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Jonathan Becker: What Civic Engagement Is… And Is Not

This new CEU DI Working Paper by Jonathan Becker, Professor of Political Studies and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Bard College, and the founder and Director of Bard’s Center for Civic Engagement, interrogates the meaning of civic engagement, “an oft-used but rarely defined term.”

Borrowing from Schmitter and Karl’s approach to an even more vexing notion, “democracy,” the author attempts to make sense of several theoretical issues that impede talk of civic engagement while providing insights to help practitioners act thoughtfully. He pays particular attention to university environments, where civic engagement can inspire youth and promote innovative teaching and research.

Ultimately, he argues in favor of the “civic engagement wager”: when members of a community recurringly and purposefully work with others to promote the common good, they and society are more likely to benefit than under circumstances where citizens are disengaged, demobilized, and/or excluded. While civic engagement is not a panacea, it is an endeavor that is not simply worth understanding but also promoting because it can help foster individual development while addressing societal needs.