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Civic Studies call for proposals for APSA 2022

Call for proposals from Civic Studies (formerly Committee on the Political Economy of the Good Society)

Related Group Chair(s): Peter Levine, Tufts University, and Trygve Throntveit, Minnesota Humanities Center,

The Civic Studies Related Group invites proposals for panels, round tables, and individual papers that make a significant contribution to the civic studies field; articulate a civic studies perspective on some important issue; or contribute to theoretical, empirical, or practical debates in civic studies. We especially encourage proposals that emphasize actual or potential civic responses to current social and political crises, their origins, and possible consequences.

Civic studies is a field defined by diversity yet connected by participants’ commitments to promoting interdisciplinary research, theory, and practice in support of civic renewal: the strengthening of civic (i.e., citizen-powered and citizen-empowering) politics, initiatives, institutions, and culture. Its concern is not with citizenship understood as legal membership in a particular polity, but with guiding civic ideals and a practical ethos embraced by individuals loyal to, empowered by, and invested in the communities they form and re-form together. Its goal is to promote these ideals through improved institutional designs, enhanced public deliberation, new and improved forms of public work among citizens, or clearer and more imaginative political theory.

The civic studies framework adopted in 2007 cites two ideals for the emerging discipline: “public spiritedness” (or “commitment to the public good”) and “the idea of the citizen as a creative agent.” Civic studies is an intellectual community that takes these two ideals seriously. Although new, it draws from several important strands of ongoing research and theory, including the work of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom and the Bloomington School, of Juergen Habermas and critical social theory, Brent Flyvbjerg and social science as phronesis, and more diffuse traditions such as philosophical pragmatism, Gandhian nonviolence, the African American Freedom Struggle. It supports work on deliberative democracy, on public work, on civic engagement and community organizing, among others.

To propose a session, click here when logged in as an APSA member or else navigate as follows: open the conference platform; click “Submit or Edit a Proposal,” click “Submit a Division, Related Group, or Partner Association Proposal,” scroll down to and click “Related Groups,” and select “Civic Studies.”

APSA members can also join the Civic Studies group (free) at this link.

professionals as grizzled veterans or as reflective learners

In stressful, front-line professions–such as teaching, military service, nursing, or policing–you may encounter the idea of a “professional” as someone who has done the job in one of its harder forms for a long time. People who merely study or teach the topic, or those who have had brief or sheltered experience on the job, are not true professionals.

An alternative sense of a “professional” is someone who has reflected deeply on the role from a variety of perspectives. For instance, reading and talking about the history and sociology of schools may contribute to a teacher’s professional development.

Of course, there are other senses of professionalism apart from these two. I like the idea of “democratic professionalism” developed by Albert Dzur and others: a professional as someone who works with citizens who hold other jobs and roles to strengthen democracy together. There is also a trustee ideal, in which the professional safeguards public values in return for the right to provide certain services.

But those are ideals. In almost any actual professional setting, you can find grizzled veterans telling the newbies how it’s really done, plus formal academic requirements and assessments. These two ways of thinking about professionalism constantly compete for legitimacy, while more idealistic conceptions remain somewhat hidden or marginal.

If veterancy and academic study are the main options, then I’d advocate for a mix of the two. Experience is valuable. It can impart practical wisdom drawn from numerous concrete examples (phronesis). People who have spent years in a job often (not always) deserve respect for their service. Thus there are benefits to hiring veteran professionals as teachers and professors, employing them as mentors, placing students in practical internships, etc.

Yet professionals should also hold a critical stance toward their own role and learn from the concepts and tools of other disciplines. For instance, a teacher is better off understanding the sociology of schools even if the authors of sociology articles would make bad K-12 teachers. Their value does not derive from direct personal experience. Phronesis is useful, but so are other forms of knowledge, including theory and empirical data.

In pretentious settings, such as highly selective college and universities, it can be necessary to fight for the legitimacy of experience and to make space for veteran practitioners. However, in places like police stations and some K-12 schools, it can be hard to make space for critique. Whether teaching professionals in an academic way will improve their practice is an empirical question; the answer will probably vary depending on who teaches what, to whom, and how. There is no guarantee it will work. However, if a profession is going to improve, then at least some people who hold the job must draw insights from outside their field, including from scholarship.

