Identifying Expansive Learning in Participatory Budgeting: A Case Study of a Democratic Activity System
Melendez, José William
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This is an ethnographic case study that focuses on the Latino immigrant community’s civic engagement in Participatory Budgeting, in Chicago’s 49th Ward (PB49). The research focus is on how the PB49 process mediates participation and how those modes of participation mediate learning in practice. Imbedded within this research focus are the related research questions of 1) What was the nature of civic engagement of Latino immigrant participants in PB49? 2) What was the dialectic between the (designed) environment and civic engagement? 3) What was the nature of expansive learning in this context? and 4) What was the evolution of Latino immigrant participants’ identities of civic engagement in this case study? This study focused on the PB49 process as the context onto which a Learning Sciences analytical approach was used to study how learning looks like while engaging in democratic activity. This study incorporates a Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) design based research (DBR) interventionist framework and grounded theory method to better understand the complexity of learning as it occurs in PB49. This study situated the designed environment and civic engagement in dialectical relation with one another. The study explored how participants framed issues, the positioning roles with agentic potential to develop proposed ideas, and the function of civic capacities in mediating civic engagement when moments of dialectical tension arose. The researcher analyzed participation for evidence of how community members, through discourse, saw themselves and the community vis-a-vis government and vice-versa. This study shows how the PB49 process evolved over iterations, and how these changes related to the collective civic engagement of participants and the bearing of participants’ practices on the development of the activity system. In this study, the nature of civic engagement during moments of tension can be evidence of learning. Learning in this study refers to the changes in practices at both the collective and system levels. At the collective level, these changes in practices are about how the framing of issues afforded or constrained the kind of positioning roles enacted, as mediated through civic capacities. Findings at this level include: 1) Civic capacities that were key in developing ideas under discussion, 2) The coalescing of civic capacities to support the idea development process to move from individual to collective level changes, 3) Evidence of expansive learning in two of the subcases, 4) The positioning roles appearing to have agency in developing an idea, regardless of who was enacting the role, and 5) Latino immigrant participants’ evidence of praxis, as they engaged in expansive imaginaries in subcase three. At the system level, learning refers to changes in the evolution of the PB49 activity system. Findings at this level include: 1) The coalescing of civic capacities and the shift from individual to collective changes to the PB49 activity system, for example, the creation of the Spanish Language Committee (SLC), 2) The reconstitution of the dialectic of the designed environment and civic engagement, and 3) The SLC is theorized in this case study as a collective third space, which afforded the expansive learning seen by the Latino immigrant participants’ praxis, evidenced by their engagement in expansive imaginaries of citizenship. This study will contribute methodological, conceptual, and policy insights on how to study, identify, and describe adult civic learning in democratic activity. Additionally, the study provides evidence of how paying attention to the design of the environment can be meaningful for underrepresented communities such as Latino immigrants participating in democratic activity. This research aims to augment the literature on Learning Sciences, CHAT, Participatory Planning, and Deliberative Democracy.
Learning Sciences: Cultural Historical Activity Theory
Design Based Research
Collective Third Spaces