Thesis Defence. Francisco Jurado: Political representation in the age of Internet. The case of Spain

Thesis defence by Francisco Jurado entlitled Political representation in the age of Internet. The case of Spain, in Barcelona at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. July 18, 2017.

Francisco Jurado: Thesis Defence. Francisco Jurado: Political representation in the age of Internet. The case of Spain

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What is democracy today? Is democracy always about being represented and some third parties making decisions in the name of the citizen? The concept of democracy has certainly shifted towards representative democracy. This specific understanding of democracy has been accompanied by laws that strengthen the idea of representative democracy and the emergence of a number of institutions to accommodate this way of working.

Initially there were three main actors — citizens, representatives and institutions — plus political parties to articulate the relationship between citizens and representatives. With the evolution of political parties, specially towards the cartel model, parties have taken the place of representatives and even embedded themselves into institutions.

Political Representation today is a legal relationship, non-disposable by the citizen, low binding for the citizen, and mediated (and conditioned) by political parties.

How is the Internet challenging this status quo? There have been many initiatives of many kinds (Decidim Barcelona, Appgree, Quorum, Qué Hacen los diputados, etc.) that are challenging the idea of representation.

Pitkin lists five characteristics of political representation that are necessarily changing with the digital revolution and the reasons behind the emergence of social movements in the XXIst century, especially after the Arab Spring and, for the case of Spain, the 15M Indignados Movement:

  • Autorization
  • Accountability
  • Representativeness
  • Symbolic representation
  • Receptivity

e.g. autorization changes meaning when people can for instance vote in primaries, or perform some degree of direct democracy within an e-participation initiative.

The potential of these tools majorly depends on usage, especially how representatives use them or allow their use by citizens.

Discussion

Sebastián Martín Martín: how are this shifts affecting the definition of the people, the demos? Are we just looking at citizens as individuals only and forgetting that, since Rousseau, the people is something else, is the individuals but also the collective?

Sebastián Martín Martín: what if representative democracy is no more what it used to be, and embedding technopolitics in it is not feasible just because the assumption that there is such a represented sovereignty is not true? What if sovereignty resides not in the people but elsewhere (e.g. the European Commission) and thus cannot be devolved?

Sebastián Martín Martín: what if digital agoras are not Habermasian agoras, but places of polarization, hate speech, misinformation, etc.? What has happened elsewhere (e.g. Iceland)?

Joaquim Brugué Torruella: can we generalize these initiatives? Isn’t it too early to propose a new comprehensive model for digital democracy?

Joaquim Brugué Torruella: are we talking about Internet? Or are we talking about a new trend towards direct democracy? Is it true that “there is no way back” because of the Internet, or are there other reasons for a dire change in democracy and society? Do we need to improve representation, or intermediation, with independence of the existence of the Internet?

Joaquim Brugué Torruella: is the Internet just a new aggregator of wills, or is it something else? Do we know how many people actually want to be represented? How many people are actually disenchanted by representation and why? Is it a crisis of inefficacy of politicians, or a crisis of inability to deliver of politics?

Joan Font Fabregas: is this a research on the impact of representation, or about the possibilities or potentials of the Internet to improve democracy? Is it the same thing?

Joan Font Fabregas: it is arguable that digital tools have a huge potential for transformation, but can we tell which ones work better than other ones? What are the drawbacks? Will all of them work in the same direction, or can they produce different (even opposing) conclusions?

Francisco Jurado:

It is true that the Internet will neither solve “everything” nor will the results be independent on the specific usage given to digital tools.

It is also true that it is difficult to make some statements about the potential of the Internet in politics. Will it deliver? Will it be revolutionary? We honestly do not know… yet. The research can only point at gates that seem to be opening and peek inside to see how a probable future would be like. But it seems obvious that if something as basic as communication has so deeply changed, it is to be expected that everything that is built upon commnication — as politics — will necessarily change and quite deeply.

PS: congratulations, Dr. Jurado!

Thesis Defence. Arnau Monterde: Emergence, evolution and effects of the 15M network movement (2011-2015): A technopolitical approximation

Thesis defence by Arnau Monterde entlitled The integration of the uses of digital technology in adult persons in their training activities at the university, in Barcelona at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. December 22, 2014.

