Casual Politics: slacktivism as the tip of the technopolitics iceberg

Paper cover for Casual politics: del clicktivismo a los movimientos emergentes y el reconocimiento de patrones

My research on slacktivism has finally been published as a paper both in Spanish and Catalan at two “brother” journals: Educación Social. Revista de Intervención Socioeducativa and Educació Social. Revista d’Intervenció Sòcioeducativa.

This is work that I had already presented at two conferences — 9th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics; II Jornadas españolas de ciberpolítica — and, thus, is now available in three languages: the former two plus English.

What follows — after the abstract — is a list of the references and full text downloads for the papers. The main idea of the papers is that if we look at slacktivism from the point of view of the “activist”, it is but true that it is a very low-commitment activism. But if we take the approach of the politician or the policy-maker, or if we take some distance and take a look at the whole landscape, what we find is that slacktivism is only a tiny portion of a huge cosmos of people very actively engaging in politics, extra-representational politics though, and that is why most of it flies underneath the traditional political radar.


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

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

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


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Peña-López, I. (2013). Casual politics: del clicktivismo a los movimientos emergentes y el reconocimiento de patrones. En Educación Social. Revista de Intervención Socioeducativa, (55), 33-51. Barcelona: Universitat Ramon Llull.
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Peña-López, I. (2013). Casual politics: del clicktivisme als moviments emergents i el reconeixement de patrons. A Educació Social. Revista d’Intervenció Sòcioeducativa, (55), 33-50. Barcelona: Universitat Ramon Llull.
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Peña-López, I. (2013). Casual Politics: From slacktivism to emergent movements and pattern recognition. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 25-26 June, 2013. Barcelona: UOC.


e-Supervision (II). Ismael Peña-López. e-Supervision: framing the debate

Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.

Ismael Peña-López, lecturer and researcher, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)
e-Supervision: framing the debate

We can define four stages in technology adoption:

  1. During appropriation people get to know what new technologies are out there, they learn how to use them, they master them… but not necessarily use them or use them in a specific environment and for a specific purpose. E.g. learn that text editors exist, learn how to use them, but still use typewritters.
  2. In the adaptation phase, old technologies are replaced by the new ones, but just to perform exactly the same tasks, routines, processes. E.g. typewritters are thrown away, but text editors are used to type the very same letters. The cost of using a new technology is clearly here an expenditure, as no major benefits appear.
  3. Improvement happens when benefits begin to overrun the cost of using new technologies. Here, costs are investments that pay back in the medium and long term. E.g. text editors are used intensively allowing for thorough edition (copying, pasting, formatting, etc.), tracking changes and versions, passing documents along (by e-mail, that is, another concurring technology) so that they can be commented, reedited, etc.
  4. Last, and most important, transformation implies that the whole process is though (almost) from scratch, deploying the full potential of new technologies to redesign processes and tasks. E.g. documents begin not with an original from a single person, but collaborative tools come in place (like wikis, pads or the like) where everyone can contribute at the same time, with no need for centralization, no need for preset structures, etc.

e-Supervision can be described in this framework. Thus, there is not a single definition of what e-Supervision is, but a continuum of definitions as e-Supervision itself evolves from adaptation to improvement, and from improvement to transformation (and including a phase 0 of adoption, which is by the way most needed).

  1. During appropriation e-supervision is, actually, supervision. Period. Everyone is using technology, but not for supervision purposes.
  2. In the adaptation e-supervision can be defined as electronic supervision as traditional tasks (meetings, reviews) are done with the help of technology: videoconferences, support of digital documents. This phase is needed because it bridges both worlds (supervision with e-supervision) but has to be quickly overcome, as the cost of the change of technology does not come with any evident benefit.
  3. Improvement happens when these benefits of e-Supervision imply an evolution, an evolved supervision. Tracking changes, control version, creation of communities of practice and communities of learning within (or with-out) learning management systems… even xMOOCs can imply several opportunities for improvement of old practices.
  4. Last, and most important, transformation is rethinking e-supervision (almost) from scratch. It’s about enhanced supervision, deploying all the potential of research 2.0, connectivist MOOCs, peer-to-peer assessment, e-portfolios, personal learning environments. That is, rethinking the whole research and supervision practice, now taking into account not only tools, but the concurrence of other actors, of new roles (and responsibilities

