The Network Society: rights, policies and the exercise of democracy

On 31 May 2011 I am presenting at the I Encuentro CIDER (I Conference on Digital Citizenship and Human Rights). My speech, The Network Society: rights, policies and the exercise of democracy has three parts:

  1. First of all, it goes back to the neolithic revolution and then to the industrial revolution to reflect on how things used to be before the digital revolution. Then, it briefly aims at showing how the exercise of democracy has been (potentially) turned upside down as democratic institutions see their roles totally transformed. This is essentially the same discourse (though adapted to governments and democracies) I explained in From teaching institutions to learning people, the reason being that I believe there is a common approach when dealing about education, governments or even businesses (e.g. the recording industry) that focus on institutions, their role, their added value, and how digital technologies help citizens to circumvent them.
  2. After the potential benefits of “democracy 2.0”, the second part focuses on the barriers and, even more important, the threats, especially those related with (ironically) forgetting about “democracy 1.0”. In this sense, I will stress the point that democracy is time-consuming activity and that those with time and training (and technological mastership) can benefit and even corrupt democratic institutions (even unwillinglly). This is the point I brought in The disempowering Goverati: e-Aristocrats or the Delusion of e-Democracy.
  3. Last, I am using the “power = governance + empowerment” model also developed in the previous article to analyse the Egypt and Spanish revolts during the spring of 2011.

Please see below my presentation. You can also visit my bibliographic file for La Sociedad Red: derechos, políticas y ejercicio de la democracia (the original title) for downloads both in English and Spanish.

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From teaching institutions to learning people

Image: Photo of Ismael Peña-López at TEDxUIMP

The 19 May 2011 I presented at TEDxUIMP: Challenges of Education in the XXIst century. My speech, From teaching institutions to learning people had three main ponts:

  • For 300 years we have lived in an Industrial Society and ended up with an Industrial(ized) Education. While this has serious drawbacks, it has also democratized education and provided (in western countries) highest adult literacy rates, higher welfare and higher income for everyone (including the poorest ones). When we speak negatively about Education, we have to keep in mind to throw dirty waters away while keeping the child in.
  • The Digital Revolution and the upcoming of the Information Society have changed, radically and forever, the landscape as we knew it, due to drastic reductions of transaction costs and the end of scarcity of knowledge based goods. Amongst other things, we necessarily need to redefine concepts such as efficiency and efficacy, upon which we have built our education systems. And, thus, rethink the design of those education systems.
  • After pointing out some aspects of the current education system that are being critically challenged by the digital revolution, I suggested one path and one goal to be able to do the transition from an industrial education to a digital one. The path could be based on appropriation of the technology, its adoption/transposition to our actual system, improvement of current practices, and total transformation of instructional designs. On the goals side, I go macro and think of empowering people with the ability to design their own learning strategies, powered by personal learning environments.

Please see below my presentation. You can also visit my bibliographic file for De la enseñanza de las instituciones al aprendizaje de las personas (the original title) for downloads both in English and Spanish. There also is a photo set of the whole TEDxUIMP 1st edition on the Challenges of Education in the XXIst century featuring Juan Freire, Tíscar Lara, Felipe G. Gil, Jordi Ros and Dolors Reig.

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Thesis defence. Adolfo Estalella: Assemblages of hope

Assemblages of hope. An anthropological analysis of passionate blogging.
Adolfo Estalella

In 2006 takes place the first Evento Blog in Seville, Spain, to debate about the practice of blogging and its impacts in society, especially in changing the world by now having a voice of one’s own, independent from parties and media.

This research aims at providing an answer to questions like what expectations do authors put on their blogs, what are the relationships between their expectations and their hopes, or what are those hopes? And all this in a context of post-modernism, pessimist about a future with no hope.

But some authors do point at the fact that most people have hopes about their lives, about the future, about their endeavours. And hope and expectations are powerful drivers of change or, at least, of action.

In the dynamics between facts and expectations, bloggers link the later to the former, and base their expectations on making facts happen.

They see hope as an assemblage (in the sense of Deleuze). Hope is a self-orientation towards the future.

And the framework is the actor-network theory.

The target of the analysis are 18 passionate bloggers that usually post daily, performing a reflexive practice on their daily lives and blogging itself. They attend events as a commitment in building a ‘blogosphere’.

Most bloggers have a twofold close relationship with their blogs. On the one hand, a technology-biased one, with a passion (love?) for the tool they are using to speak out; on the other hand, a future-biased one, that makes them reflect about the responsibility of blogging, of reaching out, of being paving a path towards change, social change. Bloggers are convinced that they can change society by blogging, they can change the future. But it is not a remote future, designed by others, but a real one, designed in the closest environment.

This relationship is deeply determined by the sense of timeliness of blogs, where the more recent, the fresher news and content are on top, are the most visible.

This sense of always up-to-date is reinforced by the feedback that website analytics provide. The author is fully aware, in real-time, of the impact of their posts, whether they are read and how much, whether they are commented, how many time do readers spend on the site, etc.

Bloggers are, thus, informed people, that deeply know their environment, their social context, and build their discourses and hopes around it. If they have hope is not becauses they are uninformed utopians, but just the contrary: they know where they live, they are savvy about the potential of technology and they put their hopes on it. And it’s constantly depicting the society they live in that positively feedbacks their knowledge about it.

