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Civic Studies

Tisch College is at the forefront of building the new academic discipline of Civic Studies, which we conceive of as the intellectual component of civic renewal—the movement to improve societies by engaging their citizens.

The goal of Civic Studies is to develop ideas and ways of thinking helpful to citizens, understood as co-creators of their worlds. Civic Studies asks “what should we do?” this combining ethics (what is right and good?), facts (what is actually going on?), and strategies (what would work?). It emphasizes agency,  defined as "effective and intentional action that is conducted in diverse and open settings in order to shape the world around us” (Boyte and Scarnati). Civic studies is not civic education nor is it the study of civic education, but it aims to influence how citizenship is taught in schools and colleges.

The phrase “civic studies” was coined in 2007 in a joint statement by Harry Boyte, University of Minnesota; Stephen Elkin, University of Maryland; Peter Levine, Tufts University; Jane Mansbridge, Harvard University; Elinor Ostrom, Indiana University; Karol Sołtan, University of Maryland; and Rogers Smith, University of Pennsylvania. For an introduction to Civic Studies, watch the video below.

Programs and Initiatives

While the ideas at the core of Civic Studies are central to all of Tisch College’s work, we explore and advance them in several explicit ways:

Tufts University undergraduates can pursue a major in Civic Studies—believed to be the first academic program of its kind in the world. Students take a foundational introductory course and can then choose from a variety of classes, across multiple fields, that focus on critical reflection, ethical thinking, and action for social change, within and between societies. We also offer an Entrepreneurship for Social Impact Minor in Civic Studies that allows students to combine their interests in Civic Studies and Social Entrepreneurship.

Each year, the Summer Institute of Civic Studies brings together doctoral students and advanced practitioners for intensive discussions focusing heavily on theory. The Summer Institute is followed by the annual Frontiers of Democracy conference, which explores questions of public engagement, deliberative and participatory democracy, educating for democracy and civic learning, and strengthening democracy.

Scholars at Tisch College and throughout Tufts University associated with Civic Studies produce research and publications that investigate specific aspects of civic and democratic life, and evaluate potential interventions and solutions. We also award the Tisch Research Prize, recognizing a career of academic research on issues related to Civic Studies. Previous winners have been the late Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom (Indiana), MacArthur Fellow John Gaventa (Coady Institute), and distinguished professors Robert Wuthnow (Princeton), Doug McAdam (Stanford), Constance Flanagan (Wisconsin), and Meredith Minkler (Berkeley).

In addition, Tisch College serves as a home for various programs and initiatives that relate in various ways to Civic Studies. These diverse efforts and projects combine education, research, and practice to explore important questions related to how the practical and theoretical frameworks of civic engagement apply in disciplines like education, mathematics, and the humanities, and to how the work of students, scholars, and practitioners in these fields can contribute their unique perspectives and expertise to improving civic and democratic life:

  • Civic Studies Major

    Tisch College founded and administers the first-in-the-nation Civic Studies major, which offers students an interdisciplinary field of study that focuses on critical reflection, ethical thinking, and action for social change, within and between societies.
    Civic Studies Major
  • Program for Public Humanities

    Tisch College supports this field and movement of collaborative practices like historical inquiry, recovery, which uses narrative and artistic expression to produce civically minded, creative, and just mutual engagements.
    Program for Public Humanities
  • Civic Science

    Civic Science informs how we can bring science issues into our civic lives. It helps us make well-informed choices on science issues through dialogue to promote civic action, political advocacy, and community revitalization.
    Civic Science
  • Initiative on Social-Emotional Learning & Civic Engagement

    The Tisch College SEL-CE initiative seeks to integrate social-emotional learning into educational practices, campus programs, and research throughout Tufts University.
    Social-Emotional Learning Initiative


Allied Programs and Departments at Tufts

The following departments and programs within Tufts share premises and values with Civic Studies. None is subsumed under Civic Studies; each embodies a unique perspective and stands at the center of its own network but they collaborate on shared concerns:

The Civic Studies Co-Major

Explore the academic framework, available courses, and faculty member who teach Civic Studies for Tufts undergraduates.