Democratic politics is grounded in the space(s) of everyday life. Spaces are both the content and precondition for political action; and politics is the process of negotiating, managing, and challenging the consequences of sharing spaces with others. My current research explores the relationship between space, politics, and technology from the perspective of a democratic theorists. I seek to understand the political effects of digital technologies by investigating two complementary themes: (1) the effects of software design for building democratic spaces, and (2) the effects of digital technologies on users' democratic practices.
Taking this approach, my work is better equipped to contribute to ongoing discussions around digital technologies that are occurring in communication, psychology, architecture, and computer science.
(Software) architecture, design, & democratic space
Spaces, both physical and digital, are the product of deliberate choices on the part of designers and builders who often fail to consider the political implications of their choices. In this area of my work, I focus on the ways that design choices have specific political effects for users of digital technologies.
Jennifer Forestal (forthcoming) “Constructing Digital Democracies: Facebook, Arendt, and the Politics of Design” Political Studies
Jennifer Forestal (2017) "The Architecture of Political Spaces: Trolls, Digital Media, and Deweyan Democracy" American Political Science Review 111(1): 149-161.
Jennifer Forestal (2017) “Trolling Democracy: anonymity doesn’t cause conflicts, bad site design does” Democratic Audit UK. May 4.
The Shape of Democracy: Building Political Spaces in a Digital Age
The Shape of Democracy is a book manuscript project that draws from resources in political theory and traditional architecture in order to provide insights into the problems of software design and development associated with building democratic communities with digital technologies.
Digital technologies & democratic practices
The politics of digital technologies extend beyond the design process; these technologies also have an effect on the daily habits and practices of their users. In this area of my work, I further investigate the political consequences of digital technologies, particularly the ways in which these technologies work to facilitate democratic practices in their users--or fail to do so.
Jennifer Forestal (forthcoming) “Beyond Gatekeeping: Propaganda, Democracy, and the Organization of Digital Publics” Journal of Politics
Jennifer Forestal and Menaka Philips (forthcoming) “The Masked Demos: Associational Anonymity and Democratic Practice” Contemporary Political Theory
Jennifer Forestal and Menaka Philips (2016) "People blame Facebook for fake news and partisan bile. They're wrong." Washington Post: Monkey Cage. December 16.
“Democracy Dies in Darkness? Anonymity, Accountability, and Information as a Public Good” (with Menaka Philips)
Through a comparative analysis of the Pentagon Papers and WikiLeaks, we begin building a revised understanding of information as a democratic good. Information is democratically valuable, we argue, when and where two processes of curation are triggered. The first is a process of selection (to determine what information should be shared), while the second is one of contextualization (to determine how best to share it). Taken together, these processes suggest that, beyond access alone, information must also be at least ‘minimally curated’ to be democratically useful.
“We are Legion: New Digital Social Movements and the Challenges of Democratic Organizing” (with Menaka Philips)
In this paper, we argue that new digital social movements, like Black Lives Matter and Anonymous, reveal enduring challenges of democratic organizing. Through a comparative analysis of the NAACP and Anonymous, we argue that democratic social movements should be evaluated not just on their goals (i.e. movements for democracy), but also on their internal organizational structure (i.e. with open,and fluid membership structures and inclusive collective decision-making processes).
Civic learning & assessment
Democracy, as John Dewey reminds us, is more than a set of institutions-- it is a way of life. A robust democracy needs not only healthy institutions but also the cultivation of democratic practices and mores in each individual. For Dewey, this holistic understanding of democracy necessarily meant an investment not only in political institutions, but also--and more importantly--in the educational ones.
Following Dewey, I take seriously my role as a teacher-scholar and apply the same rigorous standards of research and evaluation to my teaching as I use in my research. In this area of my work, I investigate the effects of different pedagogical approaches to political science and civic learning, more broadly.
Claire Abernathy & Jennifer Forestal (forthcoming) “The Use of Debates in Political Science Courses” Journal of Political Science Education
Claire Abernathy & Jennifer Forestal (2019) “Civics Across Campus: Designing Effective Extracurricular Programming,” Journal of Political Science Education
Jennifer Forestal (2016) "'Midwife to Democracy:' Civic Learning in Higher Education." William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy, Stockton University. October.
"Effective Teaching for Civic Learning: Assessing Student Learning Outcomes Across Political Science Courses" (with Claire Abernathy)
This paper investigates how, exactly, the discipline of political science contributes to and enhances undergraduate general education by focusing on students' civic learning outcomes. Using pre- and post-course surveys, as well as rubric assignments, this paper assesses the impact of different teaching strategies in developing students' political knowledge, skills, and values.
"Teaching the Town Hall: Incorporating Experiential Learning in a Large Introductory Lecture Course" (with Jessie K. Finch)
In this paper, we show the positive effects of a group project designed to introduce students in a 70-person lecture course to the basic political processes of local government. By comparing pre- and post-tests for each semester, as well as comparing post-tests across semesters, we demonstrate that students who were enrolled in the course reported that they felt more civically engaged because the class gave them "real-world" applicability of course materials, as well as developed their skills for teamwork and collaboration.
Gender, (intellectual) labor, & the history of political thought
From studies of asymmetrical citation patterns and questions of unbalanced service obligations, to #metoo and #thanksfortyping, the role of women in the academy continues to be a topic of conversation. And while there have been high-profile efforts to recover the work of women scholars, these discussions of the gendered dynamics of intellectual life would benefit from an examination of how gender norms have historically constituted our understanding of intellectual labor and our criteria for evaluating what counts as scholarship.
In this area of my work, I collaborate with Menaka Philips to bring attention to the lives and experiences of the ‘wives of the canon’—women who played the role of wife and intimate with some of political theory’s canonical figures. Through these investigations, we offer a critical look at how the borders of political theory—and the modern academy that relies on it—have been constructed and maintained in a way that perpetuates the myth of ‘great texts’ and the ‘great men’ who work in isolation to produce them.
Jennifer Forestal & Menaka Philips. (2018) “Gender and the ‘Great Man’: Recovering Philosophy's ‘Wives of the Canon’” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 33(4): 587-592.