This is a spin off post to the one I did on “voluntourism” as I continue the process of reflecting on what doing  “good” in this world means.

saviors and survivors“In contrast to those who suggest that we act as soon as the whistle blows, I suggest that, even before the whistle blows we ceaselessly try to know the world in which we live — and act. Even if we must act on imperfect knowledge, we must never act as if knowing is no longer relevant.” (p. 6)  Mahmood Mamdani in Saviors and Survivors:  Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror (2009)



Expanding the definition
The common use of the term “slacktivism” is of fairly recent origin, and the most common definition is ‘action taken via the Internet in support of some social cause but requiring little effort.’  There has been some interesting research on the term and broad coverage in the online press.  One of the major questions asked is can slacktivism lead to activism.

Good question, that.

There is no lack of clarity that it is a pejorative term, unlike the more neutral (for the most part) term ‘voluntourism.’  My definition of slacktivism is a bit broader and includes Internet based action, of course, but also includes behaviors in daily life such as buying a pair of Tom’s shoes and claiming oneself as an activist.

In an interview for a story that appeared in the student magazine The Edge I referred to some of the Elon students participating in the annual Elonthon fundraiser as ‘slacktivists.’  That generalization is clearly not true for everyone involved, and I know that the key organizers do their level best to thoroughly vet the partnering organizations.  That said, there are many who participate in the event that I had in mind when making the comment.  In reaction to The Edge story one of the past organizers contacted me via email.  Here is, in part, what she said, “Majority of students who come to Elonthon for the Greek “points” likely get very little out of it, and while I wish I could make all of them serve others from an authentic, compassionate place, that’s sadly the sleepy way they float through life. What our exec board does try to do is put them in a place that will create an inner shift, while also making at least a small impact.”  No one wants to have a pejorative term applied to them or to any activities or organizations to which they are connected.  The reality is that in the case of some behaviors the label “slacktivist” seems to fit.

Pericleans as “slacktivists?”
Year after year the Periclean Scholars program is fortunate to attract from among the first year class some of the most dedicated and passionate students at Elon.  The women and men who get inducted into this program typically have long histories of service work through their churches, high schools, athletic teams and community civic organizations (Boy and Girl Scouts, for example).  Many (most?) of these new inductees see the Periclean Scholars program as an extension of work they have been doing in many cases for years.

One of the main goals of our program is to have Periclean Scholars -both individually and as a Class-  ceaselessly probe deeper and deeper into the nature of aid and development work in general and partnering in particular, constantly learning how to mindfully differentiate between partnering and patronizing, between “good” and “bad” aid.  In previous posts I have discussed a wide array of ideas and perspectives on this topic, most recently posting on “voluntourism.”

This winter term I taught SOC 370 Being and Becoming a Global Citizen. I developed this course four years ago and it has allowed me not only the luxury of reading and then teaching from some very seminal works in this area. Perhaps even more importantly I get to read the thoughts of the scores of students whom I have had read and respond to this material.  The content we cover in this class is a direct outgrowth of the questions raised by the very existence of the Periclean Scholars program whose overall goal is to put into action the part of the Elon University Mission statement which says, “We integrate learning across the disciplines and put knowledge into practice, thus preparing students to be global citizens logowoborder
and informed leaders motivated by concern for the common good.”

The video below was created by Dawson Nicholson and Laura Orr, students in SOC 370 Being and Becoming a Global Citizen this past January term.  Both are members of the Periclean Scholars Class of 2016.  What they produced was in response to the charge to look more critically themselves and at Elon students in general with regard to their activism.  I think the message of this video is one that should be heard by many. It reflects my broader definition of “slacktivism.”.


Final thoughts
It is the responsibility of everyone connected with our program -Pericleans past and present, Mentors, and Director and Associate Director- to continue the “process of reflecting on what doing  ‘good’ in this world means.” Never are good intentions alone sufficient, and quick, un-researched “feel good” actions are the antithesis of what it means to be a Periclean Scholar.

Finally, those connected with our program need to constantly embrace the responsibility to be a positive influence in this regard to friends, family and others, ever passing on the lessons we have learned as our program has developed and deepened.


Post Script  Look here for some suggestions on how to redirect “slacktivists”


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