See also: separating populism from anti-intellectualism; Public Work and Democratic Professionalism; Democracy in schools: Albert Dzur talks with principal Donnan Stoicovy; a way forward for high culture.

what would happen to race in a just world?

What is Race? Four Philosophical Views (2019)* presents a debate among four sophisticated, current philosophers of race. All the authors are committed anti-racists who are eloquent about the evil histories of the use of race. They would take similar views on most political controversies involving race. All would reject what Kwame Anthony Appiah (quoted in Quayshawn Spencer’s chapter) called “racialism”: “the view that humans naturally divide into a small number of groups called ‘races’ in such a way that the members of each race share certain fundamental, inheritable, physical, moral, intellectual, and cultural characteristics with one another that they do not share with members of any other race.” They would all say that “racialism” is false and evil. Yet they disagree about metaphysical and methodological issues that arise when we ask what kind of a thing a race is, if it’s anything at all.

Their arguments are subtle and hard to summarize, but an example offers a way into the debate. Imagine a future state in which racial injustice is over. All implicit and explicit biases are gone. All structural inequities linked to race have been solved. All appropriate reparations have been fully paid. You can imagine this happening after many decades or centuries of political action in our real world, or as a result of a thought-experiment: aliens from another planet or divine forces have repaired things on earth. What then should happen to the word and the idea of race?

I think Sally Haslanger would say that race would then cease to exist, because it means subordination. To be a little more precise: the meaning of a social construct is the historical tradition of how it has been used in a society. Race has been used in several ways; it has multiple meanings. But one major way is as the basis for privilege and subordination in the USA. Emphasizing that aspect of the word is the right thing to do now because it “highlight[s]—in the relevant cases—how our racializing practices and identities contribute to injustice.” Once racial subordination is solved, there is no good reason to try to change the meaning of the word “race” and continue to use it. People will have races until justice prevails; after that, they will no longer have races. It can be valuable to preserve cultures, religions, and other groupings, but they should be voluntary and specific. Races don’t work like that and would no longer have any justification after the world is just. “I find problematic the idea that a just world is one in which cultural groups can restrict their membership on racial grounds. I embrace, instead, a model of multiple coexisting cultures that are mutable, flexible, and creatively tolerant around issues of ancestry and appearance.”

Chike Jeffers argues that although racial categories originated as a result of white supremacy, racial identities have developed valuable cultural significance for people of color—notably, people who identify as Black (as he does).  “Everyday talk about black people, for example, is best understood as referring to a real group to which one can belong, even if such talk often involves false assumptions.” He envisions a world in which Blackness is preserved and developed even though white supremacy has been defeated. He argues that this is logically possible and also desirable. “Race as a social construction could live on past the death of racism, in my view, given that racial groups could continue to exist as cultural groups. … The continued existence of racial diversity as cultural diversity after the end of racism is therefore, in my view, something good. … [A]s someone of sub-Saharan African descent, I personally desire the indefinite persistence of black people as a cultural group.” (He argues, too, that pan-African solidarity reflects real cultural similarities across the continent before European imperialism and racism; it is not completely reactive.)

Quayshawn Spencer argues that the races currently counted by the US government refer to “human continental populations”:  Africans, Eurasians, East Asians, Oceanians, and Native Americans. Races define distinctions that are useful empirically (mainly for medicine) although they could not possibly justify inequality. A “biologically real entity is an epistemically useful and justified entity in a well-ordered research program in biology.” Race meets this criterion. Thus “a Black person is a person with genomic ancestry from the African population. That’s it. … Furthermore, the degree to which a person is Black is equal to the proportion of her alleles that originated from the African population.” This would continue to be true under just conditions, although then all the associations between racial categories and health issues that result today from injustice would be gone.

Joshua Glasgow says that this situation would prove that race had always been false, and people had simply been racialized in a way that would no longer happen if the world became just. “Even if tomorrow all groups currently recognized as racial had equal power and participated equally in eating the world’s foods, dancing its forms of dance, playing its kinds of music, and so on—even in such a world, I do not think we’d say that on the ordinary concept of race Hillary Clinton somehow loses her whiteness or that Jeremy Lin stops being Asian because of those points of equality.” Therefore, the ordinary concept of race points to something independent of oppression and of culture, and as such, it is a wrong and false idea that should be rejected now. We should recognize and even emphasize racialized oppression but not concede the reality of race.

