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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.

Our Efforts

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. 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.

Through the work of CIRCLE and the scholarship of leaders at Tisch College and throughout Tufts University, we conduct research on civic renewal that investigates specific weaknesses in civic and democratic life, and evaluates 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 supports various initiatives that study and strengthen the connections between civic life and various academic fields. These diverse projects and programs combine education and research 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:

  • Social-Emotional Learning Initiative
    The Tisch College SEL-CE initiative seeks to integrate social-emotional learning into educational practices, campus programs, and research throughout Tufts University.
  • Prof. Moon Duchin
    Led by Tufts mathematician Moon Duchin and supported by Tisch College, MGGG studies applications of geometry and computing to U.S. redistricting in order to tackle a fundamental threat to our democracy: gerrymandering.
  • 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.

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:

CIRCLE - Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) focuses on young people in the U.S., with an emphasis on those who are marginalized or disadvantaged in political life. CIRCLE’s scholarly research informs policy and practice for healthier youth development and a better democracy.

Tisch College Community Research Center - There is significant overlap between Civic Studies and community-based participatory research (CBPR). The Tisch College Community Research Center (TCRC), run by a steering committee of community members and Tufts faculty members, supports CBPR projects with special emphasis on Tufts’ host communities of Somerville, Medford and Boston’s Chinatown.

Water Diplomacy - The Water Diplomacy program at Tufts University trains interdisciplinary water professionals who think across boundaries, emphasize integration of explicit and tacit knowledge, link knowledge and action from multiple perspectives to help resolve water issues through mutual-gains negotiations.

Peace & Justice Studies - The Peace & Justice Studies Program (PJS) at Tufts was founded to provide students with an academic means to understand global crises and to explore the means for achieving a just peace and sustainability. It also explores the ways that governmental and nongovernmental organizations, social movements, and individuals have confronted such problems and worked to resolve them.

Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning - The mission of the Tufts Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) is the education of a new generation of leaders: “practical visionaries” who will contribute to the development of inclusive and sustainable communities. UEP strives to make institutions more responsive to child, adult, and ultimately community well-being by helping them understand, empathize with, and respond to the social, economic, and environmental needs of individuals and communities.