Building Robust & Inclusive Democracy

Civic Studies Goes Global

A new Civic Studies institute in Spain highlights the growing international reach of this academic discipline advanced by Tisch College.
Attendees at the 2019 Frontiers of Democracy conference

This summer, scholars from more than a half dozen Spanish-speaking countries gathered in Spain for the inaugural Ibero-American Institute of Civic Studies, a gathering inspired by the institute founded and held at Tisch College for over a decade, and the latest example of the advancement of civic studies as an increasingly global academic field.

Civic Studies is an emerging discipline that combines the empirical study of civic engagement with a commitment to support citizens as co-creators of their communities and institutions and as protagonists in efforts to improve public life and effect change. As such, it challenges the mainstream disciplines of the academy. In recent years, expanding and strengthening Civic Studies has been one of the principal goals of Tisch College, as we strive to make rigorous teaching and research about civic life a central feature of higher education on this campus, across the nation, and indeed around the world.

At Tufts, the fruits of that labor have included the endowment of the Newhouse Professorship of Civic Studies and, crucially, the creation of an academic major in Civic Studies available to Tufts undergraduates. That major is co-directed by Peter Levine, Tisch College’s Dean of Academic Affairs, and one of the founders and leading thinkers of Civic Studies as an academic field and as a scholarly movement. In 2009, Levine began co-teaching at Tufts the Summer Institute of Civic Studies, an advanced seminar for professors and practitioners. Tisch College recently hosted the 11th annual Summer Institute, which has now been attended by more than 200 participants.

“Since the beginning, the Summer Institute has attracted a wide range of activists and nonprofit leaders, scholars, and graduate students from around the world,” says Levine. “Over the past decade, we’ve had participants from about 25 countries, and from as far away as Liberia, Iran, Singapore, and Latvia. Their diverse backgrounds and perspectives have profoundly shaped and strengthened our discussions.”

One of those international participants was Prof. Tetyana Kloubert, then at the University of Augsburg, now at the Catholic University of Eichstät-Ingolstadt, both in Germany. In 2015, she joined Levine and fellow Civic Studies co-founder Karol Soltan to launch a European Institute of Civic Studies. That year, it was held in Ukraine at a challenging time for that nation’s civic and political life. Since, it has been held in Ukraine or Germany, and is now funded by the German Academic Exchange Service. It has welcomed participants from its two host countries as well as Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Poland, Romania, Tajikistan, and Russia.

The origins of the new Ibero-American Institute of Civic Studies are likewise rooted in efforts by “alumni” of the original Institute. For years, Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico) and Camilo José Cela University (Spain) sent faculty members to the Tufts gathering as part of their professional development. This year, leaders from both universities came together to launch a Civic Studies Institute in Madrid.

“The goal of this initial gathering was to promote this way of thinking about citizenship and a civic commitment in the Ibero-American context,” said Miriam Salvador García, a professor at Camilo José Cela University and one of the co-organizers of the event. The Institute was especially focused on the role of higher education, with the theme of “Building citizenship from within the university.” Academics from higher education institutions in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala participated in the gathering.

The increasingly global reach of Civic Studies has also begun to produce international scholarship. Two recent examples include “A Civic Studies perspective on European citizens: in search for potential in the conflict surrounding TTIP,” by Nora Schröder, in the Journal European Politics and Society; and the book Deweyan Experimentalism and the Problem of Method in Political Philosophy, by French/British author Joshua Forstenzer, which concludes with a defense of Civic Studies.

“It’s exciting to see the reach of Civic Studies continue to extend across the world, and it’s gratifying that much of it is due to the work we’ve done at Tisch College to make Tufts University the intellectual leader in this field,” said Peter Levine. “I think it speaks to the value of the Civic Studies discipline, the fact that it explores questions that citizens and communities in every nation grapple with, and its potential to help advance more just and equitable societies everywhere.”