*Glasgow, Joshua; Haslanger, Sally; Jeffers, Chike; and Spencer, Quayshawn, What Is Race? Four Philosophical Views (Oxford University Press, 2019). See also: why social scientists should pay attention to metaphysics; how philosophy is supposed to work; is social science too anthropocentric?; social criticism as reading social forms;

civility as equality

Nowadays, the word “civility” is often used to mean politeness or adherence to locally recognized norms that divide appropriate speech from inappropriate speech. You might, for example, be “uncivil” if you are too loud or too angry. Such norms can be helpful, but they risk suppressing authentic and justifiable emotions.

The word has a different origin, closely related to “citizen.” In republican political thought, it it can mean equal standing to participate in politics, rather like the classical Greek word isonomia (roughly: the right to look any fellow citizen in the eye and say what you think). Almost the opposite of etiquette, it connotes a kind of plain, direct, and honest speech.

As Renaissance Florence developed a full-blown ideology of republicanism, the city embraced norms, rules, and customs that were meant to convey the equal standing of all citizen men and to discourage distinctions of caste or power based on military might. Just as one example, no man raised his hat to another Florentine. Professional soldiers were led by paid foreigners, never by Florentines, and these mercenaries had to swear loyalty to the republic’s councilors. The plutocrat banker Cosimo de Medici was wise enough to honor republican norms and manipulated the city’s policies quietly through his networks, without seeking offices or titles or any special personal treatment.

The republic finally ended for good when Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, an heir of Cosimo’s vast fortune, got himself installed as a monarchical ruler and brutally suppressed dissent. A Florentine chronicler, Giovanni Cambi, noted that Lorenzo had been raised in monarchical Rome, where he had learned to expect deference. Lorenzo was surrounded by retainers who called him “padrone” and doffed their hats to him. This was evidence that he knew nothing of “civility”:

Guiliano de Medici, blood brother of Pope Leo X, who had ruled the city of Florence, was living in Rome, and deprived of the city government altogether. He awarded that government to his nephew Lorenzo. Because this Lorenzo had been a child when his father was expelled from Florence, when he returned to Florence he did not know a single citizen, and he was not used to civility (civilta), and instead he aspired to arms and to dominate; and he succeeded in that; for although most citizens were displeased, nevertheless in their ambitiousness and avarice, they pretended to rejoice.

Istorie di Giovanni Cambi cittadino fiorentino, p. 67 (my trans.)

We might assume that doffing hats and using titles exemplifies civility–for better or worse. But the opposite was true in Renaissance Italy. Courtly politeness was a symptom of domination, incompatible with civic virtue and “civility.”

[I am drawing on Richard C. Trexler, Public Life in Renaissance Florence, 1991. See also: civility: not too much, not too little; what to do about the guy behind the desk; civic republicanism in medieval Italy: the Lucignano council frescoes; what does the word civic mean?]

Equity Research Symposium

All are welcome to a webinar symposium presented by the Tufts Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth, and Civic Engagement on Friday, November 19, 2021 from 10:00 am to noon ET. Register here


(10-11:15) Presentations of current research, moderated by Shikhar Shrestha:

  • Jennifer Allen, ScD, MPH, Parents’ Willingness to Vaccinate Children for COVID-19: Conspiracy Theories, Information Sources, and Perceived Responsibility.
  • Eden Shaveet, BA, Marissa Gallegos, BS, Catie Urquhart, Web-Based Health Information Seeking Methods and Time Since Provider Engagement: Reflections on Access Equity.
  • Wenhui Feng, PhD, Ideology and health behavior.
  • Megan Mueller, PhD, Equity and the “pet effect”: Complexities in understanding how pets support health outcomes.

(11:15-noon) Panel discussion: Examining our Definition of Equity

What is implicit conception of “equity” is represented on the website, with its data-visualization tool? How should people think about equity?

  • Peter Levine, PhD, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Tufts Johnathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life (moderator)
  • Lionel McPherson, PhD Tufts Department of Philosophy
  • Felipe Dias, PhD, Tufts Department of Sociology
  • Elizabeth Setren, PhD, Tufts Department of Economics 

(The graphic above is a sample result from the tool on the homepage.)