Arnau Monterde: Emergence, evolution and effects of the 15M network movement (2011-2015): A technopolitical approximation

Methodology

  • To investigate the 15M Spanish Indignados movement in the network society.
  • Systemic and multiscale approximation.
  • Situated and networked research: technopolitical practices, collaborative knowledge building, online/offline interaction.
  • Methodological combination: quantitative analysis (15M2014 survey); network analysis (Twitter, Facebook, hyperlinks); qualitative analysis (in depth interviews); participatory observation.

Emergence of the 15M

Emergence: the whole cannot be explained after the parts, but has to be approached differently.

The 15M begins its formation before the 15 May 2011: with the Sinde Law, the NoLesVotes movement, Democracia Real Ya, etc. The 15M is organized on the Internet between February and May 2011, after the prior technopolitical movements. It conquers the street after consolidating online. But why does the 15M bursts? The Arab Spring and the events at Tahrir Square are very important, being these factors multipied by what happens on social networking sites. The main factor, though, is lack of democracy (or lack of quality democracy), and not the economic crisis — which is a factor, but not as important as democracy or corruption.

Besides determinants, the form is also very important: the decentralization and distribution of the movement play a very important role, as emotions also do: both hope and indignation are very important parts of the movement.

Last, but not least, language will play also a role in the movement, mostly in first person, transversal, inclusive, affirmative, easy to own.

Communication

Indeed, technology will be crucial both for organization and communication, with many different tools and uses, including a meta-debate of what technologies and what for, about technological empowerment, autonomy, technological sovereignty. There is a synchronous multichannel communicative ecosystem. Networks will be new space of socialization and collective action.

On the other hand, media seem to be quite out of the debate, not even being able to capture and explain what is actually happening.

In the meanwhile, the movement evolves on a multilayer basis, where none of the participants will only participate in just a single platform/layer. There is, thus, no distinction between online and offline: layers overlap constantly and are chosen depending on the task to be done, on the level of engagement that it requires, the goals to be achieved at any given time, etc. And when layers synchronize, the movement begins to walk.

Evolution of the 15M

Most people think that the 15M has changed and evolved from its origins, but there is a consensus that the movement is still relevant in the public agenda. 84.5% of the participants (in the survey) still have an interest in the 15M and form a collective identity. Even more important, whatever the initiative linked to the 15M analyzed, the same communities and collective identities arise.

There is an open, transversal, systemic and dynamic identity of the 15M, which cannot be reduced neither to the aggregation of the individuals nor to the personaization of the connective action.

Technologies

Evolution of multiple technologies, especially pads, videostreaming and Twitter.

Centrality of technologies for a political use.

Usages are multiple, but allowing the accumulation of learning to better use technology, especially to find out the most appropriate users.

Different networks: structural (for inner organization) vs. functional (for a specific purpose). Within the networks, there is a high functional specialization, always collaborating and not competing. With dynamics of continuity (where they are active) and discontinuity (when they remain in stand-by, but not dismantled). Sinchronization of netwokrs and a strong dialogue between structural and functional networks.

Temporal distributed leadership: networks take the lead depending on the initiative.

Multitudinous and networked self-organization, self-consciousness of the 15M, temporarily (synchronicity and latency).

Impact on politics

Institutions will not let the movement in, added to an institutional counterpart will help to give the impression that the movement is not reaching out or making an impact. But as time goes by, there are events that are difficult to explain without the 15M, such as the crisis of bipartidism, some political practices, the appearance of new political parties, etc.

For instance, network analysis shows how Podemos during the European Elections seems to be “adscribed” to the movement. In the case of the local elections, the integration of some parties is even higher, with dynamics of some parties very much like the 15M.

Other impacts: open voting lists, collaborative crowdfunding, transparency, open elaboration political programmes, local parties that partly come from the “plazas” and act alike, autonomy of the local parties without a central hierarchy, etc.

On the cons part, the frontier between parties and movements blur, there is a tension between the institutional and the movement tempos, etc.

The 15M will not create new parties, but will set the conditions upon which new parties will emerge.

