Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), raises the question at his blog about what we actually mean when we use the term “civic engagement.” “There is no single answer to this question, which is deeply contested,” he notes.
This is one of the points that Rita Koganzon raises in her recent essay for the Program on American Citizenship, though she focuses more on the term “civic education” than specifically civic engagement. In “Educating for Liberty?”, Koganzon emphasizes the need to seriously consider and debate the more fundamental questions of what civic education means, what its goals should be, and who gets to decide how to implement those goals in schools–and notes that many contemporary theories of civic education fall short in addressing these questions adequately.
In Levine’s post, he makes a similar point: “The definition of ‘civic engagement,'” he writes, “should be contested because it relates to basic questions about what constitutes a good society and a good human life.”
To illustrate the debate, I post some definitions below. Some of the ways in which they differ include: the centrality of reflection or knowledge versus action; whether engagement is understood as relationships between the citizenry and formal institutions or as horizontal relationships among citizens (or both); whether the local, the national, or the global scale is emphasized; the balance of civil rights versus civic responsibilities; the importance of morality and ethics; the degree to which good citizens are thought of as deliberating, advocating, monitoring, caring, and/or working; whether civic engagement is tied to democracy or can also occur in other contexts; and whether to specify social outcomes as the objectives of civic engagement or rather to define it as a pluralistic debate about what social outcomes ought to be pursued.
“Civic engagement is the participation of private actors in the public sphere, conducted through direct and indirect interactions of civil society organizations and citizens-at-large with government, multilateral institutions and business establishments to influence decision making or pursue common goals.” –The World Bank
“Being sensitive to and understanding the world’s problems as well as addressing them through collaboration and commitment.” Duke University (via http://civic.duke.edu/)
“Civic Participation: Individual and collective actions designed to address public issues through the institutions of civil society.” “Political Awareness: Cognitive, attitudinal and affective involvement in the polity.” “Civic Engagement: The combination of Civic Awareness and Civic Participation.” — Michael Delli Carpini, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication
“Our mission is to educate and empower people to engage in hands-on democracy in order to individually and collectively take strategic actions to identify and address the root causes of local, state, federal, and global issues of social and economic injustice and concerns.” — Occupy Los Angeles, “Civic Engagement” website