What is not true is that the blogosphere is an open, horizontal, flat space. Bloggers differ amongst themselves and the A-list has a clear profile: highly educated, male, on their thirties, with liberal jobs. Only those who have the appropriate possibilities can actually reflect thoroughly when they post periodically. The A-list of bloggers is indeed an A-list of people too.


Some questions from the committee:

  • Francesc Núñez Mosteo: isn’t it blogging a sort of self-fulfilled expectations?
  • Francesc Núñez Mosteo: is it possible to describe the blogggers’ practices without a critique to their intentions?
  • Anna Trias: why is not there a deeper reflection on the anthropology of emotions? Why not exploring other sociological imaginations?
  • Anna Trias: what do bloggers do to overcome hoplessness?
  • Francisco J. Tirado: why not analyzing more thoroughly the blogger-related events?
  • Francisco J. Tirado: why not analyzing in more detail the extreme self-referencing of blogging?
  • Francisco J. Tirado: is it possible to analyze blogs without analyzing the blogosphere (or the contrary)?

Some comments to the questions:

Some bloggers have become so relevant in their blogging practice that they have ended up being spokesman of or to traditional collectives (e.g. political parties). Thus, sure a critique on their aspirations would definitely had been in place.

There are indeed two different blogospheres: a vertical one, hierarchical and that replicates the hierarchies of society; and a horizontal one, plural, of anonymous individuals. And in these two blogospheres surely hope has very different roles and achievements.

There is a difficult trade-off between ethnography and analysis, and reaching the appropriate equilibrium is complicated. And actually a matter of debate within the discipline of anthropology.

Though it is true that some expectations can be self-fulfilled, it is also true that bloggers’ expectations are adapted on the run as the future becomes present. Thus, it is not the (future) reality that is fulfilled because of expectations, but also that expectations are altered because of the reality.


Excellent cum laude.


Introduction to Web 2.0 for e-Participation

Within the framework of the workshop Participation and new technologies: challenges and opportunities organized by the Diputació de Barcelona, I have imparted the two first sessions (29 april and 5 may 2011):

  1. Introduction to the Web 2.0, a really elementary approach to what is the Web 2.0, including a small choice of tools that are more commonly used in e-Participation;
  2. The Web 2.0 in the public agora, which includes a categorization of Web 2.0 tools and applications and a long showcase of these tools and applications in practice.

The materials are in Catalan (though they are, I guess, easy to follow without much understanding of the language) and, as I said, they are really introductory to the topics. Here they are:

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Peña-López, I. (2011). “Introducció a la Web 2.0”.


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Peña-López, I. (2011). “La Web 2.0 a l’àgora pública”.


Goverati and media literacy: from empowerment to governance

The School of Information and Communication of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona is organizing the I Congress Communication and Education: Media Literacy Strategies, taking place in Barcelona the 11-13 May 2011.

I am taking part in a round table on “Active Citizenship” the 11 May 2011 at 17:45 with Susan Moeller (University of Maryland), Manuel Pinto (Universidade do Minho), Vladimir Gai (UNESCO) and chaired by Laura Cervi.

My presentation will heavily rely on my recently published work The disempowering Goverati: e-Aristocrats or the Delusion of e-Democracy and will showcase the revolutions in Tunisia and, especially, Egypt, were (in my opinion) a small elite of goverati successfully managed to (1) leverage the power of social networking sites to coordinate and mobilize their peers and (2) used social media to reach mainstream international mass media to speak out with images and video what was happening on the streets, thus also reaching international decision-takers, like the US Secretary of State.


The disempowering Goverati: e-Aristocrats or the Delusion of e-Democracy

The eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government (JEDEM) has just published its Vol 3, No 1 (2011) featuring an article of mine, The disempowering Goverati: e-Aristocrats or the Delusion of e-Democracy.

This paper is the latest, improved and merged version of two previous lines of work. On the one hand, a reflection on e-Readiness, digital literacy and its role in participation, which I presented at the 4th International Conference on eDemocracy 2010 (EDem10) in Krems last year. On the other hand, the reflections on how the distance between governance and empowerment has been increasing due to Information and Communication Technologies (Empowerment and Governance in the Information Society (I): the hourglass of information power, Empowerment and Governance in the Information Society (II): digerati, goverati and the role of ICT4D) and which later became my position paper for the Democracy and the power of the individual conference at the Ditchley Foundation.


When disaffection on political parties and politicians is pervasive, most argue whether it could be possible, thanks to the Internet – and Information and Communication Technologies in general – forget the mainstream political system and let the citizenry express their own opinion, debate in virtual agorae and vote their representatives and policy choices directly. In other words, the claim is whether the actual intermediaries can be replaced by citizen networks or, in the limit, just be overridden.

Our aim in the following lines is to (1) explain that some dire (socioeconomic) changes are actually taking place,(2) why these socioeconomic changes are taking place and (3) infer, from this, what conditions shall take place in the future for (4) another wave of changes to happen that could eventually a much acclaimed new (e-)democracy. In a last section, we will discuss that despite lack of data, the trend seems to be just in the direction of the impoverishment of democracy, partly due to the weakening of political institutions.

Citation and Download

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Peña-López, I. (2011). “The disempowering Goverati:
e-Aristocrats or the Delusion of e-Democracy
In eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government, 3 (1), 1-21.
Krems: Danube-University Krems.