing them. They identify the underlying theory or rationale of a given practical effort and assess its plausibility and its consistency with principles of justice. They also observe the actual performance of the practice to date and render judgments about success or failure.

Since my undergraduate days, I’ve instinctively adopted a different stance toward fields of practice. I’ve seen them basically as groups of people. I’ve never taken their theories completely seriously, because I expect them to evolve. And I’ve never seen the empirical data about success or failure so far as dispositive, because I assume that efforts will fail until they are refined and improved. You can start from many premises and get good results if you are open to reflection and change. The theory is less important than it seems.

Fields of practice are working communities of people who are either worth joining or not. What inclines me to want to join a group is a sense of its members’ motivations (in a very general sense) and their capacity or potential. Once I feel that I’m part of the group, I adopt a stance of loyalty. That doesn’t prevent me from making critical comments, either privately or publicly, if that seems helpful to the cause, but it does pose a question about any possible communication: is it helpful?

In this general mode, I’ve found myself part of the following fields or movements since my undergraduate days in the late 1980s:

  • service-learning
  • public deliberation and dialogue
  • university/community partnerships
  • campaign finance reform
  • public or civic journalism
  • k-12 civic education
  • relational community organizing
  • certain political campaigns
  • Action Civics

Clearly, these efforts share some principles or norms. Of the enormous variety of projects and groups that are active around us, most wouldn’t appeal to me as much as these. In We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, I tried to analyze and defend the norms underlying the fields that I most admire in generic terms. Still, I don’t go around looking for movements that match all these principles. Instead, I tend to join movements that seem appealing and then try to reflect on their emergent principles.

Relating to fields of practice in this way sometimes causes misunderstandings. I’ve noticed that sometimes people expect me to endorse the underlying “theory of change” of a given field very strongly and are disappointed when I won’t. I usually cannot say that a given strategy or premise is the best one available, because I don’t really believe that. Instead, I think that a field or movement turns into what people make of it. So I see myself as a member who wants to make the movement as good as it can be, not as an independent scholar who has judged the movement and found it superior to others.

See also:  loyalty to place in the age of jet-set academiabringing loyalty backAlbert O. Hirschman on exit, voice, and loyalty; and “Seeing Like a Citizen: The Contributions of Elinor Ostrom to ‘Civic Studies‘” (because I see Ostrom as having a similar stance).

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European Summer Institute of Civic Studies, this August in Chernivtsi, Ukraine

The Summer Institute of Civic Studies will take place in Chernivtsi, Ukraine, from July, 31st to August, 12th 2017 (at the Chernivtsi Yuri-Fedkovych-University). The Summer Institute of Civic Studies is organized by a team from Tufts University (Prof. Peter Levine), the University of Maryland (Prof. Karol Soltan) and the University of Augsburg (Prof. Tetyana Kloubert).

The total number of participants will be limited to 20. Ukrainian scholars and practitioners are strongly encouraged to apply. We will also consider the applications from Germany, Belarus, Poland and Moldova. We are especially interested in applicants who have a long term interest in developing the civic potential of Ukraine and the region.
The working language of the Summer Institute will be English. Your mastery of the English language must be sufficient to read and understand complex texts from multiple disciplines, and to take part in a lively discussion.

Objectives and topics

The Summer Institute of Civic Studies is an intensive, two-week, interdisciplinary seminar bringing together advanced graduate students, faculty, and practitioners from diverse fields of study.

The Summer Institute of Civic Studies deals with issues of development of civil society, the role of an individual/citizen in society, the role of education in promoting democracy, the role of institutions in the development of a civil society and questions related to the ethical foundation of civic issues in a (democratic) society. These topics will be examined in international and comparative perspectives, considering European (especially German) and US-American civic traditions. International examples will be discussed in the context of consolidation of democracy in Eastern Europe, particularly in Ukraine, Poland, Moldova und Belarus.

The Summer Institute of Civic Studies engages participants in challenging discussions such as:

  • What kinds of citizens (if any) do good regimes need?
  • What should such citizens know, believe, and do?
  • What practices and institutional structures promote the right kinds of citizen-ship
  • What ought to be the relationships among empirical evidence, ethics, and

Summer Institutes of Civic Studies were annually organized by Peter Levine and Karol So?tan at Tufts University since 2009. Read about the summer institutes.