Conclusions

  • Centrality of the interaction of the 15M with the technologies of network communication.
  • The evolution of the 15M after the uses of the networks, action and organization.
  • The 15M transforms the conditions of the electoral arena.
  • Technopolitial contribution to the study of th 15M and its evolution.

Discussion

Joan Subirats: how to identify the phenomenon of technopolitics? Besides the techno- part, what happens with the -politics part? Is it “new politics”? Monterde: it is difficult to delimit what technopolitics is, because there neither is a beginning not an end to it: it just evolves. Notwithstanding, the analysis that the research of content, emotions, organizations, programmes and proposals, etc. clearly have a political weight. This includes the reasons for the different actors and platforms to participate in the movement and the events around it. But it is important to note that in technopolitics the most important aspect is the how, not the what. The movement is built after the practices. So, its the form that constitutes the 15M, not the content: the political programme is not put in the middle, although it of course exists.

Paolo Gerbaudo: differences and similarities between traditional (and new) parties and the movement? What are the organizational challenges and dilemmas? Marina Subirats: what happens with leadership? It was about distributed leadership, but Podemos is as traditional as any in terms of leadership. Monterde: the logics of the many new and old parties are very different, and in the field of political parties there are many factors that converge upon them to force a change. And it is very difficult — if not impossible — to make a simple statement about their relationships with the movement. There is not a single relationship of causality between the 15M and how it evolves into the parties: there are a lot of correlations, but not an identified causality. The issue of leadership is that our political culture strongly pressures towards identifying a unique leader, and this does not come from the movement, where leadership is very much different.

Joan Subirats: who is part of the movement? What is a collective identity? Can we define this? Monterde: What the research aims at answering is that there are many factors why people join, act, participate, leaves the movement, comes back to it, etc.

Joan Subirats: what it’s at stake in the debate of the 15M is representation. How is that solved by the evolution of the 15M? Monterde: quite often, it is active participation what decides membership and, in some terms, representation. You do something, you somewhat represent the movement. But it is true that this is a very difficult aspect of the movement and its relationship with representation, especially a shift towards institutional representation. Indeed, the most crucial aspect is not representation, but de-representation: how can we articulate measures and policies that work towards a de-representation (a de-institutionalization, a de-intermediation, etc.) of politics and civic action: direct democracy, participatory and deliberative democracy, etc.

Marina Subirats: what is the relationship with the Catalan Independentist movement? Monterde: part of the research heavily relies on the 15M2014 Survey, which is Spain-wide. The factor does appear in answers coming from Catalonia, but it is not relevant elsewhere. And even if the topic is dealt with during the camps, after the camps and during interviews, the issue disappears from the agenda of the 15M.

Marina Subirats: where is the ideology in the 15M movement? Did they read the “main authors”? Or did they pretend to begin from scratch? Monterde: 50% of the participants meet their very first political experience during the 15M, and many more describe the 15M more than an agora where to debate, a school where to learn politics.

PS: Congratulations doctor Monterde!

Thesis Defence. Antonella Esposito: The Transition “from student to researcher” in the Digital Age

Thesis defence by Antonella Esposito entlitled The integration of the uses of digital technology in adult persons in their training activities at the university, in Barcelona at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. December 22, 2014.

Antonella Esposito: The Transition “from student to researcher” in the Digital Age: Exploring the affordances of emerging Learning Ecologies of PhD Researchers

PhD e-Researchers: individuals using social media to carry out activities such as preliminary exploring new topics, searching for updates research materials, disseminating early findings, experiencing networking in digital spaces, improving their own personal development, etc.

Background: web 2.0 and social media. Architectures of participation and user-generated-content, such as Wikipedia, and the opportunity for creating one’s own profile and constructing online networks, such as Facebook/Twitter and Academia.edu/Research Gate. There are also changes in research practices enabled by technologies, producing new facets and models of knowledge production and distribution, personal and emergent in the individual-led scholarly uses of social media. New PhD students rather consider themselves PhD researchers: are engaged in creative mixes of education, new methods to approximate research, create personal ecologies of learning, etc.

Digital scholars + digital natives + digital literacies.

