a symposium on civic studies

(New Orleans) I am here for a daylong symposium on “Civic Studies” at the Southern Political Science Association. It starts with an author-meets-critics session about my book, which is offered as one example of civic studies, along with Paul Dragos Aligica’s new book, Institutional Diversity and Political Economy: The Ostroms and Beyond.

According to our latest definition:

  1. Civic studies is the intellectual component of civic renewal, which is the movement to improve societies by engaging their citizens.
  2. The goal of civic studies is to develop ideas and ways of thinking helpful to citizens, understood as co-creators of their worlds. We do not define “citizens” as official members of nation-states or other political jurisdictions. Nor does this formula invoke the word “democracy.” One can be a co-creator in many settings, ranging from loose social networks and religious congregations to the globe. Not all of these venues are, or could be, democracies.
  3. Civic studies asks “What should we do?” It is thus inevitably about ethics (what is right and good?), about facts (what is actually going on?), about strategies (what would work?), and about the institutions that we co-create. Good strategies may take many forms and use many instruments, but if a strategy addresses the question “What should we do?”, then it must guide our own actions–it cannot simply be about how other people ought to act.

The phrase “civic studies” was coined in 2007 in a joint statement by Harry Boyte, University of Minnesota; Stephen Elkin, University of Maryland; Peter Levine, Tufts University; Jane Mansbridge, Harvard University; Elinor Ostrom, Indiana University; Karol Soltan, University of Maryland; and Rogers Smith, University of Pennsylvania.

Civic studies is not civic education. Nor is it the study of civic education. However, once it is fully developed, it will influence how citizenship is taught in schools and colleges.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.