Everyday Creativity as Civic Engagement: A Cultural Citizenship View of New Media
Burgess, Jean E., Foth, Marcus, & Klaebe, Helen G. (2006) Everyday Creativity as Civic Engagement: A Cultural Citizenship View of New Media. In Communications Policy & Research Forum, Sep 25-26, Sydney.
In the policy imagination, the practice of citizenship has conventionally been separated from entertainment, leisure and consumption activities. This interpretation is based on a traditional but narrow view of the public sphere that focuses on political and civic rights and responsibilities. According to this view, the cultural dimensions of citizenship are usually limited to the right and freedom to express one’s own culture and beliefs, as well as the responsibility to accept the right of others to express their views and values. This also holds true for studies of e-democracy, where citizen engagement is measured according to participation in online deliberation and the ‘rational’ discussion of topics that are related to the traditional public sphere – that is, politics and current affairs. However, we argue in this paper that contemporary media and communication studies can provide useful alternatives to this view, particularly in regard to the ‘cultural public sphere’ and cultural citizenship. According to these perspectives, bona fide citizenship is practised as much through everyday life, leisure, critical consumption and popular entertainment as it is through debate and engagement with capital ‘P’ politics. The paper is divided into two parts. First, we review the theoretical framework surrounding cultural citizenship and the public sphere in order to highlight key interrelationships with recent developments in new media, social networking, and information and communication technology. Building on this framework, we argue that new media opens up opportunities for the greater visibility and community-building potential of cultural citizenship’s previously ‘ephemeral’ practices. This is especially true in the context of new convergences between social networks and consumer-created content, and the consequent formation of communities of interest and practice, focused around hobbies, entertainment, and everyday creative practice, at both local and global levels. The second part of the paper draws on ethnographic and practice-based case study research around digital creativity to illustrate the significance of cultural citizenship and its contribution to new forms of civic engagement and participation in the public sphere. Examples are drawn from three research projects recently undertaken at Queensland University of Technology. We conclude by suggesting some implications of cultural citizenship for communication policy. With the rapid uptake of digital technology by a broad base of amateur users, the technical means for generating significantly creative and innovative ideas and concepts are becoming abundantly available. However, we argue that if Australia is to maximise its ability to capitalise on these digital ‘lifestyle’ products, it needs to understand the link that leads to the creative application of these tools for the purpose of participation, education and innovation. Fostering human talent and digital creativity outside formal school or workplace environments will favourably nurture societal and cultural values – promoting a socially inclusive innovation culture and economy.
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