In recognition of her distinguished research on young people’s civic engagement, Tisch College recently awarded University of Wisconsin Professor Constance Flanagan the 2012 Tisch Civic Engagement Research Prize.

A developmental psychologist, Professor Flanagan conducts research on adolescents’ views of the ‘social contract’ – the rights and responsibilities that bind members of a society together. During a two-day visit to campus, Professor Flanagan discussed her work with students and faculty in the Eliot Pearson Department of Child Development, with Tisch College’s interdisciplinary group of Faculty Fellows, and during a public forum with Peter Levine, Tisch College director of research and director of CIRCLE.

“Professor Flanagan has been extremely important to developing youth civic engagement as a research field,” said Levine, who has collaborated with Flanagan on numerous CIRCLE projects.  “She is a mentor, a networker and a scholar whose empirical work on the development of young people as active citizens has changed the way people think about youth engagement.”

Levine noted that while political scientists often examine the behavior of voting age youth, Flanagan’s work has played a critical role in understanding how adolescents’ views and habits develop.

“Parents telling children to share their toys is often a child’s first introduction to the civic domain – the idea that we coexist with other people and must we work together for the public good,” said Flanagan explained. “Taking a developmental perspective and looking at what shapes a young person’s ideas and values about interacting with others raises an important question – how can institutions shape young people?”

 Flanagan added that this question serves as the basis for much of her research – looking not only at what young people think, but examining the intuitions and social context which form young people’s opinions.

“People’s ideas and beliefs are closely connected to what happens in their everyday life,” Flanagan explained. “A school system focused on high-stakes testing may unwittingly encourage cheating and thereby train young people to think cheating is okay. This is just one example of how institutional structure can have a tremendous impact on young people’s values and beliefs.”

In addition to her many peer-reviewed articles and white papers, Flanagan’s book, Teenage Citizens: The Political Theories of the Young, will be available from Harvard University Press this fall.

Now in its fifth year, the Tisch Civic Engagement Research Prize annually recognizes distinguished scholarship on civic learning, citizen participation and engaged research. Previous recipients include John Gaventa, now director of the Coady International Institute and Vice-President of International Development at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada; Doug McAdam, Professor of Sociology and Director of Urban Studies at Stanford University; Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science at the Indiana University; and Robert Wuthnow, Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52 Professor of Sociology and Director of Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University.

Originally published April 2012