Online Localities: Implications for Democracy and Education

| August 20, 2010

Kahne, J., & Middaugh, E. (2009). Online Localities: Implications for Democracy and Education. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 108(1), 234-266.

Local communities have long been important places for democratic participation. Current communication technology and media expand people’s capacity to interact with people from distant places. Whether online communities could effectively serve as new venues for civic engagement draws attention of scholars in the field of civic education. In this paper, Middaugh and Kahne (2009) examine the potential of online localities for democratic engagement. Drawing on Dewey’s thought, especially on The Public and Its Problems, they specify four qualities of democratic communities. First, each member of a community is aware of shared consequences of their actions in the community. Second, each member has a sense of “shared responsibility for decision making” in community affairs. Third, members have access to diverse perspectives within and between communities. Finally, members actively engage with divergent views held by other group members.

Using these criteria, Middaugh and Kahne (2009) examine the potential of online communities for democratic engagement. In their review, there are some cases that online communities can help members to sense a shared concern and responsibility for decision making (such as the case of FB’s privacy policy). However, it is not clear whether this is a common scenario in most online communities. While information and diverse perspectives are widely and freely accessed in online communities, the quality of online information and perspectives needs serious attention. Whether online communities lead individuals to engage in different views or perspectives of like-minded people remains contested. They suggest future research to investigate the pervasiveness of these qualities of democratic communities in online world.

As we are working on online professional resources and potential youth action network for Understand Fiscal Responsibility project, the qualities of democratic communities outlined in this paper could be great reminders that direct our design of UFR online communities.