Academic journal article JCT (Online)

YouTube's Potential as a Model for Democracy: Exploring Citizentube for "Thick" Democratic Conten

Academic journal article JCT (Online)

YouTube's Potential as a Model for Democracy: Exploring Citizentube for "Thick" Democratic Conten

Article excerpt

YOUTUBE, A WEBSITE that allows any user to upload videos of themselves and to view and comment on the uploaded videos of others, presents for educators a unique possibility for a model of democratic behavior. While this website may be viewed as inherently democratic because anyone with computer access can participate in the uploading and downloading of videos, the processes involved in democracy include more than simply access; the question is whether YouTube can be used as a tool to strengthen thick democracy, rather than merely promoting voyeurism parading as democracy. In order to explore this question, democracy must be clearly defined so that one can systematically determine whether the videos and discussions present on YouTube offer opportunities for educators to explore complex conceptions of democracy. Because so much of the content on YouTube is clearly intended for entertainment purposes (the most visited websites of all time contain almost exclusively music videos and comedy videos), rather than for either educational or civic purposes, this research project focuses on a particular YouTube channel called Citizentube. The purpose of this article is to examine whether and in what ways the medium of YouTube (and in particular the Citizentube channel) can model a thick conception of democracy and to examine what limitations exist for democracy to be modeled and enacted in this medium.

This article will begin by presenting a particular definition of democracy and explaining the phenomenon of YouTube and the particular channel of interest, called Citizentube. Following this section is a description of the research conducted to determine how YouTube might be used to model democracy. Finally, this paper concludes by explaining the limitations and promises of YouTube for educators interested in exploring democracy.

Definition of Democracy

The word "democracy" has a remarkably simple Greek translation: "rule by the people." The troublesome part is unpacking the contentious meanings behind each of the key terms: What exactly is meant by saying that the people "rule?"; Who are these "people" that are doing the ruling?; and How does a society decide whom to include? In Models of Democracy, David Held (1996; quoting Lively, 1975) pointed out that there is a continuum of potential positions regarding what democracy means ranging from, "That all should govern, in the sense that all should be involved in legislating, in deciding on general policy, in applying laws, and in governmental administration," to the weakest form of democracy, "that rulers should act in the interests of the ruled" (p. 3). The scope of the democratic project at each level of the continuum differs enormously; it is difficult to even decide exactly where a country that calls itself democratic (such as the United States) would fall on the continuum since the position of democracy seems to dip and rise continuously depending on contextual factors, including economic and social conditions.

Along with the extensive range of positions regarding how much the people should rule, there is a continuum regarding "the people" who should be allowed a say in the ruling. In Ancient Greece, "citizens" were given this right; a citizen being "a male of known genealogy, a patriarch, a warrior, and the master of the labor of others (normally slaves)" (Pocock, 1998). Although in modern times the question of who should be considered a citizen has expanded, the Greek conception of "citizen" still lingers in public conceptions of citizenship. Critiques of modern citizenship have pointed out the gendered nature of the very concept of citizenship (Jones, 1998), the insistence on individual rights in a multicultural society where groups rights might be more democratic (Kymlicka, 1998), and the questionable applicability of national conceptions of citizenship in a global society (Soysal, 1998).

Given these complications of pinpointing what is meant by a democracy, I argue that democracy in its purest form is a government in which all of the people do all of the ruling and that since this ideal has not yet been achieved by any society, democracy is a continually expanding and ever-shifting target many modern societies strive to attain. …

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