The trouble with civic: a snapshot of young people's civic and political engagements in twenty-first-century democracies.
Journal of youth studies, 11
In much academic and policy literature about civic engagement, regardless of their political or social circumstances, youth across the globe are enjoined to engage in all the activities thought good for them in order to qualify for the moral label 'good citizens'. Voting, watching the news, party activism, sending emails to government websites, attending meetings in the town hall, volunteering, or addressing envelopes for civic organisations are examples of the kinds of activities most often highlighted. In this discourse, distrust and dissatisfaction, however legitimate, as well as group anger, cynicism and unsanctioned protest, are seen as being in conflict with proper 'civic pathways'. The 'political' is primarily configured as pertaining to elections and government, and civic is the implicitly pro-social and conformist field within which future citizens are educated for political engagement. By the same token, when it is not straightforwardly about a 'passport' which represents a set of rights and duties, citizenship appears to become a kind of etiquette, whereby 'members' communicate with their 'elected representatives' and regardless of the outcome of their interest and action, continue to be motivated and interested in the actions of 'their' government. But how do such academic and policy conceptualisations of 'the good citizen' and 'civic action' map onto the real lives of young people? Based on a case study of responses to young people's activism following the start of the 2003 war in Iraq, as well as on the initial findings of the European project about young people, civic participation and the internet, Civicweb, running from 2006 to 2009, this paper engages speculatively with questions such as the following. What kinds of political actions are in fact being encouraged by those who complain that youth are in deficit when it comes to the political and civic realm and, in contrast, what are young people doing in this realm? Is all 'civic action' necessarily benign and desirable, or is it merely constructed in this normative manner rhetorically, in order to emphasise an ideal or pro-social version of democratic citizenship? And, more controversially, could apathy, a refusal to vote, civil disobedience, and/or mass resistance to government policies be more democratic alternatives than state-sanctioned or authoritarian 'civic' action?
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