Civic studies

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Civic Studies is an interdisciplinary field that empirically investigates civic engagement, civic education, and civil society. It also aims to influence the social sciences and humanities in general to take the perspective of intentional human actors—people who reason and work together to improve their worlds—in addition to institutions and impersonal social forces.


A seminal statement is "The New Civic Politics: Civic Theory and Practice for the Future" (2007) by Harry Boyte, Stephen Elkin, Peter Levine, Jane Mansbridge, Elinor Ostrom, Karol Soltan, and Rogers Smith.[1] The authors write:

We see before us an emerging civic politics, along with an emerging intellectual community, a field, and a discipline. Its work is to understand and strengthen civic politics, civic initiatives, civic capacity, civic society and civic culture. It is emerging in many disciplines and fields of human endeavor.

Elinor Ostrom's whole body of work, for which she won the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, has been interpreted as an important forerunner of Civic Studies.[2][3] John Dewey,[4] Jürgen Habermas,[5] William James,[6] and Pope Francis[7] are also cited as influences or inspirations. Filippo Sabetti traces Civic Studies back to the practices of "governance [that] were worked out in the free cities of Germany and Italy" in the Middle Ages.[5]

Uses in scholarly literature[edit]

Civic Studies is the explicit focus in an emerging scholarly literature. Alison K. Cohen, J. Ruth Dawley-Carr, Liza Pappas, and Alison Staudinger write that the question "What is a good citizen?" is fundamental to Civic Studies. This question leads to more specific ones, such as the relationship between citizens and any particular nation-state or regime, and the skills and behavior of "a good citizen." They write, "Questions like these are not currently central to any particular academic discipline and require innovative interdisciplinary rethinking. The emerging field of civic studies, which is organically developing within several academic and political sectors, offers a particularly promising home.[8]

In the 2017 Dewey Lecture for the John Dewey Society, Harry C. Boyte writes that a "concept of citizen as co-creator" is definitive of "our new field of civic studies."[9]

Meira Levinson writes that an aim of her book No Citizen Left Behind[10] was "to bring together research and practice from ... shockingly distinct literatures, traditions, and knowledge bases. ... In so doing, I am indebted to Peter Levine and Karol Soltan for their work fostering a broader field of “civic studies.” [11]

In her book American Public Education and the Responsibility of its Citizens, Sarah Stitzlein writes: "I join the efforts of the emerging field of Civic Studies as I tackle social problems using philosophy and social science to address a larger audience concerned with civic renewal." She also identifies with "the spirit of Civic Studies" because she seeks to "emphasize the agency of ... citizens as they co-create their worlds via schools.[12] From a European perspective, Nora Schröder writes:

The development of Civic Studies as an academic discipline can be regarded as a political project in two ways: First, it aims at improving societies by helping the citizens to engage politically. Second, it challenges dominant scientific principles by its self-understanding as a normative science engaged in participatory research and active political engagement.[13]

Susan Orr and James Johnson see research on workers' self-management as a fruitful contribution to Civic Studies.[14]

Joshua Forstenzer argues that Civic Studies continues the tradition of John Dewey's experimentalism.[15]

Civic Studies has been applied in STEM fields as well. For example, in sustainability research, it has been cited as the source of the question, "What do academics who work in the humanities and social sciences have to offer to food justice, if anything?"[16] In a white paper commissioned for a National Science Foundation workshop on Civic Science, Gwen Ottinger & Nicholas Jordan write, "Civic studies provides a framework for conceptualizing how scientific inquiry can serve as a democratic practice, and for theorizing about the contributions of scientific practice to democratic culture."[17]

Practical initiatives[edit]

The Good Society is "A Journal of Civic Studies"[18]

Civic Studies is an undergraduate major at Tufts University; an inititiative [19] at Augsburg University; and a focus[20] of the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development. Several individual scholars describe their work as contributions to Civic Studies, e.g., Cornell University Development Sociologist Scott Peters and Kansas State University civil discourse and deliberation scholar Timothy J. Shaffer. In April 2016, Tufts University "announced a $15 million gift from alumnus (A'76) Jonathan Tisch and his wife, Lizzie" for Civic Studies.[21] Brian Schaffner is the Newhouse Professor of Civic Studies at Tufts University.

