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Friday, 11 June 2010

10. The New Civic Arena

Like Real Representation, the New Civic Arena is a summary of some ideas put forward by Gerry Stoker in his book Why Politics Matters.

The 'civic arena' refers to the space between the formal institutions of government and the private lives of citizens. It includes the voluntary sector, the media, public debate, popular campaigns and anything else that forms the environment where citizens experience their citizenship.

Stoker suggests a range of reforms that will strengthen this civic arena and create something new.  The aim is to create the right conditions for what Stoker calls a 'politics for amateurs' to take place.

Stoker’s suggestions come in three parts:

1.  New forms of Citizen Engagement

 There are a wealth of innovative ways that citizens can be engaged. The point is not to advocate any in particular but to promote their use more generally.  Ultimately citizens will decide which innovations will come to the fore by supporting those which they perceive will make a difference and those which can fit easily into busy modern lives. 

In his book Stoker does discuss different types of innovations which he breaks down into:

  • Consultative innovations
  • Deliberative innovations
  • Co-Governance Innovations
  • Direct Democracy Innovations
  • E-Democracy Innovations

2.  Encouraging ‘Civicness’ and Voluntary Activity

Citizenship can be built in a whole range of ways that do not involve dealing directly with government and other public bodies.  In the New Civic Arena, therefore it is important to encourage 'citizen to citizen' activity through community projects and schemes such as time banks.  These types of initiatives have immediate practical benefits for citizens but they also act as a stepping stone to other forms of more political engagement.

3.  Information Flow and Understanding: Citizen Education and the Media

Reform also needs to extend to the institutions that 'frame' citizenship.  In this case both education for citizenship (for all not just the young) and the way in which the media reports politics.  For the latter Stoker highlights the need for a civic journalism which takes more of an explanatory and public interest approach to the issues.
The idea of the New Civic Arena has a clear resonance with the concept of the Big Society currently being promoted by the UK Government (See David Wilcox's blog for a proper discussion of the Big Society).  However, whilst the problem that the Big Society seems to be aimed at solving is social needs, the New Civic Arena aims to address political disenchantment.  Nevertheless, the overlap between the two ideas is obvious.

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