Imagining Ourselves as Civic Agents

We connect the imagination to personal and social identities and the ways people think about their own capacities for social action.




This first activity can be run as a workshop or completed as an individual process of reflection and creative writing. Much of the civic imagination is about looking forward and shaping a vision of the future. We have found that an important starting place for this work is often in our own pasts. In this activity, participants are guided to identify a Memory Object; something tangible and personally evocative of another time and place in their lives. After an identity object has been identified and described, participants work individually or in groups to begin an analysis of these rich and evocative objects, identifying how they connect to themes such as sentimentality, nostalgia, family, community, labor, loss and so forth. This work helps people connect with parts of themselves that they do not always conjure or bring forth in the daily flows of their lives and public identities.


Participants then use their Memory Objects to fashion origin stories from their own pasts. This creative writing exercise draws on traditions of superhero and fantasy fiction. Participants can either imagine themselves as characters in their own stories or create a new fictional cast. The goal is to create a narrative where the Memory Object plays an important role and becomes an emblem of or vehicle for a special power or skill. This power or skill is then wielded to bring about an imaginary change in a past civic event that was meaningful for the participant. Stories are then collected and shared, providing material for further reflection and feedback amongst participants in group settings.


Though the workshops and activities throughout this section are generally not explicitly about particular types of media production, we do recognize that they often lend themselves to particular genres, modes and platforms. We attempt to make connections and suggestions when such cases are clear so that facilitators can strategize and adapt the activities depending on available resources, goals and desired outputs.


The Origin Stories workshop lends itself to still image production and sharing on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, and to creative writing publishing on platforms such as Google Docs, Medium and Wordpress.