Communication at IDP2016. What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age

What is technopolitics?. There are many definitions (or attempts to define), approaches, contexts. But the truth is that the concept is gaining momentum and catching the attention of scholars. Since the publication of Jon Lebkowsky’s TechnoPolitics and Stephano Rodotà’s Tecnopolitica, both in 1997, the topic has seen an increase of popularity.

Can Kurban, Maria Haberer and I have made an attempt to define an conceptualize the term at What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age which will be presented at the conference IDP2016 – Internet, Law and Politics. Building a European digital space, organized by the School, Open University of Catalonia, and taking place in July 7-8 2016 in Barcelona (Spain).

Cover of What is technopolitics? (IDP2016)

We here share a pre-print version of our communication, before the last, official, one comes out with the proceedings of the conference.

Abstract

In this article, we seek to revisit what the term ‘technopolitical’ means for democratic politics in our age. We begin with tracing down how the term was used, and then transformed through various and conflicting uses of ICTs in governmental, civil organizations and bottom-up movements. Two main streams can be distinguished: studies about internet-enhanced politics, labeled as e-government and Politics 2.0 that imply facilitating the existing practices such as e-voting, e-campaign, and e-petition. The internet-enabled perspective on the other hand builds up on the idea that ICTs are essential for the organization of (or organizing of) contentious politics, citizen participation and deliberative processes. Under a range of labels studies have often used concepts in an undefined or underspecified manner for describing their scope of investigation. After critically reviewing and categorizing the main literature towards concepts used for describing ICT-based political performances, in this article we construct a conceptual model of technopolitics: A schema consisting of the six dimensions context, scale, direction, purpose, synchronization, and actors systematizing informal and formal ways of political practices. In the following section we explain the dimensions by real-world examples to illustrate the unique characteristics of each technopolitical action field and the power dynamics that influence them. We conclude by arguing how this systematization will help facilitating academic research in the future.

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Full paper:
Kurban, C., Peña-López, I. & Haberer, M. (forthcoming). “What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age”. In Balcells, J. et al. (Coords.), Internet, Law and Politics. Building a European digital space. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 7-8 July, 2016. Barcelona: UOC-Huygens Editorial.

Communication at IDP2016. Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroalimentarios: ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica?

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Since 1995, cooperativism in general, and agro-food consumption groups in particular have grown in number very quickly in Barcelona, after decades of total sleep of the movement. The dictatorship of Francisco Franco killed most of the existing initiatives dating from the XIXth century, but the dictator died in 1975 and democracy was restored in 1977: why did it take so much time for cooperatives to flourish back? Is it a coincidence that their rebirth was at the same time that the Internet went public and digital mobile technologies began to be massively adopted? In other words, does cooperativism has to do with the digital revolution? Even more, does cooperativism has an activist component that is closely related with technopolitics?

This is the starting point that Ricard Espelt, Enrique Rodríguez and I took in Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroalimentarios: ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica?, a communication that has been accepted at IDP2016 – Internet, Law and Politics. Building a European digital space, organized by the School, Open University of Catalonia, and taking place in July 7-8 2016 in Barcelona (Spain).

A pre-print of the paper can be downloaded below. Note that some minor issues can differ from the final version to be published in the proceedings of the conference.

Abstract

El análisis de la cronología de los grupos de consumo de la ciudad de Barcelona muestra tres etapas: la primera, a lo largo de la década de 1990, con la aparición de los primeros grupos; la segunda, con el cambio de siglo, con un nuevo auge de cooperativas; y, finalmente, una tercera oleada, coincidiendo temporalmente con el movimiento 15M, caracterizado ―entre otros elementos― por su constitución en asambleas.

A pesar de que todas las organizaciones autogestionadas en el marco del consumo agroalimentario no tienen formato jurídico cooperativista (la mayoría son asociaciones e incluso identificamos algunas sin marco legal), comparten un modelo de toma de decisiones asambleario. Las asambleas son el espacio donde se gestiona el eje central de la actividad que da sentido a la constitución del grupo (el abastecimiento de productos agroalimentarios cumpliendo con los criterios de la Economía Social y Solidaria) pero, también, el compromiso social y político de la organización.

En este artículo se analiza la relación existente entre los grupos de consumo agroalimentario y el movimiento 15M en la constitución de nuevas organizaciones o en el refuerzo de las ya existentes en la ciudad. Por un lado, evaluaremos el papel del modelo de toma de decisiones en asamblea ―liderazgo horizontal y distribuido―, como parte fundamental de su funcionamiento autogestionado y desinstitucionalizado, con especial atención al papel de las Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicación (TIC) en la organización de la misma. Por otro lado, estudiaremos la relación entre el compromiso social y político que los distintos grupos manifiestan y su vinculación con los movimientos de activismo social y político.

