New Media, Politics, & Participatory Culture Research at USC Annenberg
Based at the University of Southern California, Civic Paths explores continuities between online participatory culture and civic engagement. With low entry barriers, participatory culture-based communities often encourage online participation and expression even as they promote expression, awareness, mentorship, and skill training. Premised on a dynamic understanding of citizenship, we analyze how participatory culture interactions encourage young people to create, discuss and organize to engage with specific civic issues and events.
An October 2012 study on social media and political engagement by the Pew Research Center found that American adults are increasingly using social media for civic and political purposes. 66% of social media users – 39% of all American adults – have used a platform like Facebook or Twitter for political activities such as encouraging others to vote, following candidates, and expressing opinions on political and social issues. Additionally, Pew researchers found that young social media users ages 18-29 are the group most likely to use social media tools for a range of civic pursuits, many of which historically took place in “offline” or interpersonal spheres.
Given this ever-evolving context of civic engagement, Civic Paths asks questions like: In a world where traditional forms of citizenship, politics, and civic life are rapidly changing, how are young people becoming more civic-minded and publicly engaged? How can digital technologies, participatory media, and social networking enable them to do so, and how are definitions of “civic” and “public” co-evolving with these practices, online and offline?
Civic Paths, which started as a small, informal group of graduate students interested in the ties between online participatory culture/popular media fandom and civic engagement in 2009, has grown into an established research group within the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism with a national audience and an active web presence and blog. Civic Paths holds weekly meetings with an average of 10-12 members attending each meeting (but with an active general membership of approximately 30 students and faculty) and hosts speakers from across campus. Prominent scholars from across the country have also given Civic Paths talks via Skype and Google Hangout or while visiting Los Angeles.
For a sample of our recent thinking on new media, politics, and participatory cultures, you can view our Hotspots: collections of short articles written on a particular topic by various members of Civic Paths.
Hotspot 1: The Dark Sides of DIY
Hotspot 2: Election Season Revisited