Date of Award

8-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

International Family and Community Studies

Advisor

Limber, Susan P

Committee Member

McDonell , James

Committee Member

Melton , Gary B

Committee Member

Robinson , Kathleen

Abstract

Political participation is critical for the legitimacy of democracy, yet the majority of Lithuanians refrain from participating 20 years after the restoration of independence. Low rates of participation have been reinforced by adverse mass beliefs, including deep-rooted mistrust and political powerlessness. Given that the development of civic culture in a democratic Lithuania is occurring simultaneously with the spread of new information and communication technologies, Lithuania serves as an interesting case study of the potential of online spaces for facilitating participation. Empirical knowledge regarding the relationships between online engagement, civic attitudes, and offline activism would strengthen campaigns to promote democracy through digital literacy.
This study explored Lithuanian young adults' grassroots participation, within the political and cultural contexts of society. It used a cross-sectional design to survey 580 18- to 30-year-olds from five Lithuanian universities in 2012, through a web-based questionnaire. The purpose of the study was to examine the types of Internet engagement and the civic values that contribute to offline participation in organizations, local community activities, and political discourse among self-selected Lithuanian students.
Results indicated three primary factors of Internet engagement: social networking, information exchange, and political expression. Family socio-economic status measures were positively associated with more frequent Internet engagement, as were positive perceptions of government responsiveness and higher confidence in public institutions. Internet engagement dimensions were positively associated with only some civic attitudes. These findings have important implications for reaching out to disengaged and disaffected youth.
Hierarchical multiple regression analyses, using background characteristics, structural features, Internet engagement dimensions, and civic attitudes as predictors, explained 20% of the variance in the sample's organizational participation, 41% of the variance in community action, and 45% of the variance in political discourse. Internet engagement variables displayed powerful relationships with rates of offline activism above and beyond background characteristics and structural features.
Results point to the many layers of social and psychological experiences that affect civic development in a cultural context, with individuals as active agents in creating their own environments. The study supports an alternative conception of citizenship based on networking, information exchange, and individual expression online, which may contribute to political efficacy and catalyze broader civic reform. The findings may inform programs that aim to promote civil and political rights in young democracies such as Lithuania.

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