Esta investigación se ha realizado sobre la totalidad (60) de los grupos de consumo agroalimentario de Barcelona, con presencia en todos los distritos de la ciudad.

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Full paper:
Espelt, R., Peña-López, I. & Rodríguez, E. (forthcoming). “Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroalimentarios: ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica?”. In Balcells, J. et al. (Coords.), Internet, Law and Politics. Building a European digital space. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 7-8 July, 2016. Barcelona: UOC-Huygens Editorial.

Communication at IDP2016. Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation: A Conceptual Scheme for the Assessment of “New” Parties

Cover of Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation (IDP2016)

Maria Haberer and I will be presenting our latest communication, Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation: A Conceptual Scheme for the Assessment of “New” Parties, also at IDP2016 – Internet, Law and Politics. Building a European digital space, organized by the School, Open University of Catalonia, and taking place in July 7-8 2016 in Barcelona (Spain).

Its content will be quite similar to what we presented at CeDEM2016 in Krems, Austria, though this version has been improved with the comments from the attendants of this conference and, of course, the reviewers of IDP2016.

A pre-print of the paper can be downloaded below. Note that some minor issues can differ from the final version to be published in the proceedings of the conference.

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to elaborate a conceptual scheme for assessing deliberative spaces within political parties that propose the direct input of citizens in policy-making as a possible solution for the crisis that representative democracy is facing. Theory on deliberative democracy has long been concerned with the question on how to assess the structural conditions for deliberation and the advantages deliberation has for the democratic process. Building on existing dimensions, we used a qualitative research design with data from observation, interviews and document analysis to investigate a neighbourhood group of “Barcelona en Comú” (BComú). This recently formed political party experiments with the incorporation of horizontal decision-making practices facilitated through ICTs to establish modes and bodies for citizen deliberation. We discovered relevant themes that allowed us to develop a conceptual scheme when critically assessing deliberative structural conditions. This scheme can serve as a map and a monitoring device for evaluating the actual practice of parties that claim to engage in citizen deliberation. We conclude by indicating the performance of BComú and by asking if the successful implementation of deliberative spaces can lead to a new party model and new trends in political practice including recommendations for further research.

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Full paper:
Haberer, M. & Peña-López, I. (forthcoming). “Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation: A Conceptual Scheme for the Assessment of “New” Parties”. In Balcells et al. (coords.) Internet, Law and Politics. Building a European digital space. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 7-8 July, 2016. Barcelona: UOC-Huygens Editorial.

Communication at CeDEM2016. Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation. A Conceptual Scheme for the Assessment of “New” Parties

Cover of Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation (CeDEM2016)

Maria Haberer and I have presented a communication, Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation: A Conceptual Scheme for the Assessment of “New” Parties, at CeDEM2016 – International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government 2016, organized by the Danube University Krems and that took place in May 18-20 2016 in Krems, Austria.

The research is a first approach to the phenomenon of the “network party” (or net-party) — though we are cautious about the naming and prefer so far a more neutral “new party” — and analyzes the case of Barcelona en Comú, the party now in office in the municipality of Barcelona and whose origin is deeply rooted in the 15M Spanish Indignados movement and other recent social movements with a strong technopolitical profile. The approach takes deliberation as the core around which all the organization spins while transitioning from a social movement to a (traditional?) political party.

Below can be found and downloaded the slides and full text of the communication.

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to elaborate a conceptual scheme for assessing deliberative spaces within political parties that propose the direct input of citizens in policy-making as a possible solution for the crisis that representative democracy is facing. Building on existing dimensions, we used a qualitative research design with data from observation, interviews and document analysis to investigate a neighbourhood group of “Barcelona en Comú”. This recently formed political party experiments with the incorporation of horizontal decision-making practices facilitated through ICTs to establish modes and bodies for citizen deliberation. We discovered relevant themes that allowed us to develop a conceptual scheme when assessing deliberative structural conditions. This scheme can serve as a map and a monitoring device for evaluating the actual practice of parties that claim to engage in citizen deliberation. We conclude by indicating the performance of Barcelona en Comú and by asking if the successful implementation of deliberative spaces can lead to a new party model and new trends in political practice.

Slides

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Full paper:
Haberer, M. & Peña-López, I. (2016). “Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation. A Conceptual Scheme for the Assessment of “New” Parties”. In Parycek, P. & Edelmann, N. (Eds.), CeDEM16. Proceedings of the International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government 2016. 18-20 May 2016, Danube University Krems, Austria. Krems: Edition Donau-Universität Krems.

logo of PDF file
Slides:
Haberer, M. & Peña-López, I. (2016). “Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation. A Conceptual Scheme for the Assessment of “New” Parties”. In Parycek, P. & Edelmann, N. (Eds.), CeDEM16. Proceedings of the International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government 2016. 18-20 May 2016, Danube University Krems, Austria. Krems: Edition Donau-Universität Krems.

