Contributed Articles

Ethnography of Civic Participation: The Difficulty of Showing Up Even when You Are There

by THOMAS LODATO, Center for Urban Innovation, Georgia Institute of Technology Article 3 in the series Data, Design and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives The days of gathering in the forum are long gone. Today, the sphere of American civics is teeming with new forms of participation—from emergent advocacy organizations like MoveOn.orgi and shifting information paradigmsii to “personalized politics”iii and debates centered on computational data.iv Civics has moved beyond a notion of informed citizenship—of being educated on issues and debates, as well as keen enough to synthesize and respond (hopefully in the form of votes) to shape government. Now, in order to hold elected officials accountable, or to expose the shadowy ongoings of bureaucrats, or to reimagine a government suited for the pace of the 21st century, citizens must lead the charge to actively craft political opinion, civic life, and government itself. Of course, civic engagement has never been as straightforward as our historical fantasy of the public forum—there...