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Exploring the Frontiers of Democracy

Monday, July 28, 2014

Our annual gathering of leaders from across civic life spurred productive discussions and collaborations to strengthen democracy.

 

On July 16-18, Tisch College hosted its 6th annual Frontiers of Democracy conference, a gathering of 150 scholars, practitioners, and leaders who came together on Tufts University’s Boston campus to discuss the state of the civic field.

The conference, which was co-hosted by The Democracy Imperative and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, featured a series of interactive learning exchanges on topics like dialogue, community engagement, city management, free speech, and civic education. There were also a series of “short take” speeches from a diverse group of national leaders who shared their perspective and experiences with civic engagement in varied fields and contexts. Their talks set the tone for an event that uniquely combined profound reflections with calls to action.

“People come here from many nations and from many streams of work. Some of us are highly practical, representing grassroots, on-the-ground efforts of various sorts. Some are more theoretical, trying to change the way we conceive of citizenship and public life,” said conference organizer Peter Levine, Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tisch College and Director of our Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement. “Thought is action here; action is thoughtful. Everyone’s a builder, everyone’s a thinker, everyone’s an activist.”

Our Dean Alan D. Solomont offered welcome remarks and framed the conference as part of Tisch College’s larger efforts as a convener and leader for civic renewal.

“The mission of Tisch College is, in fact, captured by the name of this conference. We strive, and we will strive going forward, to be at the frontiers of democracy: to be a catalyst and an institutional leader in efforts to promote civic renewal and to build a stronger democracy,” said Solomont.

“The largest and most important piece of that work is that which involves all of us in this room: strengthening the connections and building the social movements that will address our most pressing national and global challenges.”

Frontiers of Democracy featured leaders from organizations like the National Civic League, the Participatory Budgeting Project, the McCormick Foundation, the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, the Kettering Foundation, and Everyday Democracy. Scholars from Harvard, the University of New Hampshire, Syracuse University, North Carolina State University, Colgate University, the University of Alberta, UMass Boston, and others also participated.

The conference followed our two-week Summer Institute of Civic Studies, an interdisciplinary seminar that brings together advanced graduate students, faculty, and practitioners from diverse fields for intensive theoretical discussions. This year, half of the seminar’s participants were from outside the United States, including visitors from India, Iran, Ukraine, Italy, Mexico, Peru, and others.