The Summer Institute of Civic Studies has been held annually at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life since 2009. The European Summer Institute of Civic Studies has been held in various locations in Ukraine and Germany annually since 2015.[22]


  1. ^ Reprinted as Boyte, Harry; Elkin, Stephen; Levine, Peter; Mansbridge, Jane; Ostrom, Rogers; Soltan, Karol; Smith (2014). "The New Civic Politics: Civic Theory and Practice for the Future". The Good Society. 23 (2): 206–11. doi:10.5325/goodsociety.23.2.0206.
  2. ^ Peter Levine (2011). "Seeing Like a Citizen". The Good Society. 20 (1): 3–14. doi:10.5325/goodsociety.20.1.0003. JSTOR 10.5325/goodsociety.20.1.0003.
  3. ^ Aligica, Paul Dragos (2013-03-30). "Citizenship, Political Competence and Civic Studies: The Ostromian Perspective". Rochester, NY. SSRN 2242205. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Timothy J. Shaffer (2013). "What Should You and I Do? Lessons for Civic Studies from Deliberative Politics in the New Deal". The Good Society. 22 (2): 137–150. doi:10.5325/goodsociety.22.2.0137. JSTOR 10.5325/goodsociety.22.2.0137.
  5. ^ a b Soltan, Karol Edward (2014). "The Emerging Field of a New Civics". In Levine, Peter; Soltan, Karol (eds.). Civic Studies: Approaches to the Emerging Field. Washington, DC: Bringing Theory to Practice. pp. 9–18. ISBN 9780985308827.
  6. ^ THRONTVEIT, TRYGVE (2018). "Civic Renewal". William James Studies. 14 (1): 120–141. ISSN 1933-8295. JSTOR 26493694.
  7. ^ Boyte, Harry C. (2016). "Laudato Si', Civic Studies, and the Future of Democracy". The Good Society. 25 (1): 46–61. doi:10.5325/goodsociety.25.1.0046. ISSN 1538-9731.
  8. ^ Cohen, Alison K.; Dawley-Carr, J. Ruth; Pappas, Liza; Staudinger, Alison (2013). "Civic Studies: Fundamental Questions, Interdisciplinary Methods". The Good Society. 22 (2): 122–136. doi:10.1353/gso.2013.0010. ISSN 1538-9731.
  9. ^ Boyte, Harry C. (2017-12-23). "John Dewey and Citizen Politics: How Democracy Can Survive Artificial Intelligence and the Credo of Efficiency". Education and Culture. 33 (2): 13–47. doi:10.5703/educationculture.33.2.0013. ISSN 1559-1786.
  10. ^ Meira, Levinson (2012-05-08). No citizen left behind. Harvard University. Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN 9780674065789. OCLC 758383391.
  11. ^ Levinson, Meira; Philosophy Documentation Center (2015). "Reply to Critics: A Citizen for All Seasons? The Promises and Perils of a Trans-Ideological Vision of Civic Empowerment". Social Philosophy Today. 31: 183–193. doi:10.5840/socphiltoday201551814. ISSN 1543-4044.
  12. ^ 1979-, Stitzlein, Sarah Marie (2017). American public education and the responsibility of its citizens : supporting democracy in the age of accountability. New York, NY. ISBN 9780190692568. OCLC 988167293.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Schröder, Nora (January 2018). "A Civic Studies perspective on European citizens: in search for potential in the conflict surrounding TTIP". European Politics and Society. 19 (1): 120–145. doi:10.1080/23745118.2017.1363507. ISSN 2374-5118.
  14. ^ Orr; Johnson (2018). "Cooperative Democracy and Political-Economic Development: The Civic Potential of Worker Coops". The Good Society. 26 (2–3): 234. doi:10.5325/goodsociety.26.2-3.0234. JSTOR 10.5325/goodsociety.26.2-3.0234.
  15. ^ Forstenzer, Joshua (2019). Deweyan Experimentalism and the Problem of Method in Political Philosophy. section 10.4: Routledge. ISBN 978-1351064446.CS1 maint: location (link)
  16. ^ Porter, Christine M. (2018-11-06). "Gritty Philosophical Thinking about Food Justice Doing". Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 8 (3): 221–224. doi:10.5304/jafscd.2018.083.009. ISSN 2152-0801.
  17. ^ "A Call To Action: Civic Science And The Grand Challenges Of The 21st Century". Imagining America. September 25, 2014.
  18. ^
  19. ^ initiative
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Tufts University Receives $15 Million for Civic Studies". Philanthropy News Digest. April 18, 2016.
  22. ^ "Summer Institute of Civic Studies". Retrieved 2019-03-24.