Digital technologies pose a threat to the post-Deweyian visions of how schools educate for democracy and civic participation at a number of levels. The datafication of interpersonal interactions (as the private individual self is surveilled and commodified by supra-national global technology companies) has enormous consequences for what we want young people to learn and how they ought to behave as citizens in the reconfigured power relations between the individual, the state, and the market. Indeed, questions surrounding what it means to be a citizen and what comprises the new polis in a digitalized global economy have created a distinct new challenge for the purposes of education. The digital reconfigures the nature of agency, understood as being an intrinsic right of the liberal individual person. In addition there are political dangers for democracy, for these technologies can be mobilized and exploited as the neoliberal state fragments and loses regulatory authority (exemplified by the Cambridge Analytica and “fake news” fiasco). At the same time, the accepted paradigms of the civic, juridical, and identitarian self that traditionally comprised the democratic “citizen” are being rewritten as changing privacy practices reconfigure these models of identity. What vision of educating for democracy is necessary in the early 21st century? One answer has been to focus on “critical pedagogy,” but that model of educating for full participation in democracy needs to be reworked for the digital age—especially in terms of how schools themselves need to develop an institutional and communal form of digital-social life.
In the context of increasing realizations of the fragility of democracy, the possibilities and accomplishments of youth activist projects across material and virtual spaces and sites continue to flourish. Research on this work is situated in the rich scholarly traditions of critical youth studies and critical youth literacies as well as in theories of civic engagement, public pedagogy, participatory politics, cosmopolitanism, and relational mobilities. Many youth projects draw on the resources of arts, digital media, and critical multiliteracies to participate, in material ways, in public and political life. Taking up issues such as citizenship for immigrant youth, homelessness, and poverty, young people powerfully create critical, social, and political narratives that resonate within and beyond their own communities. Theorizing this work in relation to public engagement, spatiality, and mobilities deepens our understanding of those moments when youth in community and educational sites create powerful transmediated counter-narratives about their lives and worlds—the ways they incorporate both local and global understandings to create these new forms of political participation. And the work itself underscores the need for more equitable access to various multimodal and digital resources and the importance of youth access to public and mediated spaces. Schools and educators are called to create pedagogical spaces that invite students’ subjectivities, locations, and creative uses of material resources to engage in local and larger public dialogues, counter dominant cultural ideologies, address multiple publics, and create new forms of political participation.