How to apply

All application materials must be submitted in English. The application must include the following:

  • A cover letter telling us why you want to participate in the summer institute and what you would contribute (maximum 2 pages)
  • A curriculum vitae

All application material can be sent as an email attachment in DOC or PDF format to

Decisions will be announced before the end of May 2017. For best consideration apply by May 20, 2017.

Expenditures: Selected participants will be provided with accommodation, meals and full event access (in some urgent cases also with travel costs).

Contact: For more information about the Summer Institute of Civic Studies please contact

We encourage you to share this message with your networks of people who might be interested by the Summer Institute of Civic Studies.

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Habermas, Ostrom, Gandhi (II)

(Santa Monica, CA) On Monday, I posted an argument that three traditions of theory and practice provide what we need for a civic theory, which is a theory of what we should do. It is different from a political theory that asks what should be done or how things should be.

I can elaborate by suggesting what it would mean to put the three traditions together, using each to compensate for the limitations of the others.

We might begin with a classic situation for the Bloomington School: a group of people is trying to manage a common-pool resource, which may be as traditional and tangible as a fishery or as current and abstract as protocols for the Internet. They should consider the whole list of design principles enumerated by Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues, including clear boundaries, graduated sanctions, shared monitoring, rules congruent with the context, and efficient mechanisms for conflict-resolution.

However, inspired by Habermas, we will elevate one design principle above the rest–participation–and will define it to be basically synonymous with public deliberation. People should deliberate about which of the other principles to employ, and how. This is because deliberation is our best mechanism for deciding what is right and wrong. Further, talking and listening with other people about public matters is an important aspect of the good life for human beings; it enriches our inner lives. While deliberating, people should strive for an ideal speech situation, one that is devoid of coercion and constraint, so that the only power is the power of the best argument.

Now the theory is beginning to sound fully Habermasian, but the Bloomington School puts deliberation in an essential context. After all, it is easier not to attend a discussion in the first place and let others do the work of governance. Thus the very existence of a discussion implies at least a partial prior solution to a free-rider problem. What’s more, the fact that the group has something to manage implies that they have already done some work together. To be sure, they may have taken the resource that they govern from others or exploited others’ labor. The founders of the United States, for example, governed a commonwealth that had been seized from indigenous nations and enriched by enslaved people’s labor. This was fundamentally unjust and evil. Nevertheless, it had taken common action to achieve this dominance; the colonists had to form local governments, create and enroll in militias, and sustain the Continental Army that wrested control from the British Crown. The general point is that a group that is in a position to govern a resource has usually managed to coordinate its members’ work already. Discussion rarely precedes governance; it is more typically a moment in an ongoing process of governance.

Moreover, the norms that allow groups to approach an ideal speech situation–norms like civility, reasonable trust, and openness–are fragile common resources that groups must build and sustain. Almost all real discussions are imperfect, by these criteria: some people are missing because they chose to free-ride, some participants undermine civility and trust in the way they talk, and time usually runs out before consensus can be reached, necessitating a vote. Thus the degree to which groups meet the Habermasian ideal of reasonable discourse depends on how well they have addressed core collective-action problems.

And not everything can be thrown open to discussion. The Bloomington School advises that boundaries must be clear and rules must be congruent with local circumstances and traditions in order for people to coordinate. In theory, boundaries and traditions could be freely discussed. Citizens could deliberate about who should be included in the group and what norms they should hold dear. But since a discussion already requires a reasonably functional group, and forming a group requires boundaries and congruence with local traditions, it is not literally possible to start from a neutral place. Instead, a group with some kind of boundary and set of traditions can consider modifying them in the interests of justice or practicality. They can rebuild their ship at sea, but they cannot start from scratch. The group comes first; then the discussion.

Although moments of explicit deliberation have special normative value, they need not be frequent. Ostrom analyzes a water management regime near Valencia, Spain, that was last deliberated almost six centuries ago and still functions today. Discourse should not be allowed to overshadow other kinds of contribution to the commons; people also contribute with their emotions, their labor, and their bodies.

