Why Space Matters: Youth’s Social Spatial Civic Literacy Enactments within a Civic Technology Project

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Why Space Matters: Youth’s Social Spatial Civic Literacy Enactments within a Civic Technology Project

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Results from studies in the field of Civic Learning and Civic Action (CLCA) indicate that young people from marginalized communities are lacking in both civic knowledge (e.g. knowledge about structures of government) and civic engagement (e.g. communicating through public speaking, petitioning, or canvassing) in comparison to their affluent peers (Baldi, Perie, Skidmore, Greenberg, & Hahn, 2001; Foster-Bey, 2008). A growing group of scholars have resisted and complicated this claim. They argue that the current field is exceedingly concentrated on young people’s assimilation into the political system and in the preservation of social and political institutions, thus neglecting how young people are taking up civic action in ways counter to the dominant definitions of civic action and identity (Ginwright & Cammarota, 2007; Ito, Soep, Vilenchik, Shrestova, Gamber-Thompson, & Zimmerman, 2015; Suad Nasir & Kirshner, 2003; Rubin, 2007). These “new civics” scholars (Flanagan, 2012) call for a revisioning of what civic knowledge and civic engagement mean for youth (Mira, Morrell, Cain, Scorza & Ford, 2014). This study responds to their call. Using the theories of critical sociocultural theory (Lewis, Moje, & Encisco, 2007), social spatial theory (Massey, 2005), and the methods of critical ethnography (Madison, 2011) and geo semiotics (Scollon & Scollon, 2003) this study explores the meaning and enactment of civic literacy among the Tech Crew youth participants, particularly related to their civic action through digital literacies/tool production. Specifically, this study sought to understand how the youth constructed and constituted themselves as civic actors through their production of identity and social space, as well as the roles that technology, the pedagogy of the youth community-based organization, and larger discourses in place played within this process. Data collection methods including field notes taken from observations, audio and video recordings, youth and adult interviews, a collection of artifacts and official documents. Participants in the study included the eight youth members of the Tech Crew and adult staff at the youth community-based organization. The data were coded, analyzed, and organized first by the three research questions and then into categories and subcategories guided by Doreen Massey’s (2005) three propositions of social spatial theory. The findings demonstrate that TC member’s enacted civic literacies through acts of listening in, embodied and multimodal practices, and through youth generated critical engagement that cultivated their civic identities and constructed social space. Additionally, the both/and standpoint of the youth (Collins, 2000) complicated how they enacted civic literacies and constructed their civic identity. Implications reveal how the Tech Crew’s work within the social space of the Youth Science Center contributes to the efforts of educators and scholars that are revisioning alongside young people what it means to promote and enact civic literacies that challenge the structural inequities around them. Further, this study addresses the gap between the literature of civic learning and civic action, digital media literacy and critical literacy. It serves as an example of how community-based organizations can employ pedagogical and human design based methods that strike a balance between planning and facilitating civic literacy activities that teach youth the technical skills needed to take civic action, and simultaneously create a permeable social space that allows for unanticipated and emergent youth generated knowledge production and critical and embodied civic literacy practices. This work underscores the need for educators and researchers to pay attention to how space and place mediate the civic actions and civic identities of youth.



University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2017. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Cynthia Lewis. 1 computer file (PDF); 254 pages.

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Struck, Maggie. (2017). Why Space Matters: Youth’s Social Spatial Civic Literacy Enactments within a Civic Technology Project. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/188882.

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