Civic and Political Disengagement
There is, in practice, no such thing as autonomy. Practically, there is only a
distinction between responsible and irresponsible dependence.
As record numbers of emerging adults turned out to participate in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign and election, there was a buzz in the media and popular culture that a new page was being written in the history of youth political and civic involvement.1 The many young voters who showed up on election day to cast their ballot prompted some observers to conclude that the former era of civic apathy and disengagement on the part of youths might be coming to a close. Many have grown hopeful that young adults today, who are said to be entering the political scene with a renewed vigor, are turning over a new leaf of hope and involvement. If true, such a change would indeed mark a break with years of social science research findings that suggest that today’s emerging adults will not easily become highly engaged civically and politically.2
Recent research, however, shows that adolescents and emerging adults today tend to be less involved in various forms of overt political activity and are less reliably and consistently involved in politics than previous cohorts of young citizens.3 To further explore these discrepant claims and expectations, this chapter explores the extent and character of contemporary emerging adults’ political interests and civic engagements. We conducted our interviews during the summer of 2008, exactly when emerging adults would have had reason and opportunity to become politically and civically active. What we find, however, is that any heightened interest among emerging adults in politics and civic life evident in the 2008 presidential campaign, as reported by journalists, must have been a temporary blip or mere media hype. The vast majority of the emerging