PSAI participatory and deliberative democracy specialist group Mar 14 2012- Wed, March 21, 2012 - 12:40
‘Breaking the Logjam - expanding the role of the university in promoting civic engagement’, Chris McInerney & Gemma Carney, NUIG
With the publication of the Hunt Report on the future of third level education in Ireland, there has been a renewed focus on the role of Universities and other HEI’s in the area of civic engagement. The purpose of this paper is to explore some elements of how this might take place. Universities either do engage or have the potential to engage in different types of civic engagement, each of which presents different sets of challenges. It is possible to loosely categorise these within three key activity zones. These are: Civic Engagement as democratic renewal; Civic engagement as contributing to social, cultural and economic development; Civic Engagement as broadening the curriculum and encouraging active citizenship amongst students. For the purpose of this paper, we intend to focus on the first zone, civic engagement as democratic renewal. To do so, the paper will firstly set the context within which civic engagement has and currently takes place. It will then identify some of the principal logjams – conceptual, dispositional and skills - that have developed over time that may limit the potential of civic engagement as a democratic activity. In looking at conceptual issues we will suggest how different constructs and understandings of democracy and civic engagement, social justice and public administration may create divergent, frequently competing and occasionally conflicting sets of expectations. Here, questions about what makes a good citizen and who has a stake in constructing our understandings of citizenship emerge as important issues? In looking at issues of attitude and disposition, we in particular pose questions about the readiness of our democratic institutions to embrace deeper citizen engagement and how can they be encouraged to be more responsive. Finally, we suggest that even without the added complexity of concept and disposition, the absence or inadequacy of technical skills to support or mange civic engagement processes can negatively impact on prospects for success.