Civic life in flux : citizenship, technology and Generation X




Sanford, Stefanie

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This project challenges the national civic consensus that American citizenship is in decline. I hypothesize that instead, it is in flux – and that indicators used to document this “decline” represent the social capital measures of a time and generation that are fundamentally different from today. Most social capital measures are drawn from mid-20th century social practices, where Americans joined the institutions conceived and created at the turn of the last century – animated by the social ennui created in the wake of industrialization. Therefore, rather than looking at the institutions that Generation X is not joining, I look to the ways, like their Progressive Era forbears, those most engaged in economic and technological change are challenging traditional notions of social capital and citizenship and building their own institutions and means of associations and community vitality, based on their unique experiences and values. This study focuses on the young and the new and how notions of citizenship are affected by emerging forms of interactive technologies. Specifically, I explore what distinctive civic attitudes are fostered in cyber democracy and what those attitudes might mean for the future of the nation. Chapters 1-3 explore the disciplines implicitly touched by this inquiry: political communication (social capital, citizenship, civic participation); political science (generational effects, voter turnout, democratic theory); information systems (Internet growth, deployment, access, adoption rates); and mass communication (new media). Chapters 4-7 discuss findings about each of the generational sample groups (Cyber-democrats, Wireheads, Tech Elites and Trailing Xers). Finally, Chapter 8 synthesizes those findings into a critique of current methods of measuring civic health, illuminates the inherent generational and economic biases of existing definitions and measures of social capital, describes the unique civic conceptions reflected by the respondents, and then makes a series of recommendations for individual action, policy change and future research to better understand and reflect the changing norms of civic involvement and conceptions of citizenship among younger generations.


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