Casual Politics: From slacktivism to emergent movements and pattern recognition

The topic of slacktivism has been dealt in quite a relative extent but, in my opinion, in a shallow depth. In brief, slacktivism is used to refer to civic activities that require little commitment and/or exposure. As such, they do not deserve much credit and are labelled as frivolous, comfortable and often impactless civic action. This is not untrue: liking the website of a nonprofit organization or signing an online petition is closer to buying a sticker and placing it in your bumper than to volunteering the whole weekend on a charity or fighting the police of a totalitarian government when demonstrating before the presidential palace.

But that is only part of the story.

Let us take a more neutral example than humanitarian action or citizen politics to make our point. Let us imagine a university student playing truant once every month or once every two months.

From the individual point of view, this action will mostly have very little impact. The student will spend that morning in the bar with some other colleagues, they will be handled the notes of the class they missed and end of story.

But there are, at least, two more approaches.

From a collective point of view, this missing a class is but a small piece in a bigger picture: the strategies (conscious or unconscious) of socialization that youngsters carry on since their early adolescence until they enter adulthood. Thus, missing this class is only one more activity that has to be aligned with hanging out during weekends with friends, going to theatres, having their first couples and their first hangovers. Missing a class is, even if smallest, yet another way to shape one’s identity and place within the tribe. Missing a class is not something that happens in an isolated way.

We can also approach the teacher’s point of view. If classes are missed at random, the impact is surely almost null. But what if every time that any student misses a class they are actually missing the same teacher’s class? The aggregation of these scattered missed classes concentrated in the very same teacher can end up in empty class lectures. And this arguably is telling something about that specific lecturer. From the teacher’s point of view, it is not the same that one or two students do not show every now and then, that when they do it is always in their classroom and at the same time: uninteresting topic, bad lecturing, bad performance, etc.

Let us substitute missing a class by a tiny online action, the students by the citizens, and the teacher by the government.

If slacktivism is individually taken irrelevant, it does makes a lot of sense if taken collectively or from the government’s point of view.

Collectively, slacktivism rarely is an isolated activity, but the tip of the iceberg of major civic movements that run across different platforms and media. Slacktivism is usually fostered in the framework of exposed projects run by committed citizens.

From the government’s point of view, successful and popular slacktivism in its aggregate form can be easily compared with massive demonstrations which decision-makers usually take into account. Maybe not as legitimate interlocutors but surely as valid probes of the state of the public opinion.

This is what the communication Casual Politics: From slacktivism to emergent movements and pattern recognition tries to explain by performing a thorough review at what we know so far about online politics and social media enabled social movements. The communication was presented in English at the 9th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics and in Spanish at the II Jornadas españolas de ciberpolítica. Below can be accessed the slides and full papers in these languages.

Abstract

Politics have traditionally looked at the exercise of democracy with at least two implicit assumptions: (1) institutions are the normal channel of politics and (2) voting is the normal channel for politics to make decisions. Of course, reality is much more complex than that, but, on the one hand, all the extensions of that model beyond or around voting –issues related to access to public information, to deliberation and argumentation, to negotiation and opinion shaping, or related to accountability are based on institutions as the core axis around which politics spin. On the other hand, the existence and analysis of extra-institutional political participation –awareness raising, lobbying, citizen movements, protests and demonstrations– have also most of the times been put in relationship with affecting the final outcomes of institutional participation and decision-making, especially in affecting voting.

Inspired in the concept of «feet voting» (developed by Tiebout, Friedman and others) in this paper we want to challenge this way of understanding politics as a proactive and conscious action, and propose instead a reactive and unconscious way of doing politics, based on small, casual contributions and its posterior analysis by means of big data, emergence analysis and pattern recognition.

In our theoretical approach –illustrated with real examples in and out of the field of politics– we will argue that social media practices like tweeting, liking and sharing on Facebook or Google+, blogging, commenting on social networking sites, tagging, hashtagging and geotagging are not what has been pejoratively labelled as «slacktivism» (a comfortable, low commitment and feel-good way of activism) but «casual politics», that is, the same kind of politics that happen informally in the offline world. The difference being that, for the first time, policy- and decision-makers can leverage and turn into real politics. If they are able to listen. If they are able to think about politics out of institutions and in real-time.

Slides

Speeches

Communication in Spanish:

Downloads

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Communication (full paper):
Peña-López, I. (2013). Casual Politics: From slacktivism to emergent movements and pattern recognition. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 25-26 June, 2013. Barcelona: UOC.
logo of PDF file
Slides:
Peña-López, I. (2013). Casual Politics: From slacktivism to emergent movements and pattern recognition. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 25-26 June, 2013. Barcelona: UOC.
logo of PDF file
Communication (full paper):
Peña-López, I. (2013). Casual politics: del clicktivismo a los movimientos emergentes y el reconocimiento de patrones. II Jornadas españolas de ciberpolítica, 28 de mayo de 2013. Madrid: Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales.
logo of PDF file
Slides:
Peña-López, I. (2013). Casual politics: del clicktivismo a los movimientos emergentes y el reconocimiento de patrones. II Jornadas españolas de ciberpolítica, 28 de mayo de 2013. Madrid: Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2013) “Casual Politics: From slacktivism to emergent movements and pattern recognition” In ICTlogy, #118, July 2013. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=4101

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