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Research and Publications

The goal of Civic Studies is to develop ideas and ways of thinking helpful to citizens, understood as co-creators of their worlds. The core question of Civic Studies, “What should we do?” combines 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 this video.



Each year from 2009 - 2019, the Summer Institute of Civic Studies brought together doctoral students and advanced practitioners for intensive discussions focusing heavily on theory. From 2015 - 2019 and in 2022, European Summer Institutes of Civic Studies took place in Ukraine or Germany. The annual Frontiers of Democracy conferencec explores questions of public engagement, deliberative and participatory democracy, educating for democracy and civic learning, and strengthening democracy. 

Civic Studies Publications

In addition, Civic Studies leaders and scholars have produced as series of books, journal articles, edited volumes, and more exploring theoretical and practical aspects of civic life. This literature contributes to the emerging intellectual framework of civic studies:

What Should We Do? A Theory of Civic Life

Book cover of What Should We Do by Peter LevinePeople who want to improve the world must ask the fundamental civic question: “What should we do?” Although the specific issues and challenges people face are enormously diverse, they often encounter problems of collective action (how to get many individuals to act in concert), of discourse (how to talk and think productively about contentious matters), and of exclusion. To get things done, they must form or join and sustain functional groups, and through them, develop skills and virtues that help them to be effective and responsible civic actors.

This related website is free and can be used without reading the book.

  • “Peter Levine is among the leading philosophers of civic life of his generation. What Should We Do? is his magnum opus. It ranges widely from a masterly review of political philosophy to practical suggestions for addressing issues like the Black Lives Matter movement. For anyone concerned about the state of our democracy and what our role should be, this book is must reading.” — Robert D. Putnam, Research Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, and coauthor of The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again
  • “What Should We Do? offers a compelling, thought-provoking, and urgently-needed framework for anyone trying to understand how we can relate to and act with each other to co-create a more just world. I love this book and you will too.” — Hahrie Han, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute Professor of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
  • “Peter Levine makes everyone think more clearly about everything. How fortunate for our country that he’s applied this gift to the realm of civic life. In this insightful and wise book, Levine reveals what it truly means to cooperate, deliberate, and activate—and challenges us to do all three more mindfully.” — Eric Liu, CEO of Citizen University, and author Become America

We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For

Written by Peter Levine, Associate Dean for Research at Tisch College, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America (Oxford University Press, 2013) applies civic studies to strengthening democracy in the United States. Chapter 2, “How to Think About Politics: Facts, Values, and Strategies,” argues for considering political issues from a civic studies perspective. Former United States Senator Bob Graham writes: “As America has wallowed through an unprecedented decline in civic engagement, Peter Levine has been a lighthouse warning of the dangers of civic alienation. Now, he makes the encouraging case that although we will live for a while with the consequences of past mistakes, the worst of the storm is over. Professor Levine concludes with ten common sense strategies that can energize the people and their governmental institutions while preparing a new generation of Americans with the values and competencies to sustain our reinvigorated democracy.”

Civic Studies Volume

Civic Studies: Approaches to the Emerging Field is a volume co-edited by Peter Levine and Karol Edward Sołtan and published by Bringing Theory to Practice and the American Association of Colleges and Universities as the third volume in its Civic Series. It is available for free download (PDF) or for purchase at $10 for the volume. Contents:

The Good Society Journal and its Symposium on Civic Studies

The Good Society, published by Penn State University Press, is a journal of civic studies. It is edited by two alumni of the Summer Institute of Civic Studies: Joshua A. Miller and Matt Chick.

Vol. 26, No. 2-3 (2017) of The Good Society, guest edited by Peter Levine, is a special issue on Reintegrating Facts, Values, and Strategies:

Vol. 22, No. 2, 2013, of The Good Society includes a symposium on the Summer Institute of Civic Studies. With one exception, all of the authors of the symposium articles are either teachers or alumni of the Summer Institute:

Additional articles that also summarize Civic Studies include: