Disconnected - the changing face of participation
From politicians to church leaders, everybody is concerned about declining participation in society’s collective life. The spectre of ever-lower turn outs in elections, the perceived apathy of the young, the concern at how little unites people nationally - all have become the mainstay preoccupations of policy units, feature writers and academics.
Some see hope in new technologies, and claim the interactive web user is a new type of social activist. Others look to more localised community decision-making, from the devolved parliaments downwards, to touch people more directly and re-inspire them with a passion for politics. The massive crowds flooding into the Tate and the millions who voted in the Big Brother TV phenomenon are cited as evidence that people can still be engaged. To help the process along, schemes to encourage participation are flooding out of government committees, from compulsory citizenship classes in schools, to training for parents who want to become school governors.
Why has participation declined or indeed has it? How do novel forms of involvement compare with those of the past? Can participation be taught or institutionalised? Just how active is interactive? How can we inspire young people to want to become involved?