Thanks, Jim, for bringing 'development' back to the a discussion about the 'development' of civic identity. A somewhat related point is that an identity search, regardless of identity type, does not start until a young person reaches adolescence but is not necessarily resolved by any specific age (not to step on Erikson's toes - at the very least, the social construction of adolescence, in this day and age, extends past 18 or 19 for many youth.). In other areas, such as ethnic identity, research suggests a lifespan development model in which the identity search is a continuous process, influenced by life experiences.
In an interesting conversation with Lew Friedland yesterday we discussed how the context of an 18 or 22 year-old during Erikson's time was much different than the experiences now. So, for instance, an 18 year-old high school graduate would in a sense need to resolve their identity search, choose a job that they would hold for decades, move into a community where they would live for those decades, marry and have children relatively early. If a person didn't resolve their search, then they'd be considered abnormal by societal standards and would have few opportunities to pursue alternative paths in their identity search (hippies, for instance, were considered by Erikson to be pursuing an extended adolescence). Today, though, regardless of education, young people are encouraged to try on many hats throughout their 20's (and even into their 30s?).
When we think about civic identity, consistent with Jim's thoughts, we shouldn't necessarily be concerned with the influence solely of schools (or any other single institution) at one given time point.
Lots of important ideas are flowing, but a clear concept of development is being left out. First, it seems to me that identity of any kind comes from action and experience. I recall Peter's question about whether civic identity was at all similar to self-concept. The literature I know says that self-concept follows from action/experience and is not grounds for action. Students don't first have a positive self-concept, then perform well academically, but perform well, then develop a positive academic self-concept. The developmental aspect is important because it helps unravel relationships between terms.
Second, in focusing on youth (and children), we are talking about persons in-the-making. If this is correct, then concerns about the role of schools and the state ought to be tempered. School instruction is not determinative, but serves as exposure which youth then make sense of and rework as they experience further aspects of life. Think of youth in East Germany who were reared in a non-democratic system by the state's heavy hand. Studies show that the majority of these youth adapted quickly to democracy and capitalism after 1990. (One could use other case, say, youth reared in religious schools.) The point is that youth don't absorb instruction as it is meant or as it may appear literally. They interpret it according to their developmental understanding. I worry less about what schools or the state thinks they are instructing, than about youth's opportunities to participate as actors in political processes. It is participation that ought to lead to the construction of civic identities.
#13 JON ZAFF Wonderful insights, Meira! I too am glad that Peter has brought our conversations together.
I have to run out in a minute, but wanted to pick up on one line of thinking. In conceptualizing civic identity (and possibly to measure it or 'its'), I would agree with a previous post (I think by Jim, but might have been Dan) to take value judgments out of the equation. For instance, Karl Rove is very civically engaged (and most likely has a strong civic identity), but I don't necessarily agree with his so-called civic actions. Or, a so-called 'angry activist' (a term that Lonnie Sherrod supposedly used during a presentation he made during SRCD) might be considered by some to be engaging in civic acts that are incongruous with civic engagement. I would want to avoid a post-modern construction of civic identity (to one of Jim's earlier points). Instead, could it be that there is an underlying psychological construct (more likely a multi-component construct) that is consistent across diverse civic activities? This does not mean that a single construct could possibly capture the richness of diverse contexts, opportunities, and experiences. Maybe we could think of a venn diagram in which the various circles represent the diversity of civic identities and actions (ranging from the Machiavellian activities of Karl Rove to the community organizing activities of the so-called 'angry activist' and everything in between). The overlapping center of the diagram could represent the core of civic identity. From a measurement perspective, there could a measure that taps into this shared aspect of civic identity and then other measures could be created that delve into various types of civic identity
One last point before I run out the door... although I appreciate the problem that Peter and Meira pose about the role of schools and government in promoting a civic identity, could one agree with your contention that schools and government should not be in this business, but should provide civic education and civic opportunities? In the same way that schools and the government should stay away from encouraging political ideologies? Not as coherent of a thought as I have in my head, but now I really have to leave!
Wow, what a fascinating discussion to stumble into. Thank you, Peter, for bringing me into it, and to the rest of you for taking it in such interesting directions.
It strikes me that many of Peter's questions, and your (collective) answers to them, have both a definitional and a normative component to them. Could we define civic identity in such a way as to make it a necessary precursor to civic action? I imagine so. Someone who engages in civic action, and certainly someone who engages in civic action on a regular basis over time, presumably feels both motivated to act and personally invested in the action and the expected outcomes. If we define civic identity to incorporate these two aspects -- personal connection
with and motivation to engage in the civic sphere -- then by definition, civic identity is a necessary precursor to civic action. If, on the other hand, we define civic identity differently -- say, as a positive identification with a civic collective (whether local, national, whatever) -- then civic identity may not necessarily be tied to civic action. After all, some significant portion of people are engaged civically not on behalf of the collective or even with an eye to the collective good, but out of self-interest.
