From entertainment to citizenship? A comparative study of the political uses of popular culture by first-time voters

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Political, Social and International


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Description Despite their disenchantment with, and scepticism about, conventional politics, the young people we studied in this project were clearly not indifferent to, or disengaged from, the world that they inhabit. Furthermore, we found that popular culture may feature in the ways that young people discover their sense of belonging and develop their mistrust of public bodies. Certainly, they appear to be immune to being instructed on how to behave, whether those instructions come from celebrities or politicians. Rather they use their judgement in assessing the veracity and validity of the various sources of communication with which they engage. What our evidence suggests is that popular culture can and is used to reflect upon the character of the wider world, to form affinities with others in it, and to pass judgement on them.

It does not follow from this, however, that parties, politicians and others worried by a decline in youth voting and civic engagement should immediately recruit the great and good of popular culture to their cause. Young people like to see themselves as media savvy and discriminating cultural consumers. They are wary of anything that they deem to be fake or inauthentic or patronizing. However, one of our respondents voiced the thought that the presentation of news could benefit from lessons learnt from entertainment culture: 'I don't enjoy watching the news because it's just so depressing, but if politics was thrown into something like games ... then I would know more about it that way.' Others speculated about how videogame technology could be used to engage people in politics . These suggestions aside, the key to popular culture's relationship to the 'real world' of politics and public power is mediated by judgements of its veracity, authority and authenticity. These vary according to genre, format and performer, among other factors.
Exploitation Route The lessons of the research have application to those seeking to engage young people in politics, particularly by use of popular culture.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Our findings have been used for media dissemination (eg Radio 4's Thinking Allowed, among other outlets), in which the aim is to broaden public discussion and understanding of the role of popular culture in the formation and expression of political views and attitudes. Our findings were also used in written evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform inquiry into 'Voter Engagement in the UK'.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal