Technopolitics, networks and citizenship: a syllabus

Man walking under the rain in a Japanese city
Singing in the rain, courtesy

My colleague Mirela Fiori is redesigning the Master in City and Urbanism which she is directing. In the updated version that she is planning she wants to include a subject on how technology and civic action have a role in the shaping of the city.

In my opinion this is a most important acknowledgement. Adolfo Estalella and Alberto Corsín have systematically proved how the city can be used both “hardware”, much in the line of Gidden’s Structuration Theory where the “system” is both an instrument and a target for change. Manuel Castells also speaks about cities and their (different) role in the Network Society, a role that oftentimes is emergent in the sense of Steve Johnson. In newest “open source” cities, action turns into activism and activism cannot be without action.

Thus, it does look very relevant to me that there is a little time or space to think about the city not as a mere receptacle of people doing things, but as an actor that is both affected and affecting the uptake of technology and its use for citizen action and, thus, being part of the (new) definition of citizenship.

The goal of the master’s new subject Technopolitics, networks and citizenship is to provide this vision of the city as an institution, a player that requires a renewed strategy and a renewed vision on its role in a complex ecosystem.

My preliminary syllabus (it does not even deserve that name yet) would include the following topics — comments welcome:

Digital revolution and globalization

How dire are the changes we are witnessing in the global economy? How are connected the new trends in the business and financial spheres with the democratic and governance spheres? Are Information and Communication Technologies instruments for improvement or for transformation? Is this a revolution? Why are some things happening? Why would they last — if they do?

Limits of the institutions of the industrial age

Is there a crisis in industrial age institutions (schools & universities, political parties and parliaments, firms and work, media and journalism, etc.)? What is their role in society? Is their role still needed? Can we separate the continent (institutions) from their content (role, tasks)? If yes, who will take up with these roles? How? Why? Why not?

Hacker ethics, commons and gift economy

Is there a new way to design collective initiatives? Is decision-making over as we knew it? Are hierarchies a thing of the past? Is information still power? Can we shift power balances? How different is information from knowledge? How different is controlling information from controlling knowledge? How will the control of knowledge transform our daily practices? And our institutions?

Social innovation, open innovation and open social innovation

What used to be innovation? What is innovation today? What is the relationship between innovation, knowledge and power? Can innovation be distributed? Can innovation be socialized? Can power be socialized? Can innovation lead to better governance? Can better governance lead to innovation? Should we act in either or another way to affect the final result? Can we?

Technopolitics, cooperation platforms and network-organizations

How is technology (ICTs) changing human behaviour? How is technology (ICTs) changing human collective behaviour? What are the main trends? How will they evolve? Why? What new organizations will come enabled (and fostered) by technology? How will this change the map of actors and institutions in society? How will they interact? How will this change the city landscape?

Yes, these are questions and not answers. Because there are not many answers — yet. And the ones being are constantly changing and evolving. But the questions will remain for much longer. These are days for good questions and for flexible answers. Dogmatic answers for feeble questions will rarely help us to map the new territories that need being explored.

IDP2016 (X). Céline Deswarte: Towards a future proof legal framework for digital privacy in Europe

Notes from the 12th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Building a European digital space, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 7-8 July 2016. More notes on this event: idp2016.

Keynote speech. Chairs: Pere Fabra

Céline Deswarte. Policy Officer, European Commission. Directorate General for Communication, Networks, Content and Technology.
Towards a future proof legal framework for digital privacy in Europe

EU legal framework for Digital Privacy: General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679/EU + ePrivacy Directive 2002/57/EC.

When you are surfing online you produce key information on time of connection, browsing history, location, etc. which can be retrieved. Telecom providers must anonymize or delete traffic and location data of their users and subscribers. When it is stored in hour own computer (e.g. cookies) the user must have given their prior consent after having been duly informed.

But is it consent strong enough? It is difficult to understand that consent is given “freely” if data subject has no genuine or free choice or unable to withdraw consent without detriment.