In defense of slacktivism. An interview.

Big red button
The Big Red Button, courtesy of włodi

In Casual Politics: From slacktivism to emergent movements and pattern recognition I stated that the important thing in slacktivism is not the isolated person, the slactivist, but what lies underneath the tip of the iceberg that slacktivism might represent. Tiny casual actions, when they come by millions, can tell lots of things on behavioral trends and patterns, as they can tell lots of things on who are fostering them. Slacktivism is but a part of a new world where stories are transmedia, and that is why slactivism is so important.

Ana Spinnato-Pujol, a sophomore at Georgetown University, interviews me on the phenomenon of slacktivism. It is always welcome when people make others think, so I’ll here share my thoughts on her good questions.

What do you believe the pitfalls of ‘slacktivism’ are? Do you think lack of credible information is one of them? What are the ‘pros’ of casual participation?

The most obvious pitfall of slacktivism is detachment from the goal to be achieved. Detachment in two senses: low commitment from the person, that can even believe that they contributed a lot, when they didn’t, or when they could contribute much more; and detachment in undervaluing or even trivializing the importance of the goal to be achieved, in the sense that, all in all, it only deserves a tiny fraction of one’s attention/effort.

I don’t think it is a matter of information — because most of the times there is plenty — but lack of attention, of willingness to go deeper into that pile of information which is actually available.

On the other hand, the pros of casual participation are, at least, two. The most important is raising awareness on a given topic. If we take slacktivism not as having things done but having things being heard, its potential is huge. Slacktivism works very well word-of-mouth (surely more than spending a year in a postconflict zone, for instance), it is viral, and contributes in very quickly and broadly spreading some news about an issue, to position it in the public agenda.

Besides, many people are increasingly reluctant to enrol in big nonprofits, many times bureaucratized and not that different from political parties. Casual participation enables to participate not in a big infrastructure, but on a very specific project.

In addition, most people have little time to participate, to engage in civic actions. It is costly, in terms of time and resources. Casual participation inverts the terms of the relationship between people and goals: instead of people having to “go after” a specific action, the action finds the person in the appropriate time and space, at that moment where you wished you could participate. It may be irreflexive, but it may definitely be not: people already made their minds up, and that casual participation found the perfect ground where to flourish.

What kind of information do you believe is most important when it comes to generating online content to spread awareness for a movement?

The main asset of slacktivism and casual participation is that, most of the times, what lies underneath is not that casual: there is plenty of people that worked for it to happen. The most important thing, thus, to generate online content is that it is backed by a solid “brand”, an experienced movement or a well reputed organization. The specific action might be casual but the people behind should definitely be not.

That said, there are two main things that normally work well. The first one is that the message is sent by someone in your closest circle of acquaintances, especially someone knowledgeable in the field: e.g. that friend of yours that is a teacher at a school sending you information about financing public education. The second one is that information and the action to be participated is timely, especially in thematic matters. And this is not only about segmentation of the target audience (e.g. children health for new parents) but also in what matters at a given time (e.g. a call for transparency after a corruption scandal).

What do you believe the role of online awareness and social media might be for a cause like climate change? How might it be different from the protests and movements you’ve researched?

I do not think of online awareness as something opposite to “traditional” movements, but as a new toolbox. I like to see activism unfolding thanks to ICTs — not being substituted. Indeed, I cannot think of isolated actions online or offline. I usually think of a pyramid or a tree of actions, all of them coordinated, with the same vision and mission, but with different goals and messages to adapt to the different realities and platforms. I think the idea of “transmedia” is what we will be seeing more and more: to create a storyworld made up of different stories in different platforms and supports.

In other words, it is not that online awareness should be different from other kind of movements, just like a carpenter will not think of building a table having to chose between a hammer and a screwdriver. The whole policy or action will have to be designed in a comprehensive way. From the start.

How do you envision the future of effecting change through online participation? What do you believe is the future of social movements?

In the same train of though, I do not envision “online participation” but participation. There will be several tools and several layers or fields of action, they will be coordinated, they will talk to each other.

I do believe that ICTs will enable a higher degree of granularization of actions and, with thus, the concurrence of much more actors working in a more distributed way. There will be much more people doing smaller things, and thus a need for someone to coordinate ex-post — and not only ex-ante — what will be done. In other words, this someone is very likely to spend less time planning and managing, and more time gathering and capitalizing the small actions.

What other tidbits of knowledge do you have about online activism that you think might be appealing to a young readership?

ICTs are seriously challenging the role of intermediaries. Strictly speaking, they are challenging the need that a single institution performs several — and some times disperse — roles at the same time. ICTs will enable separating roles without a loss of efficiency or efficacy. Institutions will the be able to get rid of these roles where they add little value and focus instead on the ones where they add much more value and where they may have no competition at all.

