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.