In this combination of Habermas plus Ostrom, we have the nucleus of a satisfactory theory, but it doesn’t tell us what to do when some other group feels itself fundamentally different and sees no obligation to join a deliberation or share resources fairly. That is when we need the distinctive contributions of nonviolent social movements.They can force changes in the underlying rules and norms that govern a situation. They can force people to deliberate and to cooperate.

However, nonviolent social movements need insights from the schools of Habermas and of Ostrom, for three important reasons.

First, not every nonviolent social movement has desirable or worthy ends. The only way for human beings to test and reconsider whether their own values are worthy is to deliberate with people who do not agree with them (see Habermas).

Second a successful social movement requires people to coordinate their sacrifices, and that happens only when they already belong to, or can create, functional self-governing entities (see Ostrom).

Finally, a social movement cannot move forever. It must pursue a relatively stable or even permanent outcome as its objective. Participants in the Civil Rights Movement did not imagine that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would remove racism from the United States, but they pursued that legislation as a meaningful target during the early 1960s. An objective such as the Civil Rights Act should incorporate good institutional design (see Ostrom) and should allow or even require ongoing deliberation (see Habermas).

This does not mean that citizens are only fully active and responsible when they’re participating in a nonviolent social movement that urges a reform like the Voting Rights Act. But that example does bring out the main dimensions of citizenship, which can be combined in many other ways.

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Ostrom, Habermas, and Gandhi are all we need

(Rancho Palos Verdes, CA) Back in 2014, I argued: [Elinor] “Ostrom plus [Jürgen] Habermas is nearly all we need.” I define a good citizen as anyone who seriously asks the question “What should we do?” Citizens face a dizzying variety of hard issues, but underlying them are general categories of problems. As of 2014, I thought these were the two basic categories:

  1. Problems of discourse make our thoughts and conversations go badly, so that we believe or desire the wrong things. Example include our susceptibility to propaganda and our strong tendency to “motivated reasoning,” or picking facts and theories because they yield the results we want.
  2. Problems of collective action cause us to get results that we do not desire, even when we agree about goals and values. An example is the temptation to “free ride” on other people’s contributions, or the tendency of small groups of specialists to dominate even democratic organizations (“The Iron Law of Oligarchy”).

Habermas and the postwar Frankfurt School provide a robust theoretical tradition, linked to practical experimentation, about how to address problems of discourse. Elinor Ostrom and the Bloomington School provide an equally robust theory/practice tradition about how to address problems of collective action. That was my basis for saying that Ostrom and Habermas nearly sufficed for a civic theory.

But I now think there is a third general category:

  1. Problems of identity and exclusion arise when some people simply won’t deliberate or collaborate with other people because they regard the latter as fundamentally different and inferior. Relatedly, sometimes people feel that they themselves don’t deserve to deliberate or collaborate because they are inferior.

The theoretical resources of Habermas and Ostrom are not sufficient for that third category, and we can learn more from theorists and practitioners of nonviolent social movements. That is the tradition that tells us what to do about problems of identity and exclusion if we choose to take violence off the table.

Therefore, I now believe that Ostrom, Habermas, and Gandhi are all we need–assuming that each name is synecdoche for a whole tradition of theory and practice.

Ostrom Habermas Gandhi
Fundamental problem People fail to achieve what would be good for them collectively People manipulate other people by influencing their opinions and goals. People fail to view others (or themselves) as fully human
Exemplary case of the problem We destroy an environmental asset by failing to work together Government or corporate propaganda distorts our authentic values One national or ethnic group exploits another
Characteristic starting point People know what they want but can’t get it People don’t know what they want or want the wrong things Some people won’t recognize other people
Essential behavior of a citizen Working together to make or preserve something. Talking and listening about controversial values. Using nonviolent sacrifice to compel change
Instead of homo economicus (the individual who maximizes material self-interest) we need … Homo faber (the person as a maker) Homo sapiens (the person as a reasoner) or homo politicus (the participant in public assemblies). A Satyagrahi (the person as a bearer of soul force)
Role of the state It is a set of nested and overlapping associations, not fundamentally different from other associations (firms, nonprofits, etc.) Citizens form public opinion, which should guide the state, which makes law. The state should be radically distinct from other sectors A target of demands
Modernity is … A threat to local and traditional ways of cooperating, but we can use science to assist people in solving their own problems A process of enlightenment that liberates people, but it goes wrong when states and markets “colonize” the private domain (for Gandhi) an imperialist imposition, undermining swaraj
Main interdisciplinary combination Game theory plus observations of indigenous problem-solving Normative philosophy (mainly achieved through critical readings of past philosophers) plus system-level sociology. Critical theology plus military strategy
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deeper learning, civic learning