Institutions should not be afraid of getting rid of dead weight and concentrate in what people give them credit for, what is that constitutes their reputation, their legitimacy.

This will in consequence give some sovereignty back to the citizen and hopefully initiate a much needed debate between institutions and citizens, a debate that, nowadays, most of the times, is not fluent — when not directly rotten.

The future of publishing may be not publishing at all

Drawing of a man flying with a flock of books
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, courtesy of Ars Electronica

One of the main characteristics of the industrial age is the concentration of activity under a same roof. In order to realize the full potential of resources that are scarce and to minimize transaction costs, organizations tended to perform as many roles and tasks as possible. That is, a factory would non only weave, but spin, dye, weave, design, cut, sew and distribute.

We got used to this. And for the sake of efficiency and efficacy it did make sense.

A publisher, for instance, would also concentrate several roles and tasks under the generic concept of publishing. Not being exhaustive, these could be:

  1. Identifying talent. Who is good at writing.
  2. Investing in talent. Providing resources to the one that is good writing so that they write instead of doing some other thing.
  3. Improving originals, that is, editing. In two ways. Firstly, improving the quality of writing by providing an external dispassionate look at the work. Secondly, making it more marketable according to the tastes of the potential readers.
  4. Prepare the work for a support. If it is going to be printed, prepare a layout for printing.
  5. Printing the work (or creating the actual product).
  6. Prescribing good works. That is, building a reputation so that your opinion counts and then you’ll recommend the talent you found.
  7. Finding or creating a demand. Who will by the book? Where are they? What are their tastes?
  8. Distributing the book to the seller near the demand you found.

The digital revolution has implied that resources (knowledge intensive resources, like data, information and most kinds of intangible goods) are no more scarce, at least in technical terms (some legal restrictions may apply, but this is a layer put upon the technical one); with the end of scarcity, information costs drop dramatically. And the digital revolution has implied too that communications are almost costless and, thus, transaction costs also drop dramatically.

This has led to an increasing process of decentralization — subrogation, outsourcing, off-shoring… there are many names and ways to it — since the late XXth century and whose possibilities are but expanding with new software for creation and social media.

If we break up the roles and tasks that publishers usually perform, we can easily find alternate ways to do them in a mostly distributed way. We have changed some names to bring them closely to the actual names of such roles in the market:

Roles Alternatives
Finding talent Social media for content sharing, recommendation sites, virtual communities.
Producing Crowdfunding, microlending — besides several ways to drastically reducing the need for investment or enable self-production.
Editing Collaboration tools, comments on social media, ranking and recommendation sites, streaming and content sharing sites (with their analytics), tremendous exposure to others’ works, availability of professional or expert analysis to these others’ works, open courses and MOOCs, open educational resources.
Layout Crowsourcing platforms, free layouts, self-editing and self-publishing websites, layout and format conversion software.
Printing (provided there still is a need for printing) print on demand websites or services
Prescribing Social networking sites (word of mouth), self-publishing websites, experts’ blogs or videoblogs, reputed authors’ personal websites or blogs or social media users.
Marketing Most of what has been written above counts here, because markets are conversations, right?
Distributing Personal websites, social networking sites, file sharing services, online retailers, online marketplaces.

That there are alternatives does not necessarily mean that publishing, or publishers, are over. The alternatives may not even catch, the alternatives may live together with traditional publishers, or publishers themselves may abandon traditional ways of working and adopt the alternatives themselves, thus changing the ways without a change in the actors. The idea here is neither to kill anyone nor get rid of them, but just showing some of the many ways that intermediation is being challenged by the numerous possibilities to break up of centralization, the distribution of decision-making and task-execution.

Publishers — as many other institutions like schools and universities, newspapers, the recording industry or political parties themselves will have to reflect on what are the tasks that they are now performing, what are the alternatives to the centralization of these tasks, what is the task or set of tasks where the institution can add more value — especially in relationship of the alternatives — and whether it makes sense to stick to centralization or move towards specialization.

For most of these institutions, especially publishers, guidance on the design is probably the task where more value is added: how to become a better learner (instead of imparting courses), how to understand a piece of news (instead of producing yet more information), how to record a better song (instead of printing more CDs), how to make better decisions (instead of making them for the citizen) — or how to write a better book, despite who will pay for it, raise awareness on it, print it or distribute it.

Detaching the core task from the rest is difficult: firstly, because it is not easy to know what the core task is, given than for decades or centuries all of them have been mixed and sometimes indistinguishable between them; secondly, because the temptation to control everything is strong. But it is very likely that control is no more an option, and that others will identify your core business and make it their own.

PS: my gratitude to Borja Adsuara for “forcing” me to write this reflection. He has posted the original Twitter conversation on the role of publishers in his website.