In 2008, scholar Lance W. Bennett posited a new dichotomy for thinking about citizenship and civic learning in an increasingly digital age. Bennett theorized the difference between the dutiful citizen—who engages with society through taxes, military duty, and voting—and the actualizing citizen, who engages with society through voicing opinion, volunteering, protesting, sharing, expressing, concern for community and others, in addition to the dutiful acts that must be performed.
I believe that critical media literacy is positioned to be the pedagogical and political movement to bridge the dichotomy Bennett identified by developing inclusive, active, and engaged civic lifestyles. In today’s digital media landscape, citizens must be made to understand the relationship between personal and social identity, and media as a sense of place, community, and democracy.
I chose this video as an example of the potential that citizens have to be informed, engaged, and active in helping shape public debates in online spaces. In my media literacy courses, this brings up some very interesting dialog about what the right approach to advocating for change is, and what information people need to know, what questions they need to ask, and where/how they express their feelings about any community or civic issue. What’s also interesting about this clip is that this campaign idea was strongly resisted by the library staff and directors. Notions of book burning are always contentious, but citizens know this. It’s no longer up to a few people to decide what’s best for everyone, but more about findings ways to facilitate diverse and vibrant dialog, that is largely driven by the community.
Diverse networks of individuals can share opinions, advocate for causes, and advance ideas in unique and collaborative ways. This newfound avenue for engaged citizenship is predicated on critical, participatory, informed, and aware citizens. To maximize the civic value and purpose of social platforms, critical media literacy needs to teach about individual and social agency in the context of daily civic life, which is increasingly mediated, empowering, and community-driven.