Protecting your personal data, when e.g. buying online. Companies must rely on a legal basis to process personal data, and respect principles of data processing.

On the specific issue of profiling, sharing personal data with a third party implies the right to be informed about it. Profiling is lawful unless it is equivalent to a decision with legal effects that is significantly harmful to the individual (e.g. one can lose one’s own job). Besides, there has to be a respect for the individual’s rights, e.g. the right to object at any time including profiling, and then data processing must stop.

Member states shall ensure the confidentiality of one’s electronic communications and related traffic data. So, it is not only about privacy in the sense of what you do, but also in the sense of what you say and to whom.

The big problem here is to whom applies all this regulation, as actors are many and different. So far, these principles only apply to telecom providers, while new market players like Voice IP or instant messaging, etc. do not need to respect this. In other words, social networking sites provide communication services but do not fall into the category of telecommunications providers.

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IDP2016 (IX). New Media, Citizens & Public Opinion

Notes from the 12th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Building a European digital space, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 7-8 July 2016. More notes on this event: idp2016.

Communications on New Media, Citizens & Public Opinion
Chairs: Joan Balcells

Fragmented audiences, fragmented voters?
Carolina Galais González, Postdoctoral researcher, UOC; Ana Sofia Cardenal Izquierdo, Full professor, UOC.

Does digital media exposure benefit small parties?

  • Equalization hypothesis: low cost, lower barriers, no gatekeepers.
  • Fragmentation hypothesis: small parties offer specialized, issue-oriented interests, fragmenting audiences, eroding big parties’ niches.
  • The undecided have higher chance of switching to small parties after exposed to online propaganda?

    TV usually plays a role in favour of big parties, while websites does it for smaller ones.

    As satisfaction with government decreases, the impact of websites increases.

    Old media have a concentration effect, while online media reinforces options for smaller parties.

    Dissatisfaction increases the effect of Internet.

    Trust in political institutions: Stability of measurement model in Europe.
    Lluis Coromina, University of Girona; Edurne Bartolomé Peral, University of Deusto.

    To what extent has the economic crisis changed the levels of trust in institutions? Is trust in institutions relying on the same factors prior and during the crisis? Are there differences across countries and time on the effects of those factors?

    H1: political trust is expected to decrease in countries more affected by the crisis.
    H2: There is no longer a trend over time for the predictive factors of political trust.

    Structural equations model where political trust is related with satisfaction with or trust in the Parliament, the legal system and politicians.

    Most long term predictor for political trust tend to be stable across time, even in the countries where the crisis has been more acute. The strongest predictors for political trust are generalized trust, interest in politics, satisfaction with economy, with government, age and education.

    Audience brokers and news discoverers: the role of new media in the digital news domain.
    Sílvia Majó-Vázquez, Ana S. Cardenal, UOC–IN3; Oleguer Sagarra, Pol Colomer, Facultat de Física, Universitat de Barcelona.

    Dire transformations in mainstream traditional media, with strong shifts towards the digital domain. But new digital outlets are being seen as central actors? To what extend new digital outlet control brokerage relation in the audience network? Is media brokerage still held by a handful of outlets?

    The research will compare media networks with audience networks. Authorities are node that contain useful information on a topic of interest. Brokers are news providers that have higher control in the flow of news.

    There is a clear positive correlation between media reach and the authority score. This is true for both traditional and new digital media. Traditional ones still are placed in the highest positions of authority, but are being quickly contested by new digital media.

    Traditional media are still monopolizing the centrality within the audience network, that is, they still are central brokers.

    So, native digital media challenge the power monopoly once occupied by traditional media, but these still control the flow of information.

    Digital skills and gender gaps in Europe.
    José Luis Martínez-Cantos, Postdoctoral Researcher, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

    Digital skills are required for handling new ICTs, are multifunctional and complex, and are one of the most important factors of the emergence and persistence of unequal opportunities in the Information Society.

    Have there been any significant gender gaps in digital skills in the European Union? Have they reduced?

    Yes, there are differences and the gap is bigger in the least generalized (because less people have them) digital skills. That is, the higher the level of digital skills, the bigger the gap. And, indeed, the gap has not varied much along time.