Newly published from Harvard Education Press is Rethinking Readiness: Deeper Learning for College, Work, and Life, edited by Rafael Heller, Rebecca E. Wolfe, and Adria Steinberg. It is an important overview of current efforts to make education “deeper,” meaning that students learn from guided but direct experience how to think critically and collaboratively about multidimensional problems. The Hewlett Foundation has been a leader in this work, and its Deeper Learning webpage is a useful introduction.

My colleague Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and I contribute the chapter on civic education. We argue that the deeper learning movement can revitalize civic education–and that civic education is an important opportunity for deeper learning. Subsections examine changes in the context of civics (such as political polarization and the rise of online citizenship), trends in civic education, and the relevance of the whole curriculum and school climate–not just civics courses–to youth civic development.

Suggested citation: Peter Levine and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, “Preparing for Civic Life.” In Rafael Heller, Rebecca E.,Wolfe & Adria Steinberg (eds)., Rethinking Readiness: Deeper Learning for College, Work, and Life (Cambridge: Harvard Education Press, 2017), pp. 59-79

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why do students sometimes lead social change?

(Cincinnati) At several critical points during the past century, college students have been at the vanguard of social change. Their agendas have not always been desirable; fascism, for example, had a student wing. But student activism is an important phenomenon. I think four frames of reference are most common for explaining it:

Age effects: Traditionally, most college students have been young. During young adulthood, individuals become aware of the social world but are still forming their identities and opinions. That gives them a certain critical detachment that is favorable to radical activism. They are also not overly burdened by experiences of political failure. Using that framework, we would expect younger adults consistently to be more active.

Generational effects: People who come of age during the same historical moment may form a shared and lasting identity as members of a given generation. The classic example (analyzed by Karl Mannheim in his seminal article) is the experience of being drafted into WWI. With this framework in mind, we might presume, for example, that German college students became highly active after 1965 because they shared the experience of growing up in prosperous homes with suppressed memories of the Nazi past. People born around the same time in contexts as different as Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union might even share a common generational identity (e.g., as children of The Sixties) if some of their formative experiences were similar.

Historical effects: Major events can affect people differently depending on their social circumstances. For instance, when a war breaks out, only the young single men may be drafted. A budget crisis can cause the government to cut funds for higher education; then college students see their fees go up. With this framework in mind, we would expect college students to become activated soon after major events affect them specifically.

Class effects: College students come disproportionately from middle-class or wealthy homes. Thanks to college, they are destined for positions in the top half of the income distribution. We might then interpret college student activism as “bourgeois” activism and ask why the bourgeoisie is, or is not, activated at a given moment.

I would like to add a fifth type of explanation, derived from some thoughts in Offe (1985). College students may face specific material circumstances that encourage–or discourage–them from being politically active. These circumstances are variables that will influence students’ levels and forms of engagement even of we hold age, generation, class, and historical moment constant. In other words, these are consequences of how college is organized socially.

Offe argued that certain demographic groups predominated in the New Social Movements of the 1970s and 1980s, such as Second Wave feminism and environmentalism. Two especially active groups were “housewives” (his word) and college students. He proposed that both groups were exposed to explicit discipline that provoked them to criticize social norms. Married women faced explicit coercion from their husbands; students, from their universities and parents. Yet both enjoyed a degree of flexibility about how to employ their time. That meant that they were able to protest if they wanted to.