[click here to enlarge]


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Prezi slides:
Peña-López, I. (2013). e-Supervision: Framing the Debate. Workshop within the LEADHER PLEDS Project at the Open Univeristy of Catalonia, 31 October 2013.
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Prezi slides as PDF:
Peña-López, I. (2013). e-Supervision: Framing the Debate. Workshop within the LEADHER PLEDS Project at the Open Univeristy of Catalonia, 31 October 2013.


Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)

Global Revolution (III). Challenges, problems and innovations in the phase of evolution of the network movements cycle 2011-2013 (I)

Notes from the Three years of interconnected riots. Emergence, evolution and challenges of the network movements in the context of the #GlobalRevolution, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3 in Barcelona, Spain, in October 23, 2013. More notes on this event: globalrev.

Arnau Monterde (Communication and Civil Society Programme at UOC and DatAnalysis15M research group)
Evolution of the 15M network movement and its mutations (201-2013)

How is it that the movement can mutate and update so quickly? What is the role of “forks” within the network movement? It is quite clear, though, that (1) the Spanish Indignados Movement (#15M) is a “movement in movement” and that (2) emotions are a substantial part of the network movement, affective mobilization is crucial. There is a need for new forms of organization as a network that are capable of making decisions and fixing errors in real time.

It is also important the policentric and/or distributed character of the network, as a live or mutating organism. Codes are open and are replicable. Networks are open and contagion becomes global.

The #15O movement (global demonstrations on October 15, 2011) is a good example of both fork and evolution of the movement, of replicating it at a global scale. How are these replicas created? These movements that aim for the global movement hold powerful links and relationships between the collective identities of the different nodes or movements or sub-networks; they share codes, they share memes and hashtags; they also have in common bridging the physical and the virtual layer.

These new movements, and in an increasing way, begin to have a major impact on mainstream media.

The movements also have the capability to hack and transform forks or parallel movement, “embed some code in them” and transform their very nature to turn it towards the movement’s goals, thus mutating the original fork into part of the core movement.

Some mutations become single-issue movements, such as:

  • The Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), on mortgages (truly speaking it existed before the 15M movement, but the nature is the same one).
  • The 15MpaRato project, to try presumably corrupt bankers.
  • The “tides”, movements to defend specific public services (public health, public education, etc.)

One of the latest mutations is the Citizen Network Party X, a political party born within the 15M movement, with the formal frame of any other political party, but with an inner organization very much like a network movement.

Joan Donovan (Univeristy of California. InterOccupy)

It’s not only the words that are being said, it is also about the things people are doing while saying these words or just because they said these words.

Net Work: the use of one’s free time in a specific project by using one’s own resources. Most of the people that participate in Net Work are already knowledge workers whose job is to move around (create, mix, disseminate) knowledge.

No one is in charge of infrastructure, as infrastructure is decentralized and is used indistinctly and flexibly by net workers.

Occupy uses multiple channels for collecting, sorting, collating, and broadcasting information for the purpose of coordinating action: the public space, websites, etc. Rhizomatic communication: multiple channels for collecting sorting, collating, and broadcasting infromation for the purpose of collective action.

From #SandyVolunteer to #OccupySandy

After hurricane Sandy, many turned to the Net to help the victims of the hurricane — and #SandyVolunteer was born. But quickly the demands for information outpaced the supply of it. Then InterOccupy, an already established group, reorganized and turned towards the goal of helping #SandyVolunteer, and then came #OccupySandy.

Many matters of infrastructure usually come after ideas are put into practice: first act, then build. The website, the channel to accept donations, the mailing list and e-mail account, voice conferences to massively broadcast information and answer questions… a whole constellation of tools and people were put into work to support the network of volunteers contributing to alleviate the impact of Sandy.

