"Own Your Knowledge": Gov94CZ Case Study Project

Gov94CZ (From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in a Digital Age) was an undergraduate seminar course offered in Harvard’s Department of Government in fall 2016. Students discussed a number of topics related to digital civic agency, including changing communication patterns, policymaking processes, and emerging ethical issues. In the following class project, students chose a case (any group, any organization, or any single person) and investigated it using the Ten Questions framework. The resulting projects explored cases from all corners of the participatory politics landscape. Here, we spotlight four: VeganismReclaim Harvard LawGet Out To Vote (GOTV), and the Harvard CIVICS Program.

Is Veganism Political? The Frontiers of Participatory Politics

Source: Student Presentation Slides
In "Veganism: A Platform for Participatory Politics,” Alice Jeon and Sarah Wu looked at how veganism has gained ground along with the rise of digital technology. Among the discussed topics were how social media played a role in community building, information sharing, and identity formation among vegans and, intriguingly, whether or not veganism is political. Their project pushed Alice and Sarah to delve into the changing notion of participatory politics and what counts as political. This resulted in a interesting and important discussion of the distinctions between intention and perception in civic activism and between means-based vs. ends-based civic groups. Alice and Sarah conclude that understanding veganism and its (non)political character requires an understanding of expanding margins of participatory politics – territory that has largely gone undefined and unclaimed. Read more.

Reclaim HLS: Law Students Respond in the Age of Black Lives Matter.  

Reclaim Harvard Law Strike (Source: CNN)
Source: Student Presentation Slides
In “Reclaim Harvard Law: Students Voices Reshape an Institution,” Gabbi Giotti, Michaela Murrow, and Kailash Sundaram studied the organization of Reclaim Harvard Law, a student movement at Harvard Law School focusing on issues of inclusion and diversity. They argued that Reclaim HLS was a hard-reach group, due to the high sensitivity of their core concerns and the risks involved in advocating for them. Gabbi, Michaela, Kailash focused specifically on how activists were nonetheless able to channel their voice into actual change, by any media necessary. Similarly, they documented the strategies activists used to deal with pushback against their efforts, including both straightforward discrimination and claims to "free speech." Their analysis traced how civic activism can resonate well beyond a movement's immediate aims: Reclaim HLS was never meant to go on a national level, but because of the Harvard brand and the national backdrop of Black Lives Matter, its influence quickly expanded well beyond Harvard Law. In discussing the risks, challenges, and consequences of civic agency, this case study explored the political significance of sacrifice, a virtue that is both necessary for achieving equity and a necessarily a burden for the individuals bearing it. Read more.

Get Out the Vote: Participatory Politics' New Suffrage Movement? 

GOTV: Rock the Vote vs. Mia Familia Vota
Source: Student Presentation Slides
While unglamorous and sometimes frustrating, voting is one of the most important and oldest forms of political participation and remains essential to modern democratic politics. Yet, it is all too often pushed to the sidelines in discussions about participatory politics.  In “A Transmedia Perspective of Voting: How ‘Get Out the Vote’ Organizations Use Online and Offline Strategies to Encourage Participation,” Avika Dua and Jonah Hahn challenged this neglect and argued for placing voting back at the core of participatory politics. In this case study, Avika and Jonah compared two Get Out the Vote (GOTV) organizations––Rock the Vote and Mia Famila Vota. The two organizations originated from different goals for voting and nurtured different organizational visions. Avika and Jonah scrutinized how Rock the Vote and Mia Familia Vota developed different transmedia strategies according to these diverging goals. Avika and Jonah contextualized the groups in the flow dynamics model of discourse, with Rock the Vote representing structural change and Mia Famila Vota representing expressive change. Read more.

Harvard Civics: Teaching Civics as Political Action

Harvard Civics Program
Source: Student Presentation Slides
Teaching students civics provides them with tools for responsible citizenship in a changing political landscape. But civic education goes well beyond formal teachers. Lukas Petry and Carolina Portela-Blanco examined the Harvard CIVICS Program , which places motivated undergraduates in classrooms throughout the Boston area to teach civics and government classes and inspire students to grow into active members of our society. Carolina, a civics teacher in the program herself, and Lukas studied the passion and motivation of undergraduate participants and the challenges they faced teaching young students. Carolina and Lukas frame teaching civics as political action using the Ten Questions. They write, “[Undergraduate volunteers] are not merely talking about the problem of the lack of civic instruction in K-12 schooling and how it affects participation in community, but they are doing something about it. The program takes teachers to the school – it acts upon perceived issues and intends to remedy it through education.” Read more.

