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Participatory Politics

Participatory Politics: Next-Generation Tactics to Remake Public Spheres

Elisabeth Soep
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 96
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  • Book Info
    Participatory Politics
    Book Description:

    Although they may disavow politics as such, civic-minded young people use every means and media at their disposal to carry out the basic tasks of citizenship. Through a mix of face-to-face and digital methods, they deliberate on important issues and debate with peers and powerbrokers, redefining some key dynamics that govern civic life in the process. InParticipatory Politics, Elisabeth Soep examines the specific tactics used by young people as they experiment with civic engagement. Drawing on her scholarly research and on her work as a media producer and educator, Soep identifies five tactics that are part of effective, equitable participatory politics among young people: Pivot Your Public (mobilizing civic capacity within popular culture engagements); Create Content Worlds (using inventive and interactive storytelling that sparks sharing); Forage for Information in public data archives; Code Up (using computational thinking to design tools, platforms, and spaces for public good); and Hide and Seek (protecting privacy and information sources). After describing these tactics as they manifest themselves in a range of youth-driven activities -- from the runaway spread of the videoKony 2012to community hackathons -- Soep discusses concrete ideas for cultivating the new literacies that will enable young people to participate in public life. She goes on to consider some risks associated with these participatory tactics, including simplification and sensationalism, and ways to avoid them, and concludes with implications for future research and practice.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32020-7
    Subjects: Technology, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)

    The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning, published by the MIT Press in collaboration with the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (MITE), present findings from current research on how young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. The reports result from research projects funded by the MacArthur Foundation as part of its $50 million initiative in digital media and learning. They are published openly online (as well as in print) in order to support broad dissemination and to stimulate further research in the field....

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In 2012, 24-year-old Pendarvis Harshaw was finishing up some college courses and working as a mentor for the local school district. Over spring break, he set off on a road trip to visit his father, whom he hadn’t seen in 18 years. It was through his uncle on Facebook that Pen had tracked down his dad. Pen flew from Oakland to Chicago and then joined a friend with a car for the 12-hour drive to the Alabama prison where his father was incarcerated. Pen tweeted the whole way, regularly updating his growing community of 2,250-plus followers.

    A couple of months...

  6. Participatory Politics: What Sets It Apart?
    (pp. 9-14)

    Consider some of the activities Pen and his community carried out in his storytelling project. Theycirculated information, activating various channels, including self-publication through personal outlets, while also pursuing third-party distribution. Theysparked dialogue, not only telling but also hearing; Pen deliberately stoked conversation by joining in comment streams, publicly recognizing “link-love” when others reposted his piece, and by warmly receiving acknowledgment of what he’d shared in his story. Both he and his readersproduced content, using digital tools and platforms to craft narratives and responses that addressed potent social themes. They investigated sources of information, connection, and opportunity, not...

  7. Five Tactics of Participatory Politics
    (pp. 15-50)

    The opening example of Pendarvis Harshaw’s distribution strategy for a story ignored by mainstream news outlets is an instance of pivoting his public. As noted earlier, Pen’s friends and followers shared many personal, social, and cultural interests. That much is obvious from his social media posts about upcoming poetry events and bicyclist gatherings and his photos of extreme hairstyles. By including news of his journey in his ongoing social media updates—where he also cheered the Oakland As and planned his upcoming birthday celebration—Pen enlisted a network of already connected friends and associates to examine issues relevant to public...

  8. Literacies That Support Participatory Politics
    (pp. 51-62)

    For the five tactics I have presented here, the trick, of course, is knowing how to utilize these activities in ways that achieve the desired effects on issues of public concern. It’s one thing to name some tactics young people are using to have a voice and exert influence on public affairs. It’s another thing entirely to create compelling ways to organize communities around these kinds of activities, meaningfully and equitably.

    That brings me to literacies. What are the forms of know-how that power participatory politics? It is beyond the scope of this report (and of my own know-how) to...

  9. Mind the Risks
    (pp. 63-68)

    Now I will address a series of concerns that merit serious attention as we work to encourage the strengths and minimize the risks of next-generation civic engagement. Digital tools remove some of the barriers to civic participation, but they also eliminate some of the safeguards that have traditionally been in place to mitigate harm, and they can invite their own problems as well.

    Digital media conventions for production and circulation can compel citizens to sacrifice important nuance in the messages that drive movements. Brevity, such as the 140-character limit of Twitter or the assumption that videos won’t “go viral” if...

  10. Concluding Thoughts
    (pp. 69-74)

    In this report, I have drawn from the Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network and other sources to identify a set of emerging tactics young people are using to engage with and remake public spheres, often deploying digital and social media tools in intriguing ways. I have linked those tactics to a series of literacies that young people will increasingly rely on as they exercise civic agency. I have also highlighted some concerns related to participatory politics—vulnerabilities in the model that can cause even well-intentioned efforts to do inadvertent harm.

    Table 1 shows how the various dimensions of participatory...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 75-76)
  12. References
    (pp. 77-84)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 85-86)