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Participatory Politics

Next-Generation Tactics to Remake Public Spheres

Elisabeth Soep

Publication Year: 2014

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. In <I>Participatory Politics</I>, 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 video <I>Kony 2012 </I>to 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.

Published by: The MIT Press

Series: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning


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Title Page, Copyright

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Series Foreword

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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...

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pp. ix-x

I am so grateful to be part of the following network of researchers who codeveloped the concept of participatory politics offered here, produced key studies, and shared crucial feedback as I prepared this piece: Danielle Allen, Cathy Cohen, Jennifer Earl, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Howard Gardner, Mimi Ito, Henry...

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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...

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Participatory Politics: What Sets It Apart?

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pp. 9-14

Consider some of the activities Pen and his community carried out in his storytelling project. They circulated information, activating various channels, including self-publication through personal outlets, while also pursuing third-party distribution. They sparked dialogue, not only telling but also hearing; Pen deliberately...

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Five Tactics of Participatory Politics

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pp. 15-50

Mobilizing civic capacity within networks that form out of shared personal and popular culture interests and communities.
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...

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Literacies That Support Participatory Politics

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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...

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Mind the Risks

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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...

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Concluding Thoughts

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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...


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pp. 75-76


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pp. 77-86

Other Works in the Series

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E-ISBN-13: 9780262320207
E-ISBN-10: 0262320207
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262525770

Page Count: 96
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning
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OCLC Number: 879285528
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Participatory Politics

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Youth -- Political activity.
  • Political participation -- Technological innovations.
  • Internet and youth -- Political aspects.
  • Community leadership.
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