This research project will contribute to the debate about consumption and citizenship by increasing our knowledge of whether practices of media consumption reinforce or undermine democratic sensibilities and processes.
More specifically, our aims are as follows:
to generate detailed qualitative data about an area (people's consumption of the current range of media including new media) where such data is relatively scarce;
to generate, through its survey phase, representative conclusions linked closely to the details of our qualitative research findings;
to study the conditions under which individual consumers themselves understand their media consumption to have implications for their connections with wider spaces of citizenship
through close attention to the context of current government initiatives and the maximisation of the international comparability of our findings, to contribute more widely to academic, policy and public debates on media consumption and citizenship in the UK and internationally.
The potential impact of the research in intellectual terms rests on arguing for the importance of understanding in much greater detail how individuals do, and do not, connect their media practice as consumers to their practice as citizens, which (given the complexity of that question) requires knowing much more about how people themselves understand that connection to work, and on what scale or scales. The planned outputs will concentrate on showing the variety of connections individuals make, without neglecting the areas where expected connections are not made. In this way, the research will aim to replace mere assumptions about how media, including new media, help people connect to wider civic spaces with well-grounded empirical research. An important precondition, however, is that the research is seen as internationally comparable, so that it can contribute to transnational debates on media and citizenship.
These intellectual impacts will be framed by a number of developing policy debates and initiatives in the UK. There are current Government initiatives on the citizenship curriculum (DfES), on various aspects of the Digital Divide (PAT15, DTI, and others), and most recently a major consultation exercise on e-democracy launched by the Office of the e-Envoy. The e-Envoy's report ('In the service of democracy') is particularly relevant since it emphasises precisely the need for a more subtle understanding of how the diversity of consumer practice relates to older citizenship forms that is at the heart of this project. We intend that our research will feed into the specific debates that emerge from that consultation, for example the development by the Government of its Citizen Space and the implementation of a charter on e-democracy. In addition, although the recent Communications Bill makes few references to questions of citizenship, our research's evidence of how individual consumers think about the links of media to citizenship are likely to be relevant to OFCOM's developing agenda.We will therefore aim to disseminate our findings to as wide an audience as possible.