A principle: Occupy Sandy is mutual aid, not charity.

Networks can be reconfigured, reoriented. It just takes a clear and legitimate goal, and finding out the right people with the right skills to leverage the power of the network.

Alberto Escorcia (Coordinador de México)
From #InternetNecesario to #1Dmx

The history of YoSoy132 can be traced back to 2009, when the government provides no satisfactory answers to the influenza pandemic during that year. It is the same people that would protest against the government for such poor information that will reorganize themselves around the policy to tax the Internet and create the #InternetNecesario movement.

After that, mass media begin to acknowledge that what happens in social networking sites can no more remain ignored. This is especially relevant when protests shift again, this time to ask for a null vote in the 2009 elections.

With time, we can see that social movements begin to create patterns of behaviour that can somewhat predict the evolution of the movement, its degree of participation, etc. So, social movements are certainly impredictable but some likelihoods of specific events and evolutions can be established after data analysis.

See the analysis on Google Trends by several terms causing citizen unrests developed by Alberto Escorcia.


Q: How do we measure impact? Is it the PAH the only one making an impact? Arnau Monterde: Indeed, most networks are if not integrated they are connected, even if many people do not realize that. For instance, much of the muscle behind and besides the PAH comes from the 15M network movement. The PAH is a school of activism just because it shares not only the values but the resources and the people of the 15M movement. So, the impact is actually not the PAH’s, but the impact of the whole network, despite the fact that one of the nodes may be more visible than others.

More information


Global Revolution. Three years of interconnected riots (2013) 10th anniversary

If it’s October 21st, then it’s anniversary. And if this is 2013, then it’s the tenth anniversary. Happy birthday,

As usual, first some figures and then some comments.

The first obligatory remark that needs being made is that I forgot celebrating the 9th anniversary. It is a surprising thing to acknowledge as I cannot remember being specially hectic at that time. Maybe the novelty of the site having been somewhat recently renewed contributed to forget the date.

On the other hand, Twitter has become so central in daily, quick news, that the whole dynamics of the site — and not only sharing special dates — have been affected by it. Thus, now many of the things that I do are not publicly announced on the website as they used to, but are just shared on Twitter once the corresponding file has been created in the personal repository. Now, the news section features only very remarkable milestones, mostly publications, leaving other stuff (speeches, for instance) fall directly into the personal repository and then shared on Twitter.

The second big, huge, change has been the creation of the second blog, SociedadRed in Spanish and about Spanish politics and policy — with some bias, of course, towards the Information Society. Yes, the blog has already been up for almost 4 years so far. But its activity has grown quite a bit in the last two, especially in the comments section: in less than four years, the blog has more than four times the comments of the main academic blog. In terms of comments per post, while the ICT4D blog has 1.16 comments/post, SociedadRed has 16.37 comments/post. That is a difference.

I am glad to ackowledge, though, that even if the second blog is not an academic one, a series of posts on the Spanish “Second Transition” has already been the seed to the paper Intención de voto en España 1978-2013. ¿Una Segunda Transición hacia una política extra-representativa? which I recently presented at an academic congress on political science. So, despite it not being an academic blog, I am glad to see that I am quite able to keep some rigour in my non-academic reflections.

By the way, both blogs have now the possibility to navigate through their archives in a much more comfortable way than before. Check that yourself visiting the ICT4D Blog Archives and the SociedadRed Blog Archives.

This year also saw the discontinuation of Google Reader, which took away my Blogroll, which was feed by Google Reader shared folders. Feedly is proving to be a good substitute, but it does not have this feature yet.

I cannot help by ending this reflection with a couple of negative notes.

The first one, of course, is about how increasingly difficult is to do research in Spain. Budget cuts in research and education in general (and especially in higher education) are making things very complicated. Just as an example, two of my academic communications in academic conferences required that I looked for an extra gig (a keynote in Granada and a workshop in Seville) to pay for my travel expenses. Not that I did not enjoy those gigs (on the contrary), but the point is that funding for research is really an issue — and, comparing with many of my colleagues, I cannot complain very much.