The question then becomes why we might choose to define civic identity in one way rather than another, and what the social science, policy, and normative implications are of such a definition. Based on Jon's comments, we might come to understand more about the relationship between a person's sense of membership in a civic collective, say, and his propensity to engage in civic action, if we define civic identity in such a way that we could construct a reasonable and valid scale that measures this (and many other things besides). On the other hand, as Peter points out, there are some worrisome political implications to inviting the state, through state-supported public education, to muck about in students' developing identities. If we define civic identity in such a way as it seems to be necessary to encouraging productive civic action, and we see public schools as having an important role to play in promoting civic engagement, then we are necessarily arguing that schools should help students develop efficacious civic identities. I am not necessarily opposed to this, but I do think that it has both political and normative implications that would need to be considered. Along this same line, there are theorists such as Melissa Williams who argue that civic identity should be taken entirely out of the picture when we consider how to motivate and justify civic engagement with others and a sense of civic responsibility for others. She is concerned that an emphasis on civic identity leads us to judge people by who they seem to be as opposed to by what actions they take, and that this is an extremely dangerous road to go down. [See, e.g., Melissa Williams. (2003). “Citizenship as Identity, Citizenship as Shared Fate, and the Functions of Multicultural Education.” In Kevin McDonough and Walter Feinberg. Citizenship and Education in Liberal-Democratic Societies: Teaching for Cosmopolitan Values and Collective Identities. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 208-247.]These aren't necessarily dispositive considerations, but they do highlight what I view as a complicated relationship among social science-oriented, policy-oriented, and normative considerations.
Looking back at Peter's original "multiple-choice test" (I know, Peter, this isn't how you framed it!), it seems that each of the questions he poses is subject to this kind of analysis/balancing test. In other words, first, we could define civic identity so as to satisfy any one of the multiple-choice options that Peter presents -- context-independent vs. context-dependent, morally worthy vs. morally neutral, intrinsically connected to civic action vs. not, etc. As a result, second, we have to decide what we want to accomplish in our definition of civic identity. Do we want to define civic identity so as to: (1) learn the greatest amount that we can about what provokes reflective, responsible civic action; (2) make it possible for policymakers to justify and implement educational and other policies that will encourage reflective, responsible civic action among the broadest possible range of citizens; and/or (3) establish an understanding of the relationships among personal identity, collective identity and membership, and civic action in a democratic society that is egalitarian, non-tyrannical, and morally appealing? How we prioritize these goals may well influence what definition we select, especially since I imagine no one definition of civic identity could satisfy all three aims simultaneously.
To tie this into the conversation with Peter and I were having about civic action, I think that the same set of social science, policy, and normative tensions apply to the question of how we define "civic action." He and I have been on-and-off discussing a range of actions and assessing their "civic-ness." Here is a partial list:
participating in a rally
building a monument to Martin Luther King to memorialize his advocacy of affordable housing in one's neighborhood
leading a march on MLK Day that ends at City Hall to memorialize King's advocacy of affordable housing
volunteering with Habitat for Humanity to build a house in the Lower Ninth Ward
giving money to Habitat for Humanity
advocating to elected representatives for stimulus funds to be funneled through Habitat to build more houses in the Lower Ninth Ward
going on Oprah to build awareness of the housing crisis
serving as the plaintiff in a personal lawsuit against FEMA for providing dangerous trailers post-Katrina because one's children now have severe asthma
serving as the plaintiff for class-action lawsuit against FEMA
taking on the personal lawsuit or class-action lawsuit as a pro bono lawyer
taking on the lawsuit as a well-paid lawyer
reading the newspaper
working as a community organizer
attending a PTA meeting
taking in one's nieces and nephews so they don't have to live in a FEMA trailer that exacerbates their asthma
wearing buttons or T shirts that memorialize friends and family members killed in gang violence, or lost to Hurricane Katrina
maintaining a memorial on the sidewalk to a friend killed in gang violence or HK
posting a photo of this memorial on one's blog, or sending it out via Twitter
I should note that I have expanded this list considerably since last time that Peter and I have talked.
Whether or not one counts any of these things as "civic action" is a definitional question -- I think that most (but not all) of these could be defined in or out depending on how one characterizes the dimensions of civic action. How one decides to construct the definition is then subject to the same kinds of questions posed above for civic identity.
