Center for Citizenship and Community

Civic Mindedness

(Excerpt from: Brabant, Margaret and Donald Braid. 2009. "The Devil is in the Details: Defining Civic Engagement." With Margaret Brabant. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 13, 59-87.)

The insights that emerged from our ethnographic study had a profound effect both on how we understood our role as a university seeking to develop civic-engagement initiatives and on how we design service-learning outreach programs so that students might more fully witness and participate in the process of citizenship at a neighborhood level. Our findings may be summarized by saying citizenship matters. Yet it must be remembered that the performance of one's civic responsibilities occurs within a pluralistic society that ideally adheres to democratic governing principles and that the practice of citizenship is conflict-riddled because it involves a constant negotiation of wills and worldviews. As Lippard notes:


A peopled place is not always a community, but regardless of the bonds formed with it, or not, a common history is being lived out…Community doesn't mean understanding everything about everybody and resolving all the differences; it means knowing how to work within the differences as they change and evolve. (1997, 24)

We have come to view citizenship in terms of the idea of civic mindedness-a reflective disposition that informs action. As we use the term, civic mindedness involves a developed awareness of others that engages our moral imaginations and enhances our sense of efficacy and empathy as human beings who dwell in civil society. From our perspective, civic mindedness is an essential attribute of the identity of individuals who see themselves as citizens and choose to participate in the cooperative process at the heart of civic community. Citizenship, if understood as a mindset, can be a practice individuals use to "work within the differences" that make up the complexity of places like Butler-Tarkington. This notion of citizenship also aligns with Rhoda Halperin's description of community as "not just a place…but a series of day-to-day, ongoing, often invisible practices" (1998, 5).