The second one is how the academy is increasingly locked in its own ivory tower. Research and policy are becoming so far away one from the other one that it will soon become difficult to make informed and evidence-based decisions. Scholars do not “waste their time” on policy papers, and decision-makers do not make the effort of digging into scholarly research. Many of the works that I did during 2013 are useless in academic terms. A complete, utter, sheer waste of time. An issue that raises an important dilemma: should the researcher focus only on “what matters” in academic terms? or should the researcher risk the academic career and try to make an impact even if it is outside of the scholarly track? or should the researcher — as I am myself struggling to do — try and play a role in both worlds? The latter is very satisfying, but a little bit stressing (and resources consuming). Any comments on that?


Createdestruct (II). Labs from the society

Notes from the Creative destruction. Social innovation initiatives conference, organized by the Etopia centre for art and technology and the ZZZINC collective. Held a the Centro Joaquín Roncal, Zaragoza, Spain, in November 27, 2012. More notes on this event: createdestruct.

Marcos Garcia, Medialab Prado

We are living a new digital disorder. Most categories have become useless: sciences/humanities, public/private, professional/amateur, producer/consumer, work/leisure, local/cosmopolitan, expert/”ignorant”.

New ways of organizing knowledge, new frames of actuation. New ways of thinking about culture as a lab for experimentation.

New actors: there has been a revolution on who can create or who can decide what is on the cultural agenda. Culture has become a read/write culture.

New ways of culture and new actors necessarily leads to new formats: barcamps, unconferences, hackatons, living labs… all of them happening in the open and where drafts are no more something to be hidden until it is finished, but something that is quickly released.

Other issues: replicability, new mediators, new ways of participation, the raising of the local factor, etc.

Labs become mainstream in social innovation: places where exhibition and creation happen at the same time. There is a constant dialogue between the creator and the visitor, that can be informed through exhibitions and end up participating in the ongoing projects. Labs: infrastructures + communities + methodologies. Communities are build around creation, the creation of prototypes following a methodology and with the help of some given infrastructures.

Open questions: how resources are distributed, the sustainability of cultural initiatives and spaces, how is people to be paid (if they have to), can citizen empowerment end up dismantling public services.

Pedro Jiménez, Zemos98 / 98 Lab

Public infrastructures have to build public goods, have to contribute to the public domain. Public infrastructures have to be a support, but also have to accept criticism, as cultural creation in based on conflict.

It should be possible that institutions and cultural creation can cooperate, be analysed critically, agree, partner strategically, etc.

In many senses, cultural creation has been a mirage that happened in a cultural desert and that has ended in the cultural desert that it was. Despite this, people in cities (like Seville, in the case of Zemos98) have started to self-organize around cultural creation.

A community around a project is crucial, not only for creation, but for (1) being able to distribute what is being created and let it be known and (2) in order to be able to pay the artist/creator for their work.

What are the limits of thinking by creating? Doubtlessly, research has to be open, shared.

One of the risks of cultural creation is the self-imposed need to reinvent oneself continuously. This leads to short-term thinking and not deepening into the issues that are being researched. We should reflect about the life of projects and let them last as long as they require. Maybe it is not a bad idea to, while keeping the idea of the lab (thinking by doing) also sometimes separating both scenarios: the creative part from the reflective or thinking part.

Nico Sguiglia, La Casa Invisible

Civic centres or social centres have traditionally had a very important role in community building, in reflecting about what is happening in the territory, how to improve it or how to fix what is broken.

At the end of the XXth century there is a redefinition of the social centre, moving from the “okupa”, punk, underground aesthetics to a more up-to-date discourse around the new actors and profiles of the community. This new discourse is then based in community building based on public infrastructures, in self-organization and self-management.

The Spanish Indignados or 15M movement heavily relied on these self-organized and self-managed spaces and communities and, reciprocally, these spaces and communities gained a lot of momentum thanks to social movements.

There is a big difficulty, though, in how to integrate different subjectivities. We like to think on the citizen management centres as bio-unions, as new kind of unions, unions of living projects.

