This research project will contribute to the debate about consumption and citizenship by increasing our knowledge of whether practices of media consumption reinforce or undermine democratic sensibilities and processes.
More specifically, our aims are as follows:
The potential impact of
the research in intellectual terms rests on arguing for the importance of
understanding in much greater detail how individuals do, and do not,
connect their media practice as consumers to their practice as citizens,
which (given the complexity of that question) requires knowing much more
about how people themselves understand that connection to work, and on
what scale or scales. The planned outputs will concentrate on showing the
variety of connections individuals make, without neglecting the areas
where expected connections are not made. In this way, the research will
aim to replace mere assumptions about how media, including new media, help
people connect to wider civic spaces with well-grounded empirical
research. An important precondition, however, is that the research is seen
as internationally comparable, so that it can contribute to transnational
debates on media and citizenship.
These intellectual impacts will be framed by a number of developing policy debates and initiatives in the UK. There are current Government initiatives on the citizenship curriculum (DfES), on various aspects of the Digital Divide (PAT15, DTI, and others), and most recently a major consultation exercise on e-democracy launched by the Office of the e-Envoy. The e-Envoy's report ('In the service of democracy') is particularly relevant since it emphasises precisely the need for a more subtle understanding of how the diversity of consumer practice relates to older citizenship forms that is at the heart of this project. We intend that our research will feed into the specific debates that emerge from that consultation, for example the development by the Government of its Citizen Space and the implementation of a charter on e-democracy. In addition, although the recent Communications Bill makes few references to questions of citizenship, our research's evidence of how individual consumers think about the links of media to citizenship are likely to be relevant to OFCOM's developing agenda. We will therefore aim to disseminate our findings to as wide an audience as possible.