The New Civics: Meetings and Conferences


In addition to directly supporting research on civic learning and civic action, The New Civics initiative supports meetings and conferences of researchers and practitioners as an important and complementary strategy for advancing its aims and goals. Below are brief summaries of the meetings that have been supported by the Initiative, with links to final reports, where available.

Working Meeting on Youth Civic Engagement Research, May 29-30, 2007

In May, 2007, Constance Flanagan, Peter Levine, and Richard Settersten led a meeting to consider priorities for policy-relevant research on youth civic engagement. The meeting brought together 16 scholars from diverse fields, including philosophy, education, political science, and psychology. Discussions were held on a range of topics, including normative issues surrounding the definitions of “civic engagement,” “citizenship,” and “good citizenship”; the changing transition to adulthood and its relevance for civic development and engagement; social class and racial/ethnic divides in civic participation and variation in motivations for and forms of youth civic engagement; and the role of various institutions and other contexts in influencing youth civic engagement, such as schools, families, neighborhoods, and social, religious, peer, and cultural groups. In closing the event, participants were asked to consider appropriate targets and challenges for future research in the area, particularly in relation to researching individuals in context and longitudinal research.

Civic Engagement and the Changing Transition to Adulthood, December 17-18, 2007

Following up on their May, 2007, meeting on youth civic engagement research, Constance Flanagan, Peter Levine, and Richard Settersten brought together a new group of researchers in December, 2007, to focus on the Changing Transition to Adulthood. A report from the meeting can be found on the website of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, click here.

Sessions moved from an opening discussion of changing transitions to adulthood to concluding recommendations for policy and future research. Settersten set the stage for the first discussion by presenting research on how the transition to adulthood looks today, how it has changed historically, and how it varies for subgroups of the American population. A second discussion was framed by Flanagan’s presentation of selections from key sources of data, including data from the “Monitoring the Future” survey and interviews from the MacArthur Network on Transitions to Adulthood. Levine opened the third discussion by presenting a draft CIRCLE document describing promising programs for civic development of people under the age of 30 who are not enrolled in school or college. The ensuing discussion identified additional programs and discussed their possible benefits. For a final discussion, the group was asked the following questions: What do we know about civic engagement and the changing transition to adulthood? Where are there disagreements? What additional research do we need? What specific programs and policies would we recommend, based on the theoretical and empirical findings discussed earlier?

How Young People Develop Long-Lasting Habits of Civic Engagement, June 24-26, 2008

In June, 2008, scholars and individuals from nonprofit and academic organizations supporting youth civic engagement convened at the Spencer Foundation under the leadership of Cathy Burack and Elizabeth Hollander to explore questions about research, theory, and practice related to youth development of long-lasting habits of civic engagement. A final report from these meetings can be found at the Campus Compact website, click here.

On the first day, two panel discussions were held—one based on a memo “laying the groundwork” of knowledge, authored by Lori Vogelgesang and Julie Plaut, with responses from Laura Stoker and Charles Strain, and one based on a memo on intersections between theory and practice, authored by Barbara Jacoby, with responses from Dilafruz Williams, Bruce Mallory, and Gail Robinson. On the second day, small groups followed up on the previous day’s focus on intersections of theory and practice. The next session tried to arrive at a research agenda for theory and practice to advance understanding of youth’s civic understandings, beliefs, and commitments related to public goods. A final discussion explored issues related to communication across diverse stakeholders about research and practice in this area.

Conference to Explore the Viability and Scalability of 'The Heroic Imagination Project,' March 13-15, 2009

The Heroic Imagination Project, founded by social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, is an effort to understand the sources of heroic action and to promote heroism in everyday life. In March, 2009, the Project convened an inaugural conference of experts at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) to share ideas about how to investigate heroes and heroism, develop related educational curricula, use media to promote the concept of everyday heroes, and scale up the reach of the Project to national and international levels. After an initial overview by Zimbardo, presentations were made by Alice Eagly, Patrick Reinsborough, and James Breckenridge, among others.

Non-College-Attending Youth, Civic Learning, and Civic Action, March 24-25, 2009

In March, 2009, a two-day meeting of scholars on youth, civic learning, and civic action was held at the Spencer Foundation. The meeting’s purpose was to facilitate a conversation about non-college-attending youth and their civic involvements that generated research questions and agendas, raised methodological concerns, suggested research and other data-gathering possibilities, and pointed to policy recommendations. The first day’s sessions were led by Peter Levine and Jim Youniss and were based on (1) discussion of goals for addressing a civic divide between college-attending and non-college-attending youth and what kinds of civic behavior are of greatest concern; and (2) a presentation providing an overview of qualitative and quantitative evidence of civic participation across different youth populations. On the second day, Joseph Kahne and Constance Flanagan led discussions about the roles of schools; youth programs; peer groups, popular culture, and digital media; and government agencies and organizations in developing youth civic actions. The final session of the meeting considered questions and guiding frameworks for future research, the types of data needed for this research, and ways in which research should inform practice.

Women’s Liberation and Jewish Identity: Uncovering a Legacy of Innovation and Activism, April 10-11, 2011

In April, 2011, with partial support from Spencer’s New Civics initiative, Joyce Antler convened a conference titled “Radical Feminism and Jewish Identity: Uncovering a Legacy of Innovation, Activism, and Social Change.” The conference, held at New York University, brought together 40 Jewish women who participated in the women’s liberation and Jewish feminist movements in the late 1960s through the early 1980s, including founders of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union; Redstockings and New York Radical Women; Boston’s Bread and Roses; and the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. These key figures in women’s liberation reflected on their motivations for becoming activists, the factors and contexts that enabled them, and their continuing journeys as activists. Probing the ways in which Jewish identity, culture and tradition interacted with universal goals for women’s liberation, the conference provided a forum to explore the objectives, struggles, achievements, and legacies of feminist activism. It concluded with a session of younger Jewish feminists discussing issues about feminism and activism today.