It is important that criticism, cultural creation goes from the margins (of society) to its core, trying that the discourse becomes mainstream or reaches the mainstream agenda. Working on creating cultural conflict but also working on reaching citizen consensus. This consensus means that the civic centre has to speak many “languages”, many cultural registries so that no-one is excluded.

The civic centre also contributes to entrepreneurship by creating cooperatives, so that the centre is sustainable and its community can also have a worthy job.

Creation of the Fundación de los Comunes, which gathers several civic initiatives such as El Patio Maravillas, La Pantera Rossa, la Universidad Nómada, l’Ateneu Candela,, Traficantes de Sueños, La Invisible, La Tabacalera de Lavapiés or La Hormiga Atómica.


Q: is there any relationship between civic centres and traditional labour unions? Is there a possibility for a new kind of union? Spuiglia: there have been several initiatives of nomad unions, flexible unions, etc. The problem is that, still, these are organizations that have different languages and the meeting points are still difficult to reach.

Q: if the commons or public goods are no more provided by the state, what do we need the state for? Freire: public goods and the commons are different things, sometimes even opposed. Indeed, the commons belong to the private sphere, that is, not the public sphere. García: we should both try to recover a policy for the commons and recover what the state provided as public goods and services.


Open Parliament: the Senate in the Net (2012)

Conference series on trends in the Information and Knowledge Society

Logo of the [SIC] conference series

(crossposted from Debates sobre tendencias de la Sociedad de la Información y el Conocimiento).

With the goal to analyse and propose a debate on the nature and depth of this new framework of social relationships, the challenges it entails, for example, from the point of view of social inclusion, or opportunities from the perspective of health systems, social participation and education a series of conferences has been planned in Seville (Spain): [sic]*: Conference series on trends in the Information and Knowledge Society

The conferences are made up by six debates, and I am taking part in two of them:

1. Introductory session. 18 april 2012.

  • Topics: information society, network society and technological revolution, how ICTs have penetrated into European, Spanish and Andalousian societies, and what are or what should be the public policies in this area.
  • Participants: Eva Piñar, General Director of Technological and Information Society services at the Andalousian government; Ramón Compañó, programme coordinator at IPTS-JCR; Josep Lladós, director of the PhD on Information and Knowledge Society at UOC.

2. Progressing towards the Information Society. 2 may 2012.

  • Topics: present of the implementation of ICT at different levels: infrastructure, knowledge economy, legal framework, content and services. And delving into the economic dimension of the information society: business, resources, innovation, etc..
  • Participants: Ismael Peña-López, professor a the School of Law and Political Science at UOC; Marc Bogdanowic, leader of the Information Society Unit at IPTS-JCR.

3. Technological prospective. 16 may 2012.

  • Topics: what will be the future technologies, usage standards, protocols, etc..
  • Participants: César Córcoles, professor at the School of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunication at UOC; a TBC representative from IPTS.

4. ICT and Education. 6 june 2012.

  • Topics: aspects of the relationship between training and ICT, how educational technology is already helping to change the way it delivers training, how can ICT help in shaping tomorrow’s education.
  • Participants: Magí Almirall, director of the Office of Learning Technologies at UOC; Yves Punie, senior scientist at the Information Society Unit at IPTS-JCR.

5. ICT for Health. 20 june 2012.

6. ICT and citizen participation. 4 july 2012.

  • Topics: how ICT have changed the relationship between citizens and the government, what are the new forms of participation based on the use of ICT, Transparency, e-government, etc.
  • Participants: Ismael Peña-López, professor a the School of Law and Political Science at UOC; Gianluca Misuraca, researcher at the IPTS-JCR.

The [sic]*: Conference series on trends in the Information and Knowledge Society is organized by the General directorate of Technological and Information Society services of the Andalousian Government, the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies of the European Commission, and the office in Seville of the Open University of Catalonia (UOC).

I want to thank Eva Piñar and Alfredo Charques both for the initiative to organize the conference — when reflecting on what kind of Information Society we want is so necessary — and, of course, for inviting me to take part in it.