Focus of the research is on self-organized activities undertaking in the digital environments by PhD students. The socio-cultural entanglements of PhD students using the digital tools in situated context and temporary phases. Goals:

  • Gain further underrating on student’s experience of e-learning in higher education.
  • Gain insights on emergent scholarly practices undertaking in the open Web by newer researchers.

Questions:

  • To what extent do the PhD students learn to become researchers using digital tools?
  • How can the trajectories carried out by PhD researchers be conceptualized?
  • What can the qualitative findings tell us about the chronotopes activated in PhD researchers’ practices and ecologies?
  • What are the tensions between institutional/old practices and new ones?

Methodology: questionnaires with data on tools adopted, actual digital practices and expectations; individual interviews; focus groups.

Data analysis: grounded theory logic of the ‘constant comparative method’. From an initial coding more ‘data-oriented’ toward a more ‘concept-oriented’ coding leading to identification of categories.

Findings:>/p>

A repertoire of social media uses for research purposes. Mostly general purpose tools and common tools, in addition to tools specically supporting scholarly tasks (institutional digital libraries, Google Scholar, etc.). Social media uses to both support and expand practices. The open web is seen as a ‘network amplifiers’ rather than enabling building network from scratch. Have some struggle in creating ‘critical mass’ of followers and some question the practical value of having a large network of contacts.

A framework to conceptualize the trajectories of PhD researcher. In digital engagement we do not find clear typologies. It is more about ‘creeping along’, about moving slowly and carefully in the digital: taming the tools, going digital, learning the digital, making sense of the open web. We find, though, polarization of attitudes that range from total technooptimism to almost non-usage.

The chronotypes in digital engagement. The PhD e-researchers’ experiences in the digital can be easily aligned to the ‘road chronotope’ (as in the road movies), where they keep on embracing opportunities that come along. Relevance of the encounters can determine adoption. Forms of resilience: staying afloat, pursuing convenience, embedding the digital, playing as a bricoleur.

The tensions: two generations. Irrelevance vs. relevance for research; pros and cons for the PhD researchers; tensions for digital learners and digital scholars.

The digital engagement is understood as the core process where the trajectories in the digital emerge, in en ecological interplay of multiple dimensions and shifting states of experience.

Discussion

In most places, PhD students are perceived as such, as students, and not as researchers. Thus, even if students are aware of the potentials of social media for research, they are reluctant to challenge the hierarchies of academia. On the other hand, when students are part of a research group and/or team, this can also act as an inhibitor to develop a (personal/individual) activity on social media related with their research.

In general, there is a major lack of awareness in academia, and even lack of knowledge and understanding on what is going on in social networks and its potential for learning and for doing research.

PS: congratulations, doctor Esposito!

Thesis Defence. Xavier Mas: the integration of the uses of digital technology in adult learning

Thesis defence by Xavier Mas entitled The integration of the uses of digital technology in adult persons in their training activities at the university, in Barcelona at the Universitat de Barcelona. November 24, 2014.

Xavier Mas: The integration of the uses of digital technology in adult persons in their training activities at the university

Having the word, in the digital age is having the technology. Technology is part of literacy.

Goals:

  • Improve the knowledge on the relationship between the use of technology and everyday life, especially learning.
  • Patterns in the use of digital technologies for learning.
  • New questions in the field.

The theoretical framework comes both from the “pre-Net” learning theories to renew education (Freire, Freinet, Vygotsky, Illich) and “Net-aware” theories based on constructivism and connectivism, the flipped classroom, augmented learning, the PLE, etc.

Digital competence goes way beyond a simple matter of literacy, but it does embed other skills that belong to superior stages.

Methodology: two independent research paths, qualitative and quantitative. Guided open interviews with experts + survey to students (2010).

Results

Experts from the interview:

  • Preponderance of the professional sphere in their digital universe.
  • Relevance of the social dimension in managing knowledge (connectivism)
  • Strong relationship between digital universe and digital competence.
  • Awareness of being building a PLE.
  • Awareness of a sense of being on a PLN.
  • Quest for ubiquity.

Results from survey

  • Two different clusters among the respondants.
  • Universal: basic uses such as search for information, accessing digital content, use of social networking sites, etc.
  • Minority use: complex uses such as publish on a blog, online gaming, mobile devices, etc.

