Building Robust & Inclusive Democracy

Summer Institute of Civic Studies

The Summer Institute of Civic Studies is an intensive interdisciplinary seminar that brings together faculty, advanced graduate students, and practitioners from many countries and diverse fields of study.

Sign up for Updates

Fill out this short form for occasional announcements about the Summer Institute of Civic Studies, Frontiers of Democracy, ICER, and related activities. Please note that completing this form does not mean that you have officially applied.

Attendees at the 2019 Frontiers of Democracy conference

Civic Studies Goes Global

A new Civic Studies institute in Spain highlights the growing international reach of this academic discipline advanced by Tisch College.

Note: Due to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the 2020 and 2021 Summer Institute of Civic Studies were canceled. In 2022, an Institute of Civic Studies and Learning for Democracy (ICSLD) will take place in Augsburg, Germany, from August 19 – 28. This Institute is open to applicants from the USA, Germany and Ukraine. It is organized by a team from North Carolina State University (Prof. Chad Hoggan) and the University of Augsburg (Dr. habil. Tetyana Hoggan-Kloubert), with support of Tufts University (Prof. Peter Levine) and University of Maryland (Prof. Karol Soltan). It is an intensive, ten-day, seminar and residential retreat. Deadline for best consideration: May 20, 2022. More information here.

The Summer Institute was founded and co-taught from 2009 to 2018 by Peter Levine, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Tisch College, and/or Karol Sołtan, Associate Professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. Since 2019, it has been led by Peter Levine. Each year, it features guest seminars by distinguished scholars and practitioners from various institutions and engages participants in challenging discussions such as:

  • How can people work together to improve the world?
  • How can people reason together about what is right to do?
  • What practices and institutional structures promote these kinds of citizenship?
  • How should empirical evidence, ethics, and strategy relate?

A draft of the 2019 syllabus is at the bottom of this page. You can read more about the motivation for the Institute in the Civic Studies Framing Statement by Harry Boyte, University of Minnesota; Stephen Elkin, University of Maryland; Peter Levine, Tufts; Jane Mansbridge, Harvard; Elinor Ostrom, Indiana University; Karol Sołtan, University of Maryland; and Rogers Smith, University of Pennsylvania.

The seminar usually follows a three-day public conference, Frontiers of Democracy. Participants in the Summer Institute are expected to participate in the conference (free of charge) and then the Institute. In 2019, the Summer Institute also followed the American Political Science Association Institute for Civically Engaged Research (ICER), which took place on June 17-22, with ICER participants also taking part in the Frontiers conference.

Practicalities and How to Apply

Daily sessions take place on the Tufts campus in Medford, Massachusetts. Tuition for the Institute is free, but participants are responsible for their own housing and transportation. Credit is not automatically offered, but special arrangements for graduate credit may be possible.

The application consists of a resume, a cover letter about your interests, and an electronic copy of your graduate transcript (if applicable). Please note that the 2020 Institute is not taking place.

For more information, contact Peter Levine, Tisch College's Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.

Past International Institutes

European Institute: The fifth annual European Institute of Civic Studies took place in Herrsching, near Munich, Germany, from July 14 to July 27, 2019. It was open to graduate students and scholars in any discipline who are residents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Poland, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Ibero-American Institute: Held in 2019, the inaugural Encuentro Iberoamericano de Estudios Cívicos (Ibero-American Institute of Civic Studies) was held from July 8-12 at Camilo José Cela University in Madrid. Co-organized by that institution alongside Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey, this gathering took its cues from the original Summer Institute founded at Tufts, bringing together scholars and practitioners from various countries for substantive discussions on civic studies. In this first year, Representatives from Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala participated. Learn more (in Spanish).

2019 Summer Institute Syllabus

Subject to change

June 20 (evening) to June 22 (lunchtime): Frontiers of Democracy Conference

June 23 (afternoon): Informal gathering to get to know each other; some sharing of our backgrounds and goals

June 24

I. Inspirations for civic work

9 a.m.-Noon: A “feeling of personal responsibility for the world”

II. Problems of Collective Action: Forming and Maintaining Functional Groups at Various Scales

1:00-2:00 p.m.: A simulated Tragedy of the Commons; reflections on game theory as a method of modeling interactions

2:00-5:00 p.m.: The work of Elinor Ostrom and colleagues

June 25

9:00 a.m.-Noon:  The role of social capital

1:00-3:00 p.m.: Collective action problems at scale

  • James Madison, The Federalist #10
  • Jane Mansbridge, Beyond Adversary Democracy, pp. 3-35, pp. 163-82, 290-8
  • Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, Chapters 1, 4 and Postscript, pp. 11-21, 54-70, 397-411.
  • James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, Introduction (pp. 1-8), Chapter 3 "Authoritarian High Modernism"

3:30-5:00 p.m.: Public Work

  • Harry C. Boyte, Reinventing Citizenship as Public Work: Citizen-Centered Democracy and the Empowerment Gap

June 26

III. Problems of Discourse: Discussing and Reasoning about Contested Value Issues

9:00-10:00 a.m.: Deliberation

  • The Harvard Pluralism Project's case entitled A Call to Prayer. What should the people of Hamtramck, MI do?

10:00 a.m.-Noon, 1:00-2:00 p.m.: The Frankfurt School, Habermas, deliberative democracy

  • Lasse Thomassen, Habermas: A guide for the perplexed. A&C Black, 2010, pp. 63-96, 111-130.
  • Jürgen Habermas, “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article,” New German Critique, 3 (1974), pp. 49-55
  • Jürgen Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action (selection) 

2:00-5:00 p.m.: Critiques

  • Danielle E. Allen, Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship Since Brown, v. Board of Education, pp. TBA
  • Jean L. Cohen, “American Civil Society Talk,” in Robert K. Fullinwider, ed., Civil Society, Democracy, and Civic Renewal, pp. 55-85
  • Nina Eliasoph, Avoiding Politics, pp. 1-22
  • Lynn Sanders, “Against Deliberation”

June 27

IV. Problems of Exclusion

9:00-11:00 a.m.: Boundaries, good and bad

  • The Book of Nehemiah
  • John Gaventa, Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley, pp. 3-32
  • Dec 4: Audre Lorde, “ The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” and Steve Biko, “Black Consciousness and the Quest for True Humanity”

11:00 a.m.-Noon and 1:00-3:00 p.m.: Gandhi

2:00-4-00 p.m.: Martin Luther King

June 28

V. Solutions?

9:00-11:00 a.m.: Community organizing

  • Mark R. Warren, Dry Bones Rattling: Community Building to Revitalize American Democracy, pp. 4-70
  • Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, 1946 (1969 edition), pp. 76-81; 85-88; 92-100, 132-5, 155-158.
  • Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking, pp. 115-138

Noon-2:00 p.m.: Social movements and nonviolent campaigns

  • Charles Tilly, Social Movements, 1768-2004
  • Habermas, “New Social Movements,” Telos, September 21, vol. 1981, no. 49 (1981)
  • Marshall Ganz, "Why David Sometimes Wins: Strategic Capacity in Social Movements," in Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper, Rethinking Social Movements: Structure, Meaning, and Emotion (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004) pp.177-98.
  • Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, chapters 1 and 2 

2:00-3:00 p.m. Closing reflections