    Consistently, the more advanced is a country in digital development, the more advanced are also their men in digital skills and, thus, the bigger the gap with their women.

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    IDP2016 (VIII). Lance Bennett: The Democratic Interface: Communication and Organizational Change in Movements and Parties

    Notes from the 12th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Building a European digital space, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 7-8 July 2016. More notes on this event: idp2016.

    Keynote speech. Chairs: Rosa Borge.

    Prof. Lance Bennett. Professor of Political Science and Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor of Communication, University of Washington, Seattle, USA.
    The Democratic Interface: Communication and Organizational Change in Movements and Parties

    (Keynote co-authored with Alexandra Segerberg and Curd Knüpfer).

    The democratic interface: the capacity of electoral communication and organization processes to engage citizens and produce equal democratic representation. Does the interface work equally well for everyone? Is it working better for the right? Why? Has a change in participation logic disrupted the traditional party interface with voter on the left?

    40 years of neoliberal globalization, resulting in a breaking up of common social institutions (unions, schools, media, health care, etc.) and more political polarization.

    Power has moved from states to businesses and markets. Most parties are embracing neoliberal policies and parties have hollowed themselves as spaces for citizen engagement (Mair). There is a legitimacy crissi of liberal representative democracy (Della Porta), a relocation of politics in the everyday (Band) and a personalization of politics (Bennett).

    Does the reactionary right have increasing electoral advantage? Those who identify on the right are more likely to follow rules, respect traditions and customs and, in general, to follow what constitutes the model of a political party in neoliberal democracies: hierarchy, leadership, command, etc. So the right may have more electoral success because their voters have preferences for authority, strong leadership, rules, common traditions, etc.

    Why the deficits on the left? There are fewer angry citizens on the radical left than on the radical right? there is more trust or confidence in politicians and parties on the left? Both hypothesis are not validated. Same happens with satisfaction with democracy, the economy, etc. And same with participation: the left participates as much or even higher than the right.

    So it has to be a different logic of participation on the left.

    The connective party: communication and organization for participatory democracy. There is a discontent with neoliberal globalization since 90s, leading to flexible identities and multiple issues, “meta ideologies” of diversity and inclusiveness, mistrust of parties and leaders and the representative process, and a preference for direct or participatory or deliberative democracy.

    There is a shift in participation logic at the left interface. And this may be the reason why left parties are having issues to connect with their partisans and sympathisers.

    Can parties on the left mobilize more voters with connective action?

    Requirement for a connective party:

    • Central party open to feedback from peripheral networks.
    • Peripheral networks deliberate and share positions across networks and with central organization.
    • Scale requires digital platforms.

    Podemos was initially more decentralized, but went under a process of centralization and strong leadership, quite abandoning the círculos. This left aside many people that were in for the participation.

    Barcelona en Comú created a whole participatory network with different spaces, times, tools. It is by far the least centralized in Barcelona municipality.

    Alternativet (Denmark). Founded in 2013, entered parliament in 2015 with 5% vote. Called itself both a party and a political movement, socially open, networked online platform, living everyday democracy, organized through communication between citizen “labs” and party leadership.

    Can socially mediated participation be coordinated? Can it scale? Can such organization be sustained? Can party leadership share power? Can technology developers design participatory and deliberative platforms in collaboration with core leaders and local activists who may undervalue technology?


    Modern democracies are over. They were done when neoliberalism replaced Keynesianism as a way to manage society and public issues.

    Can Kurban: does right and left still explain the state of politics? Bennett: it is true that it is increasingly difficult to explain things using these axes, but they still somewhat work, especially for the right that still cluster well.

    Juan Roch: what is the role of technology, of digital platforms? Bennett: they are only instrumental, but they are definitely very important. But it is worth noting that there still is a lot of doubts about intensive use of technology, and even refusal to see technology replacing face-to-face meetings.

