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The Civic Web

The Civic Web: Young People, the Internet, and Civic Participation

Shakuntala Banaji
David Buckingham
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Civic Web
    Book Description:

    There has been widespread concern in contemporary Western societies about declining engagement in civic life; people are less inclined to vote, to join political parties, to campaign for social causes, or to trust political processes. Young people in particular are frequently described as alienated or apathetic. Some have looked optimistically to new media -- and particularly the Internet -- as a means of revitalizing civic life and democracy. Governments, political parties, charities, NGOs, activists, religious and ethnic groups, and grassroots organizations have created a range of youth-oriented websites that encourage widely divergent forms of civic engagement and use varying degrees of interactivity. But are young people really apathetic and lacking in motivation? Does the Internet have the power to re-engage those disenchanted with politics and civic life? Based on a major research project funded by the European Commission, this book attempts to understand the role of the Internet in promoting young people's participation. Examples are drawn from Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom -- countries offering contrasting political systems and cultural contexts. The book also addresses broader questions about the meaning of civic engagement, the nature of new forms of participation, and their implications for the future of civic life.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31781-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

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

    In recent years, digital media and networks have become embedded in our everyday lives and are part of broad-based changes to how we engage in knowledge production, communication, and creative expression. Unlike the early years in the development of computers and computer-based media, digital media are nowcommonplaceandpervasive, having been taken up by a wide range of individuals and institutions in all walks of life. Digital media have escaped the boundaries of professional and formal practice, and the academic, governmental, and industry homes that initially fostered their development. Now they have been taken up by diverse populations and...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    In contemporary Western societies, there is increasing talk of a “democratic deficit.” Even as we pay lip service to the principles of democracy, it seems that we are becoming less and less engaged in civic life. We are less inclined to vote, join political parties, volunteer or campaign for social causes, or place our trust in the political process. Very few of us appear to be “active citizens” in any sustained or meaningful way. These problems are often thought to manifest particularly among young people, who are widely described as alienated, apathetic, and disengaged. And if young people are no...

  6. 1 Defining the Issues
    (pp. 1-14)

    By the time we began to write this book, in 2011, the issues our research was concerned with seemed to have taken on much greater urgency. Both authors were involved in the wave of protests that swept through universities in the UK in response to the government’s withdrawal of funding and the consequent tripling of student tuition fees. On one occasion, we were trapped in (different) police “kettles” on the streets near London’s Houses of Parliament as ranks of officers confined protesters to narrow spaces and then proceeded to ride horses into the crowd. We anxiously texted each other and...

  7. 2 Researching the Civic Web
    (pp. 15-26)

    Any attempt to study even a part of the online world faces obvious difficulties. The Internet is a decentralized medium, and it is impossible to gain a comprehensive picture of everything that is available online, much less construct a representative sample of it. It is an ever-changing medium that is always “under construction”: several of the sites we discuss in this book no longer exist or have changed significantly since we first accessed them. And though it is developing rapidly, Internet research still lacks the kind of shared descriptive and conceptual tools that are available, for example, in areas such...

  8. 3 Producing the Civic Web
    (pp. 27-46)

    Previous research on civic and political websites, whether those of governments, campaigning networks, or activist organizations, has largely tended to focus on their form and content and less frequently on their users. Very little attention has been paid to the organizations or individuals who produce such sites or to the contexts in which they are actually created. Writing about the use of the Web by antiwar activist groups, Kevin Gillan has argued that “the creation and dissemination of meaning through Internet technologies has been included among the core practical tasks of movement organizations” (2009, 26). Yet these “core practical tasks”...

  9. 4 Young People Online and Offline
    (pp. 47-62)

    How do young people in Europe use the Internet, and to what extent do they use it for civic purposes in particular? How does their use—and non-use—of the Internet fit into the context of their everyday life? How does it connect—or fail to connect—with their offline social and political concerns? Are there specific types of online civic activity that are most relevant for particular groups of young people? To what extent do the differences among young people in these respects reflect broader social inequalities? And what about those who are not regular Internet users—are they...

  10. 5 The Young Civilians
    (pp. 63-92)

    In this chapter, we provide a broad overview of the data gathered from our focus groups. We explore these young people’s motivations for both on- and offline civic participation and the social circumstances in which this participation occurs, as well as their responses to particular forms of civic content. As far as possible, we attempt to set this information in the context of their everyday uses of the Internet and in the wider context of national and international civic traditions and movements.

    The interviews discussed here were conducted in the seven participating countries between April 2008 and February 2009, with...

  11. 6 Politics Online
    (pp. 93-130)

    In this chapter and the next, our focus of attention shifts more directly to the Web itself. Picking up on the brief overview in chapter 2, we present a series of case studies of civic websites targeting young people in our seven partner countries. Chapter 7 examines religious, ethnic, and regional identities online. This chapter focuses on organizations, networks, and groups whose online activities deal more or less explicitly with politics. It covers a spectrum of websites, from those of mainstream political parties to independent activist groups, from the far left to the far right, and from well-funded projects to...

  12. 7 Making Civic Identities
    (pp. 131-152)

    This chapter considers the use of the Web to develop and promote forms of cultural, ethnic, and religious identity, especially among minority communities. The sites we discuss differ widely in their conception, intentions, and construction, but they are similar in one key respect: their invocation of a preexisting sense of communal identity among their intended users. Not all these invitations to identification are overtly political; indeed, most of the sites explicitly avoid positioning themselves in relation to traditional or even alternative and activist politics. Rather, their aims tend to focus on ideas of community service, moral values, or self-advancement. Nevertheless,...

  13. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 153-166)

    The research we have reported here began from a seemingly straightforward question: how can the Internet be used to promote civic participation among young people? In this concluding chapter we summarize our key findings on this question, looking across the range of data and the different types of investigation we have presented. However, we also seek to challenge the terms in which the question has been posed, and point to the need to move beyond it.

    Our research supports the view that young people are largely alienated from, or at least feel dissatisfied with, traditional institutional forms of politics. This...

  14. References
    (pp. 167-178)
  15. Index
    (pp. 179-186)