Broader changes in temperature and rainfall over much ofthe world are thought likely to have occurred as a result of aswitching on or off of the North Atlantic circulation, and thesechanges would result in amplification by the feedback mechanismssuggested below. As evidence of such a broader link to globalclimate, over recent years changes in the monsoon-belt climatesof Africa and Asia have also been observed to occur inassociation with decadal-scale phases of weaker north Atlanticcirculation. By extrapolation, it is generally thought thatbigger changes in the north Atlantic circulation would result incorrespondingly larger changes in climates in the monsoon beltsand in other parts of the world.
What happened? To answer that, it helps to consider what gave rise to the personal essay’s ubiquity in the first place. Around 2008, several factors converged. In preceding years, private blogs and social platforms—LiveJournal, Blogspot, Facebook—trained people to write about their personal lives at length and in public. As Silvia Killingsworth, who was previously the managing editor of The New Yorker and took over the Awl and the Hairpin last year, put it to me, “People love to talk about themselves, and they were given a platform and no rules.” Then the invisible hand of the page-view economy gave them a push: Web sites generated ad revenue in direct proportion to how many “eyeballs” could be attracted to their offerings, and editorial budgets had contracted in the wake of the recession. The forms that became increasingly common—flashy personal essays, op-eds, and news aggregation—were those that could attract viral audiences on the cheap.
Social justice is structural change that increases opportunity for those who are least well off politically, economically, and socially. Social justice is grounded in the values and ideals of equity, access, and inclusion for all members of society, particularly for poor communities and communities of color that historically and structurally have experienced social inequities. Those who work for social justice push to uncover the underlying causes of inequity and seek systemic change in institutions and policies as well as socially upheld behavioral norms that foster fair treatment and share of benefits. Social justice encourages change to come from those communities that are most affected by social inequity, involving people most affected in working on the problems and decisions. It employs a combination of tactics such as advocacy related to policy, grassroots organizing, litigation, and communications. This definition is drawn, in part, from (2005) based on a working group of funders and practitioners convened by the Independent Sector and Foundation Center.
Many definitions of social justice refer to fair treatment and impartial distribution or allocation of benefits afforded to all individuals and groups in society. IMPACT Arts sees “social change” as the broader umbrella and “social justice” as more particular, reflecting policies, laws, etc. as well as socially upheld, behavioral norms that foster fair treatment and share of benefits.
Social activism refers to action to make change that ensures inclusion, equity, fairness, and justice. It is intentional action to bring about social, political, economic, or environmental change.
The building of social capital is a common outcome named in arts and social change work. Social capital is the collective value of all “social networks” (who people know) and the inclinations to do things for each other that arise from these networks (“norms of reciprocity”). Specific benefits that flow from social networks include trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation. Bonding networks that connect people who are similar sustain particularized (in-group) reciprocity. Bridging networks that connect individuals who are diverse sustain generalized reciprocity. (From Robert Putnam's , an initiative of the Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.)
Community building has been defined in various ways. It may refer to the process of building relationships that helps to cohere community members around common purpose, identity, and a sense of belonging which may lead to social or community capital. A variety of practices can promote community building such as: potlucks, block parties, book clubs, commemorative events, festivals, artmaking projects, and community construction projects. The Aspen Institute describes community building similarly to the concept of civic engagement—a process of improving the quality of life in a neighborhood or community by strengthening the capacity of residents, associations, and organizations to identify priorities and opportunities and to work, individually and collectively, to foster and sustain positive neighborhood or community change.
In community development, the economic, social, and physical dimensions of community are considered. Community development agencies often focus on ensuring low and mixed-income housing, job training or workforce development, commercial real estate development, and small business start-up. In broader definitions, such as one offered by , they may also aim to advance youth development, health, recreation, human service, cultural, and other community goals. Community development seeks to empower individuals and groups of people by providing these groups with the skills and resources they need to effect change in their own communities.
Craig McGarvey describes human, social, and community capital as three interconnected and measurable outcomes of civic engagement work. Human capital is the development of individual potential with measures of acquired skills, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. Social capital is the development of networks of human and institutional relationships, with measures of depth, breadth, diversity, and durability. Community capital is the development of positive change in communities, with measures of problems solved or prevented, policies improved, systems and institutions made more accountable. (, 2004)
But an ad-based publishing model built around maximizing page views quickly and cheaply creates uncomfortable incentives for writers, editors, and readers alike. Attention flows naturally to the outrageous, the harrowing, the intimate, and the recognizable, and the online personal essay began to harden into a form defined by identity and adversity—not in spite of how tricky it is to negotiate those matters in front of a crowd but precisely because of that fact. The commodification of personal experience was also women’s territory: the small budgets of popular women-focussed Web sites, and the rapidly changing conventions and constrictions surrounding women’s lives, . And so many women wrote about the most difficult things that had ever happened to them and received not much in return. Most sites paid a few hundred dollars for such pieces at most; xoJane paid fifty dollars. When I began writing on the Internet, I wrote personal essays for free.
Civic engagement refers to the many ways in which people participate in civic, community, and political life and, by doing so, express their engaged citizenship. From proactively becoming better informed to participating in public dialogue on issues, from volunteering to voting, from community organizing to political advocacy, the defining characteristic of active civic engagement is the commitment to participate and contribute to the improvement of one’s community, neighborhood, and nation. Civic engagement may be either a measure or a means of social change, depending on the context and intent of efforts.