"Own Your Knowledge"

We want students to create their own meanings from their experiences both in and beyond class. Lecture and readings are important, of course. But they are not the best way to own knowledge. Connecting theories, knowledge, and practices you hear from the class to your lived experiences begins with an authentic question that matters to you. Simply, what do you care about? And why does it matter to you? It does echo the first principle of the ten. Then, how do you proceed to the next steps? You engage in the inquiry cycle originally drawn from John Dewey.

Inquiry Cycle

Once you come up with an essential question that connects with your life, you can investigate through multiple methods, sources, and media. Any tangible products can derive from investigation––the tangible product in our class will be your case study. Note that your creation is inseparable from other steps, especially discussion and reflections. You need to discuss meanings and lessons of your creation with others and then go back to previous steps, namely investigation and creation, and tinker with your creation.

In the end, you­ and your audience––now your instructors and peers but beyond that down the road––are all invited to a broad vista to “look back” at the whole inquiry process and generate further meanings together. These five steps, of course, are neither linear nor discrete. Rather, they are embedded in one another. The point here is that this inquiry cycle can break down your inquiry processes––typically complicated and less articulate––into small pieces and monitor your own meaning making experiences. In completing this process you claim the ownership of knowledge. Please see the related posts: “The YPP Action Frame with Inquiry-Based Learning II: "Small Inquiry" and "Big Inquiry"” and “The YPP Action Frame with Inquiry-Based Learning I: An Inquiry Cycle” from the YPP Action Frame site.

[Case Study] How Students Conduct Case Studies


Team up with your peers (2 or 3 students in one group) to conduct a case study. What kind of case study? You could start by writing a captivating story around the case. We will discuss several real world cases during class, and you can imagine emulating one of them. The case study can be situated in particular theories and perspectives we discuss in class. The cases we address there are quite lengthy, but you are not necessarily required to write such a long paper. What matters most is the content and message you want to deliver through the case; this project is an exercise both to express your creativity and practice research skills. It is broken into small pieces (P1, P2, P3-1, P3-2, and P3-3) to help you complete the end project (P4) effectively.


[Case Study] P0

P0 [Not Graded]. Please consult with Chaebong (chaebong_nam@fas.harvard.edu) regarding the case selection by September 29, 2016.

[Case Study] P1


P1. “Why it matters to me/us”

  • Choose your case––any case that matters to you and is safe enough to share with others. These first two elements already echo YPP Action Frame’s principle 1 (“Why does it matter to me?”) and principle 2 (“How much should I share?”).

    • The case can be any group, any organization, or any single person in connection with a large theme of the course: Youth, media, and participatory politics. Be creative and flexible in choosing your case.

    • Introduce the case, explaining why the case matters to you, what you want to talk about in the case, spelling out main issues you would want to explore.

    • Try to situate the case in one or some of theoretical perspectives discussed in class.

      • You are welcome to challenge the existing viewpoints and values, as well as defending them. For instance, we see the three values––equity, efficacy, and self-protection­­––as “timeless but not dogmatic” (quoted from Tom Hayden’s reflection about the Port Huron Statement at 50 (Links to an external site.)). If you find other ideas and values pertain to your own case, please bring them to our class through your own inquiry-cycle.

    • Describe briefly a general plan about how to investigate your issues:

      • What sorts of data would you need to understand the case?

        • Who would you want to talk with you?

        • What would you observe?

        • What existing data would you want to explore?

        • How do we analyze them?

      • What is your position in the case?

    • Due: Week 5 (A 6 to 8 page statement, or longer if desired)

    • Please talk with Chaebong beforehand


[Case Study] P3 (P3-1, P3-2, and P3-3)

P3-1. Presentation: Week 12

P3-2. Add Discussions and Conclusion based on feedback from the presentation

P3-3. Individual reflection note. This portion is spared for individual reflection about the collaborative research-learning activities. As members on the same team, you share a common ground for the case, but that does not necessarily mean that you share exact thoughts with others. Thus, this individual reflection paper gives you an opportunity to flesh out your own thought­­ or ideas around your case or your collaborative thinking activities.

[Case Study] P4



  • Compile P1 to P3-3

  • Submit by due date: By 5 pm on December 17, 2016