A couple of additional thoughts to throw-in, building off of Dan and Jim's comments (and thanks to Peter for continuing to stimulate this conversation and for integrating it with the thoughtful conversation you and Meira have been having)...
One issue is the centrality of civic identity. That is, where on the hierarchy of an individual's various identities does civic identity fall or should it fall? One might argue that having civic identity as the central identity is not necessary for a healthy individual or a healthy democracy, but having civic identity present somewhere on the hierarchy probably is important; with the qualifier that an individual recognizes the importance of being involved to some extent in the democratic process, broadly defined. Thus, to one of Peter's points, an individual could more strongly identify as an artist, a spiritual person, a parent, etc.., but that a civic identity could still exist within the person and not crowd out the other identities (indeed, I'd argue that the identities most likely complement each other and result in different expressions, for instance, of civic actions).
Another issue brought up is whether a scale of civic identity is appropriate considering the diversity of ways that a civic identity might be expressed. I think you've probably figured out that I'm biased toward developing such a scale, so take this with a grain of salt... Religious, gender, ethnic/racial, and vocational identities could also be considered to be constructs with a diversity of expressions. However, for better or for worse, these constructs have been operationalized and subsequently have had scales developed around them. Ethnic identity is a good example of this. There have been more general conceptualizations that are supposedly representative of all ethnicities (see Phinney and her disciples) as well as more ethnicity-specific theories and measures (see William Cross and Robert Sellars for examples of Africentric identity theories and measurements). On the one hand, these theories and measures complement each other, such as the identity search component of Phinney's MEIM and Sellars' Centrality component of his MIBI. On another hand, they are opposed to each other conceptually (e.g., Phinney's is not context-dependent whereas Sellars' is dependent on the context surrounding anyone who is African American). All of the measures have strong theoretical underpinnings and psychometric properties, including concurrent and predictive validity. At the very least, these theories and measures have pushed the ethnic identity field forward empirically as well as theoretically since they stimulated discussions about the differing theories.
The same could be said of the civic field. There are differing theoretical opinions about civic engagement, but that does not necessarily mean that putting a stake in the ground about the concept and measurement of civic identity (or civic identities, if that's a more appropriate conceptualization). I would agree wholeheartedly that developing the theory needs to come first, since researchers can use statistics to manipulate data and then fit a potentially erroneous theory to the data.
Regarding whether civic identity is context-dependent, I agree with Jim and Dan that civic identity is context-dependent, or, maybe more accurately, the interplay between the individual and the context (person-context interaction), which is the basis for developmental processes, in general.
Like my students say, I'm not very good at multiple choice questions....
A few opinions. First, I think the first cluster of options that Peter offers presumes (option c) that values matter. And, indeed, research suggests that they do--but not nearly so much as we assume. That is, if you measure values as traditionally measured by psychologists you can only make weak predictions about behavior. I think the weakness of links between values and behavior is one rationale for exploring the possibility that identity is a useful construct, as it might help us fill in the gap. So, for example, people tend to volunteer for a particular cause; as Pilavin points out, blood donors may begin as people who have only weak inclinations towards and thoughts about blood donation, but after years of commitment they construct images of themselves in which blood donation is fairly important, which in turn helps explain long term involvement. Values change little in adulthood, and consequently are not especially helpful in helping us understand emergent, transforming commitments like blood donations.
Like Jim, I doubt that civic identities take the same form for everybody. I'm not so sure that factor analysis is the best way to identify the nature of civic identity, but I guess I'm open to the possibility.
To the extent that civic identity is associated with participation and a sense of membership in a society, I'm inclined to think we ought to value it and encourage kids to develop them. It's certainly true that there are limits to the psychological possibilities that can be realized in reality, but, if the average American kid is watching 3 hours of TV a day, I think there remains some psychological space for the acquisition of civic identity.
I'd think it quite surprising if elements of civic identity weren't context sensitive. One would imagine that one's connection to, and participation in, one's community and one's nation would vary according to the conditions in/characteristics of these social contexts.
As to the question of the relation to civic identity to ethical identity and political identity, I suppose it's a good question--presuming people have ethical identities. I'd think that there'd be some overlap, but it's an interesting question.
Here's a reaction to Peter's burst of lucidity and a taxing multiple choice "test." Identity of any kind is not a chimera because most sane people need one. The idea of an independent or unaffiliated individual is a bit overblown. We need to belong to something, a race, a creed, a place, a nation. I don't think the identity part is so much a problem as the "civic" is.