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    IDP2016 (VII). New Political Parties & Cyber-activism

    Notes from the 12th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Building a European digital space, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 7-8 July 2016. More notes on this event: idp2016.

    Communications on New Political Parties & Cyber-activism
    Chairs: Joan Balcells

    Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation: A Conceptual Scheme for the Assessment of “New” Parties.
    Maria Haberer, Doctoral Student, IN3, UOC; Ismael Peña-Lopez, Lecturer at the School of Law and Political Science, UOC.

    Is there something like “new politics”? There are certainly recent social movements (15M, Occupy Wall Street) that look like what people like Lebkowsk (1997) called technopolitics. It seems that citizen deliberation is what lies at the core of these movements and the political parties that came after them.

    Deliberative democracy is a form of communication to come to consensus-based decision that serve the public good.

    Barcelona En Comú (BComú) is analysed to see whether it fits in this definition of new politics or deliberative democracy. What opportunities have the citizens to participate? What are the challenges these spaces are facing?

    Four aspects or dimensions:

    • Structure and functionality.
    • Accessibility and transparency.
    • Hybridity and coordination.
    • Outcome and accountability.

    What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age.
    Can Kurban, Doctoral Student, New School for Social Research, New York; Ismael Peña-Lopez, Lecturer at the School of Law and Political Science, UOC; Maria Haberer, Doctoral Student, IN3, UOC.

    What is the relationship between ICTs and democracy? Is it about online vs. offline? About Politics 2.0? The literature is not clear about what we understand by technopolitics:

    • “constitutional integrity” (Lebkowski, 1997)
    • “hybridity” (Hecht, 2001)
    • contingency and multiplicity of actors (Kellner, 2001)
    • contesting conceptions of citizenship, rights, and the polity (Hughes, 2006)
    • the closed vs. the open (Rasmussen, 2007)
    • power and strategy (Toret et al. 2015)

    Two main origins of antagonism: the organizing role of communication (and Internet governance) and the value of information (big/pubic data). So, in the latest years we either see ICTs strengthening the status quo, making it more efficient, or as an antagonism of the status quo, empowering citizens with new tools and protocols. And since 2008, the acceleration of the antagonist approach has been quite evident.


    • Context: we are in contentious politics, in a new digital media environment, living an organizational change.
    • Actors: new and plural actors.
    • Scale: we go from individuals, to organizations, to contentious networks.
    • Directions: contentious politics moving from outside to inside the institutional politics.
    • Synchronization: new spaces for activism, spaces that are not isolated but overlapping layers, and that synchronize through several practices.
    • Purpose: taking back politics in the short term, hacking the political system in the long term.

    Are we witnessing a new constitutional process?

    Online primaries and intra-party democracy: candidate selection processes in Podemos and the Five Star movement. Bálint Mikola, PhD Candidate, Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy and International Relations, Central European University (CEU), Budapest.

    To what extent do online primaries empower party members and supporters vis-a-vis the other faces of party organization?

    Four dimensions:

    • Who can be selected: from all citizens to only some specific party members.
    • Who selects: from all the electorate to only the party leader.
    • Is the process decentralized: functional and territorial.
    • Voting/appointment systems.

    Comparison between Movimento 5 Stelle (Italy) and Podemos (Spain).

    Primaries are much more regulated in Podemos, but on the contrary they are more inclusive and open to the outside of the party.

    In Podemos, block voting was possible and the result was a certain skewness towards the party leader’s preferences. Indeed, party leadership can control candidate selection through block voting and licensing of candidates. On the other hand, coalition agreements dilute members’ influence.

    Europeanization and left-wing populism in southern Europe: the case of Podemos.
    Juan Roch González, Phd Candidate in Political Science at Freie Universität Berlin.

    What are the discursive formation represented by Podemos around EU issues? What is the role of the EU, in relation to Spanish politics, facilitating or constraining framing opportunities to the Spanish political agents?

    The issue of Europe has been crucial for Spanish politics, especially since Spain became part of the EU but most especially in the latest years when European politics have been quite hard on budget issues for the member states, even more for southern states like Greece, Portugal or Spain. This has put the European issue in the very centre of Spanish Politics, affecting budget policies, employment policies and, all in all, leading to a Europeanization of the economic policy area in Spain.