Complex uses are normally accompanied with more participation online and a more creative participation.

Utility of uses of digital technology for learning:

  • Access to information: browsable, multimedia and shareable.
  • Social and collaborative component: communication, sharing, collaboration.
  • Ubiquity: mobility, in the cloud. And not ubiquity as being connected anywhere, but a transformation of the dimensions of time and space.

Socio-demografic factors are not determinants on the differences found in the surveys. I.e. just some slight biases related to age, but very very small. The only slightly more relevant difference is when students come from IT engineering.

Conclusions

  • What defienes advanced digital competence and the main learning metatrends are present in the personal behaviour of the participants, but not in a generalized way and, especially, not guaranteed.
  • The perception of the value of technology for learning is acknowledged, especially in the spheres of the social component and ubiquity.
  • Need to identify the profiles in the use of technology and the factors that determine it.
  • Need to deepen the penetration of the learning metatrends of informalization that empower the student, and of dis-location in the situations and contexts of informal learning.

Discussion

There are many contributions made by some pre-Net authors (Freinet, Freire, Illich) that resonate a lot with what is happening today with education and ICTs, especially social networking sites. Some theoretical proposals by these authors can today be put into practice thanks to ICTs in education.

It is interesting to stress the fact that many practices that happen inside traditional online LMS are not exactly the same practices that students will perform outside of the LMS, in their daily lives. Thus, we have to be cautious in saying that practices happening within the LMS can be compared with what happens outside. Most likely, they will not be comparable. Most LMS digital practices are so much driven, happen so much inside a walled garden that they are all but “natural”, not spontaneous at all.

The concept of life-width learning — in addition to life-long learning — was introduced to stress the notion that what happens in the Net, all the digital practices affect not only a specific activity — i.e. learning — but the whole of one’s life. And this is a crucial statement, especially when we consider the increasing shift from formal education to informal learning.

We are witnessing an epistemological change where knowledge will never more be a static thing, but a dynamic one. Thus why connectivism — with its critiques — is a most valuable metaphor and/or theory. The pattern of lineal learning applies no more: now knowledge and learning is not linear, but liquid.

Many of the approaches based on “generations” (generation X, Y or whatever) may not be really accurate. Maybe it is not a matter of being a generation or another one, but being on a given stage of the life-cycle, which pushes people to certain users depending on their needs — and not as much as depending on their birth date.

PS: congratulations, doctor Mas!

Thesis Defence. Sara Vannini: Social Representations of Community Multimedia Centres in Mozambique

Thesis defence by Sara Vannini entitled Social Representations of Community Multimedia Centres in Mozambique, in Lugano at the Università della Svizzera italiana. June 6, 2014.

Sara Vannini: Social Representations of Community Multimedia Centres in Mozambique

UNESCO creates in 2001 the concept of community multimedia centres (CMC), a kind of public access points to the Internet, which Mozambique applies to fight against poverty. These centres have since their inception been in the debate of schoolars, who find on them both successes and failures.

Key issues:

  • Sustainability: financial, political, ethical, social…
  • Impact: social, economical…
  • They represent huge investments.

There are huge design-reality gaps between what happens in the lab, or the design of the intervention, and what is at last implemented. There is more need for context, and here the concept of social representation comes very handy.

  • Enables individuals to orientate themselves and interpret their (new) world.
  • It is a relationship between one’s ego, the others and objects (or the object of their relationship): there is inter-subjectivity. And this relationship happens in a context.
  • As realities change along time, so do relationships and thus the social representations that people have.

Applications of social representation theory:

  • Inclusion of context.
  • Participatory action research, design-oriented approach.
  • Used to inform policy-makers and to find drivers for individual actions.

Field work

10 CMC out of 34 centres in Mozambique, chosen by kind of ownership, who was managing them, what kind of services were they providing, location. Most of them provide community radio, computers and connectivity; some of them did not offer Internet connection and two of them had only the community radio working.

Qualitative interviews were carried on, including photo-elicitation, as it fosters the reflection, empowers the interviewee, decreases the risk of pre-conceived responses, offers richer data to the researcher, etc. Photo-elicitation was participant-driven: participants were asked to provide their own pictures as an answer to the questions produced by the interviewer.