As to measurement, it seems better to have a clear sense of what we want to measure before delving into its statistical composition. Some folks feel comfortable letting statistical results lead to definitions. But the conceptual part ought to come first and then remain open to revision as statistical analyses inform us.
The "good" of it comes from its essentialness. The Nazis consciously sought to deprive victims of their identity by moving them out of place away from family without familiar work, etc. When so reduced to one's own skin and fading memory, personhood is assaulted and lost.
As to being morally better or neutral, I think neutrality wins hands down, at least in a democracy which is composed of people of diverse types. The proverbial critic and the naïve patriot live in the same system and get along because they assent to the same system of governance and justice.
Democratic civic identity is probably not context dependent any more it is based on a certain moral stance. What is likely to be dependent on context is the developmental path toward civic identity. Children and youth are exposed to different aspects democracy because of the conditions in which they grow up. Thus, they see different aspects and are shielded from other aspects.
Of the several synonyms offered, "political" identity seems closest.
Hi Everyone, After the Spencer meeting, Jon [Zaff], Jim [Youniss], and Dan [Hart] exchanged a whole set of substantive emails about the definition and measurement of "civic identity." Meanwhile, Meira [Levinson] and I were talking about the definition and limits of "civic engagement." Since we were all at the same meeting, I thought I might try to summarize some of these two conversations and bring them together.
Jon originally proposed a CARE model of identity = "Commitment to civic action, Agency (including collective agency), Responsibility, and Emotional connection (to a community, to a set of individuals/group, to the country/the world, and/or to a given issue)." That provoked a lot of comments that I hesitate to summarize at the risk of misrepresenting people. But here are some framing questions that seem worth discussion: Is "civic identity" ... ?
a. A psychological factor that makes civic action more likely--hence detectable empirically from surveys about civic actions. b. Something more like a self-concept, so that you can conclude that people have a civic identity if they say that they do. c. A chimera. (All that really counts are values and actions.)
a. Likely to cluster as one factor or construct in empirical studies of young Americans. b. Conceptually one thing, even if it doesn't happen to cluster empirically. c. Conceptually several different things that may even be in conflict. (For instance, a gadfly-like critical identity might rarely coexist with a helping/caring disposition.)
a. Good, so that we would like as many people to have it as possible. b. One good thing, but it trades off against other good things (e.g., artistic creativity), so that we would prefer that only some people have it. c. Good because of its outcomes, e.g., political influence, so that we should be most concerned about the equal distribution of a civic identity across the population. d. Morally neutral, because a fascist would have a "civic identity" if he was heavily engaged in and committed to politics. e. A choice, and it isn't our business whether people have it or not, although they should have opportunities to develop it if they want.
a. Context-independent, so that it is possible to define it at some high level of generality in a way that is appropriate in both Princeton and Camden, NJ in 2009 and in Poland in 1944. b. Highly context-dependent, so that it really cannot be defined in very general terms.
a. Separate from an ethical identity or a political identity, because it refers to certain specific kinds of behaviors and attitudes. b. Basically a different word for an ethical or political identity.
I think I have my own views on some of this, but I'm actually more interested in the dimensions of possible disagreement.
Jim, I don't think you're being anti-methodological in the least.
I would argue in fact that we're all at least somewhat in agreement about behaviors not being the appropriate proxies for a civic identity (or multiple identities). Instead, the behaviors are ways that a civic identity might be expressed (but not that only those with a civic identity engage in civic behaviors). The question then is whether underlying non-behavioral components of a civic identity can be defined. For instance, is perceived connection (possibly an emotional connection) or membership to a democratic system a component? (a desire for such a system might also be part of this so that such a model could be used for activists in communist or dictatorial governments; or, in the case of Somalia, no government). A commitment to being involved in a democratic system would seem to be another important piece - which could take a multitude of forms (voting, activism, protests, boycotting, buycotting, etc.) as well as a multitude of ways to engage in these forms (to Peter's point about pluralism). are there other components? are these the right components? Am I completely off base?
So, let me try again to propose that being part of the democratic system is the main aspect of identity.If one tries to nail identity down to specific behaviors, one runs into the problem of diverse kinds of citizenship – X votes, Y protests, Z lobbies, A participates in talk radio. The question for me is whether one joins in the rule system.
I hope I am not being anti-methodological, but tying identity to particular behaviors (or factor groups of behaviors) is risky because it implies a standardized form of citizenship. Peter seems right in pointing to the mix of people which comprises democracy. My non-sophisticated reading of the nation’s formation (I am now reading Madison) is that people fought uniformity and the beauty of democracy was that it allowed for diversity in interests to get along.
I don't know how to handle Dan's concern with the example of Africa, about which I know little.
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