    During this period of Europeanization (2010-2012) the Spanish government generated framing opportunities mediated by national (the context of crisis in Spain), the lack of political culture about European issues, etcl.), and agential factors (the new social movements, etc.).

    It seems that Podemos has not entirely grasped these opportunities, they are perceived as risky opportunities.


    Rosa Borge: are participation rates of 15% really low? Mikola: it is true that they are not “that low” in relationship with other parties, but it is also true that, in general, Internet-based parties are usually much more mobilized and one would expect much higher degrees of participation, circa 50%, as it happens in other tasks.

    Rosa Borge: is Podemos becoming more hierarchical? Mikola: maybe not hierarchical, but certainly more oligarchical in order to become more electoral.

    Q: how does participation changes participants? how does participation changes their own views? Haberer: it is true that participation usually precedes deliberation, but our analysis is more about what makes possible deliberation, and not what happens with it or with the citizen. The crucial thing here is, beyond normative approaches about deliberation, what makes it possible and how is it deployed within the party.

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    IDP2016 (VI). Cybercrime

    Notes from the 12th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Building a European digital space, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 7-8 July 2016. More notes on this event: idp2016.

    Communications on Cybercrime
    Chairs: Josep Maria Tamarit

    The European Commission and security governance: the role of a policy shaper in the fight against cybercrime.
    Ana Paula Brandão, Assistant Professor of International Relations, University of Minho, Portugal; Researcher of the Political Science Research Centre (CICP).

    The concept of security is today quite comprehensive and wide. We have to think of ways of security governance that may even work without a government. From who governs and how, to who controls for whom.

    Why is cybercrime so important for the EU?

    • Transboundary security problem.
    • EU, a key target.
    • Expansion and sophistication of the issue.
    • Public-private nexus.

    We are now entering an age of “securitization”, where many issues are seen under the light of security. The concern on security is huge.

    We need a common definition of cybercrime, a comprehensive approach for this multifaceted issue, horizontal coordination, public-private cooperation, a new normative dimension, etc.

    New technologies applied to criminal law: the search of computer equipment.
    Inmaculada López-Barajas Perea, Profesora Titular Acreditada de Derecho Procesal, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia.

    There is an increase of an invasion of privacy from the government, allegedly for security and criminal reasons. It is actually true that private life happens in many places, many of them virtual or digital, and which are now subject of search in case of suspicion of crime.

    What the legislator is now trying is that each and every citizen right affected by a police action has to be individually authorised. That is, during a search in a house, one cannot take the personal computer as if it was just a device to storage information, because it includes much more than that: it is a gate for freedom of speech, it holds personal data, etc.

    Same applies to performing searches on systems connected to the personal system. Expanding the search to other systems will require the corresponding authorisation.

    Defamation in 140 characters (or less): civil liability for honour damaging in Twitter.
    Albert Ruda González Profesor agregado de Derecho civil de la Universitat de Girona.

    Twibel: libel by tweet.

    Libel has always been a human practice, but Twitter gives it a new meaning: because it is open by default, because retweeting gives the original libel an extendend and expanded life (and without context), etc.

    Usual problems:

    • Anonymity: who is liable?
    • Parodies: where is the limit?
    • Big diffusion of the publications.
    • Liability of the RT.
    • Disclaimers of non-liability: again, where are the limits?
    • How to publish the sentence on Twitter?


    Q: what happens when a bot steals one’s identity and libels other users on Twitter? Ruda: impersonation is not accepted on Twitter and, when it happens, the user is blocked. In the same train of thought, this should not make anyone liable for having had their identities stolen.

    Josep Maria Tamarit: what are we witnessing, a shift of platforms, where libel, or hate-speech, is moving from one place (e.g. a square) to another one (e.g. Twitter)? Or is it that libel (and other practices) is increasing due to the facilitation of new technologies, especially social networking sites?

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