Data analysis

Photo-taxonomy; deductive content analysis on photos-related text; inductive content analysis; automatic analysis of the reciprocal relationships among textual units.

Outcomes

CMC are perceived as two parts: community radio and a telecentre.

Community radio is about information and having political role. It also has a strong role in building community, both at the local level as at the national level, establishing a link with the rest of the country. Community radio is also related with edutainment: education and entertainment.

The telecentre is about learning, and learning how to use a computer, basic software packages, etc. It is not perceived as a communication space but, on the contrary, as a business centre where one can carry one different tasks as photocopying, etc. The telecentre is also a financial resources centre, as it provides income after some services.

As seen, with social representation theory, de design-reality gap is addressed and the methodology can be used for policy-making. It can provide insights on appropriation and reinvention of a (new) social object.

Telecentres do not offer contextualized services, as the community radio does. There is a need for more advanced services.

Discussion

Erkki Sutinen: does the name CMS still carry too much meaning? Cannot we use a name that is not a definition on itself? Does this make any different in the usage or the appropriation of the venue, because it is artificial? Or does the definition constrains the evolution of the service? Vannini: What the research tells is that the definition is needed for people to understand and to appropriate a new object/venue/service. Of course we do not have to be slaves of our definitions and these have to be flexible.

Erkki Sutinen: can we develop schools in other means, e.g. merging with telecentres, and create a new kind of institution? Can we get rid of CMS and build instead new kind of services that put together many needs with many solutions? Vannini: Agreed. That is exactly the role of the community radio, that goes beyond a “mere radio”. There are many things that telecentres could copy from community radios, especially in what relates to everything else that a community radio represents.

Ismael Peña-López: how can we “simplify” this methodology and embed it in the usual e-readiness indicators? Vannini: there are methods of social representation that can be scaled, but nevertheless people should be asked and participate and tell what is happening at their level, and inform indicators.

Ismael Peña-López: could we use big data analysis and content analysis to infer what people is thinking of CMC and the use they are doing? Vannini: sure, but we may risk excluding important people from our analysis that are using the centres but not participating in these social netorking sites.

Erkki Sutinen: is there any feeling of status embedded in the technology, of proudness of having the telecentre in their community? Where there technical issues or fears that people did not take into account because of the aforementioned “proudness”? Vannini: yes, there was some status-factor, but it did not seem very important. Indeed, there were technical issues but generally related with macro-level issues like power outages, etc. At the micro level, there sure is room for improvement when it comes to educating and training telecentre managers: this would definitely make a difference.

Erkki Sutinen: can we measure not only representation but attitudes after this methodology? Vannini: this analysis was not done, but we can tell, from the interviews, that many people did not have the attitudes related with creativity, or challenging how things are.

Ismael Peña-López: can this research identify developmental outcomes due to CMC? could they go a step beyond, from empowerment to governance? Vannini: the research was a snapshot of a given reality, not the analysis of an evolution. But, during interviews many people stated how they had gained empowerment, how they could no make some decisions about their lives that they could not before. This was especially relevant with connected centres.

Erkki Sutinen: why this methodology? why not? Vannini: maybe more time with less centres would have been better. But this methodology was very useful given the time available and space to be covered.

Ismael Peña-López: we now have telecenters, hubs, co-working spaces, libraries, fab-labs, etc. You have 20 billion Meticals, or half a billion Swiss Francs, what do you do? Do you create more CMC? Both in Mozambique and Switzerland? Vannini: would invest on education of the operators and in the community at large.

Erkki Sutinen: is the idea of an ICT4D discipline over? what is the agenda of the research on ICT4D? Vannini: won’t get obsolete until all differences are reduced to their minimum expression. It is true that a middle class is emerging, but still poorer communities exist, and not only in Africa but everywhere, and are somewhat becoming more important indeed in some areas.

Lorenzo Cantoni: how would a research be designed to measure the impact of mobile technologies on CMC in particular and in developing areas in general? Vannini: first of all, not only individual or isolated appropriation should be measured, but how different technologies are being integrated among themselves.

PS: congratulations, doctor Vannini!

About Me

    I am Ismael Peña-López.

    I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia, and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university. I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.