I think we can elaborate on these explanations. Typically, college students who attend large institutions along with many other full-time students experience the following material circumstances:

  • A great deal of fluid social interaction, not limited to a nuclear family or work unit. That means that students can easily find and select into activist groups.
  • A concentrated population of other youth, which attracts political actors looking for support. Politicians speak on campuses; they don’t go around to fast food franchises hoping to talk to all the service workers.
  • Some useful non-cash assets for social-movement participation, such as flexible time, access to information and ideas, and connections to well-positioned adults.
  • A significant level of protection for free speech, especially as compared to workers in for-profit enterprises (and often in state bureaucracies).
  • Institutions designed for political discourse and communication, such as student newspapers and governments.
  • Some encouragement, via the curriculum, to think critically.
  • Some ability to choose courses of study and career pathways, which they can use as leverage over parents and universities. For instance, a student may be able to threaten to go into social work instead of accounting and then negotiate with tuition-paying parents. Threatening to drop out may also offer leverage.

If these factors matter, then we would expect the level of college student activism to vary when they change. For instance, if students lose their ability to choose courses of study because the job market is bad, they will have less leverage. If their freedom of speech is reduced, that will either suppress activism or serve as a form of explicit discipline that prompts them to revolt.

See also basic theories of civic developmentthe New Social Movements of the seventies, eighties, and today and to what extent can colleges promote upward mobility.  Reference: Offe, Claus, “New Social Movements: Challenging the Boundaries of Institutional Politics,” Social Research, vol. 52, no. 1 (Winter 1985), pp. 817-68.

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the New Social Movements of the seventies, eighties, and today

(Oxford, OH) By the 1980s, a large literature distinguished the “New Social Movements” from older strands of politics. Jürgen Habermas chose to list the following New Social Movements then active in Germany: “the anti-nuclear and environmental movements,” “the peace movement”; “the citizens’ action movement”; the “alternative” movement that included urban squatters and new rural communities; movements of “minorities (the elderly, homosexuals, disabled people, etc)”; support groups and youth sects; “religious fundamentalism”; the “tax protest movement”; “school protests” by parent associations; “resistance to modernist reforms”; and “the women’s movement” (1981, p. 34).

Some of these might be classified with the left, and others (notably, tax protests and religious fundamentalism), with the right. In retrospect, it is debatable whether they formed a meaningful category or could be distinguished sharply from the “Old” social movements, such as labor unionism and civil rights in the USA.

My view is that these movements did represent a new stage of politics in the wealthy democracies. That stage has passed, however, as new problems have come to the fore and as the social movements of ca. 1968-1985 have become institutionalized in the nonprofit sector, thus losing their emancipatory role. These changes mean that it’s important to compare our time with the 1970s and early 1980s and to envision productive combinations of the Old and New Social Movement forms.

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the European country that spoke Esperanto

Did you know that there used to be a quasi-autonomous European jurisdiction with a land area of 3.5 km and a population as large as 3,500 that used Esperanto as its official language?

Moresnet (Esperanto: Amikejo, or “friendship place”) lay among Belgium, Prussia/Germany and the Netherlands in roughly the location shown on this Google Map. It was established in 1816 and absorbed into Belgium in 1920. I exaggerate by calling it a “country,” but it was an international condominium with sovereignty shared by Prussia (later, Germany) and Belgium, official neutrality, its own tricolor flag, and a high degree of self-rule. In 1918, a project began to make it Esperanto-speaking; many residents learned the language, and the World Congress of Esperanto named it the capital of the global Esperanto community.

I learned this after reading about Alexander Dubcek, the face of Socialism with a Human Face and a Czechoslovak leader during both the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution. Dubcek was conceived in Chicago but born in what’s now Slovakia. He and his family moved to what’s now Kyrgyzstan at age 3. There he and his family lived in an experimental co-op called Interhelpo, where first Esperanto and then Ido (Esperanto for “offspring,” meaning a kind of Esperanto 2.0) was spoken as the main language. In 1943, Stalin liquidated Interhelpo and shot many of its crunchy residents, but by then Dubcek was back in Czechoslovakia, flighting the Nazis. He survived to be a thorn in the side of totalitarian communism, but not–as far as I know–a dedicated Esperantist.

Any dreams of uniting Moresnet and Interhelpo into a confederation of Esperanto states proved (shall we say) utopian.

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