Digital Citizenship – Criticisms & Conversations

My post “Understanding Digital Citizenship” seems to have received some favourable attention and some criticism. Here’s a short response to points in the conversation.

1) Stephen and Tom don’t seem to like the term “digital citizenship”. Stephen wrote an important article “The Digital Nation” almost exactly 10 years ago, I remember reading it, and it’s still relevant today. Tom states that he doesn’t believe what we are talking about (literacy, safety, etiquette, networking, learning strategies) equates to digital citizenship.

a) Stephen, I never said I particularly like the term either. I am using the framework I have been given through the conversation of others. Ironically, had I not used the term, I doubt if the post would have received the same attention. People have an idea of what to expect when they hear the term, it is useful in that way.

And maybe this is an error of bias on my behalf, but when I hear the term citizenship, “nation-state” citizenship is the last thing on my mind. You yourself argue for the post-national nature of digital citizens.

I think, digital citizens are post-national. Increasingly they view the restrictions imposed by nationhood and nationality as fetters inherited from an archaic age, when borders were constructed to keep both people and ideas apart from each other.

There are other unified forces that can help define citizenship in the non-traditional sense. Isin & Wood (1999) identify a number of alternate citizenship types that extend beyond nation state identities.

b) Tom writes,

I’ve probably said this before, but “literacy” + “safety ” + “etiquette” + “learning strategies” + “networking” does not equal “citizenship.” It may equal something, but “citizenship” isn’t a good word for it.

I agree. In fact, if you read my post carefully, I was saying much of the same thing, In my argument, I was advocating especially for social responsibility, social and individual action and learning.

2) Tom writes, “Citizenship is a Political Role“. I agree, but I don’t agree with his analysis of citizenship defined by the limits of political (esp. American) political history. And I will repeat the quote from my first post re: the polis and the very origin of the term political.

The obligations of citizenship were deeply connected into one’s everyday life in the polis. To be truly human, one had to be an active citizen to the community, which Aristotle famously expressed: “To take no part in the running of the community’s affairs is to be either a beast or a god!” This form of citizenship was based on obligations of citizens towards the community, rather than rights given to the citizens of the community. This was not a problem because they all had a strong affinity with the polis; their own destiny and the destiny of the community were strongly linked. Also, citizens of the polis saw obligations to the community as an opportunity to be virtuous, it was a source of honour and respect.

This is what it means to be political to me. To be engaged, active, concerned, critical, ethical and influential in the affairs of the community, whether the community is temporal or online, at the hockey rink or on Youtube.

3) Will Richardson writes,

Alec Couros’ post on digital citizenship makes some valid points, but I’m not convinced that a few examples of really vile content and lazy practice are reasons to think that the concept of citizenship is in some way fundamentally shifting.

I never said it was fundamentally shifting or changing. I just don’t think it has ever been defined in way that really expresses the idea of citizenship. Thus, as it has been defined, the term is ripe for attack.

But I also believe that citizenship suggests more than critical thinking. It requires participation and action. It requires contribution. And the ways in which even our kids can contribute in this environment and the global scale those contributions now have do change the equation.

And this is really what I stressed in the original post. After each of my “bad examples” I posed the question “what are our responsibilities?”, “What should we do about it?” This is the type of response I was looking for.

I doesn’t matter whether you define all of this digital citizenship, critical media literacy or something totally different. What does matter is that this conversation is happening. It matters that there are passionate educators out there who will inspire their students to think critically about the messages and content they receive. It matters that those educators will empower youth to becomes socially responsible by encouraging, creating and sustaining all that is good in the world.

3 thoughts on “Digital Citizenship – Criticisms & Conversations

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  2. Alec,
    Overall, my post was responding to Vicki (who was responding to yout), not you. I did, however, feel like the way your post went from discussing definitions of citizenship to “Two Girls, One Cup.” The two halves don’t seem to fit together.

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