Exploring Identity and Citizenship in a Virtual World

Exploring Identity and Citizenship in a Virtual World

Stewart Martin
DOI: 10.4018/jvple.2012100105
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Digital technology is able to modify deep-rooted views (Martin & Vallance, 2008) and facilitate identity articulation (Bers, 2001). During adolescence young people are developing their personal identity framed through the context of family, friends and cultural and religious inheritance. The complex dynamics between ’self,’ upbringing, cultural background, religious belief and social context may produce a sense of acceptance and welcome, feelings social engagement, or lead to anomie, social rejection, personal failure, disaffection or radicalisation. In multicultural, pluralistic democracies the emergence of trans-national political structures and the rise of international tensions have increased concerns about the nature of, and entitlement to, citizenship. This paper describes the Citizenship Project’s virtual world study of identity development in young people, using real-world scenarios to discover what values underpin engagement with political issues and citizenship, how they receive the concerns and values of others and how virtual worlds can promote social inclusion and cohesion.
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Identity, Citizenship, And Democratic Engagement

The concept of citizenship in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries tended to be characterised in terms of nation-building and military service. Citizenship has tended to be something claimed by nation states as their exclusive property, although this is now becoming increasingly problematic in a more globalised world that challenges the autonomy of states. The pivotal role of citizenship is that it provides a strong legitimising identity for civic and political activity but it also implies duties and obligations as well as rights and is differentiated from associated concepts such as subject-hood because it encompasses an ethic of participation and involves the promotion of the autonomous individual capable of self-governance. Citizenship therefore acquires meaning only when articulated within the wider cultural context of the group. Governance, on the other hand, is about the distribution of resources and the need to create and maintain social order. The use of violence by a nation state or political entity against its citizens represents a failure of politics as a means to achieve and sustain such consensual governance.

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