Francisco Jurado: Thesis Defence. Francisco Jurado: Political representation in the age of Internet. The case of Spain
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:
- Symbolic representation
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.
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?
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!
Ismael Peña-López, UOC/IN3
Towards a new citizen democracy
Data empowers citizens.
It is now possible who donates to political parties, who is lobbying, what are the expenditures of a government and in what is the money expended, what are the e-mail accounts of our elected representatives, it is now possible to access data and registries for free. But this is not happening in Spain.
There is no word for accountability in Spanish (just approximations). And this shapes mindsets. We have to raise awareness that accountability exists as a concept. Spain is the only big country in Europe without an access to public information law. Such a law is much needed in Spain.
Some initiatives of Fundación Civio:
Opening data can even be good for business: euroalert.net reuses public data and generate profits for the entrepreneurs that built the site.
In 2006, a pregnant congresswoman implied that the law had to be changed so that she could vote electronically from home. There also is a right to petition to question political representatives about issues of importance.
Democracia 4.0 asks for the possibility that anyone can vote what is being discussed in the Parliament, directly, electronically, and substracting the proportion of one’s vote from the elected representative’s. Because citizens do not vote: the elect the ones that will vote in their names.
Such a system has to be open, hosted in public servers, guarantee the vote, be accompanied by discussion fora (it is not only about voting, but about discussing too), simulations should be possible, clear and sufficient information, and easy participation.
Democracia 4.0’s model corrects politics based in competition, leaks of sovereignty, is based on liberal principles. It implies the end of block politics, it allows for timing and accountability and transparency. The model shifts from dis-representation to the distribution of power, avoiding the distortions of the “man in the middle”. It also enables the veto of the citizens to certain policies.
With new methods of participation we are not substituting democracy and politics with another “thing”, but strengthening it.
Santiago Cirugeda: It would be interesting to also evaluate the citizens, especially citizen organizations: how much they have been subsidised, how much they lobby (and win), etc. On the other hand, how do we evaluate these citizen initiatives that aim at another kind of democracy?
Open Parliament: the Senate in the Net (2012)
Round table: Networked democracy and new institutionality. New models for the XXIst century democracy
Chairs: Ismael Peña-López (ICTlogy)
Transforming institutions is compatible with occupying them, with questioning them, with trying to design new institutions. A key factor, though, of transformation or substitution of institutions is that major consensus and critical masses are required for changes to happen. There is a need to weave strong and broad alliances to question the status quo: it is a matter of democratic density.
There are many grounds that need being covered before citizen activism can take place. New laws on transparency or accountability are great milestones that enable further political activism. On the other hand, many of these laws are being designed as isolated laws and not as a part of a legal ecosystem.
Some times it’s institutions the ones that make the first steps (e.g. the Basque Government and the budget for 2012). These initiatives are good places that the citizenry can use to build bridges between institutions and social movements.
But while some institutions are trying to be more open, transparent, participative, this does not happen within political parties, whose DNA is just the opposite of the DNA of the movement of the XXIst century: centralized, vertical, often undemocratic and non-participative. We need to deeply transform political parties to their roots.
Top priorities: democratization of internal processes and creation of a culture of ideas (and not of mottos).
Social movements need less self-complaceny and dispersion: it is not about getting there first (and alone), but about getting there all together.
Democracia 4.0 aims at more participation, at understanding participation not as a problem but as a value, as an opportunity. A participation that can be either direct or representative depending on the personal will of the citizen.
A first foundation of Democracia 4.0 is that its technology must guarantee all democratic rights (privacy, security, etc.) and be, at the same time, as transparent as possible. Transparency is also about the workings of the tool, which has to be easy to use so that participation can take place without barriers.
The different powers are not balanced — there is no ‘check and balance’ — and the way to fix this is to distribute power: enabling better ways of watching power, of transparency, of accountability. Distribution of power also breaks with “politics in blocks”, where voting usually is not about specific issues but about sets of issues which cannot be voted individually.
Representative democracy, through intermediation, creates big hubs of power: Internet is a huge disintermediation machine that can end up breaking those big hubs while democratic efficiency and efficacy may not suffer at all. On the other hand, this lack of big powers would also enable vetoing specific laws that are unpopular or plain awful.
We can demonstrate that our political system is not compact and coherent (in Kurt Gödel’s words).
In the Internet matters not what (or who) but how (and where). Though focussing on the how the what gets revaluated.
The governance of communities based in the commons: laying the foundations of an open source democracy?
The social web has change the way we can communicate and create content. A good side-effect of social media is that participation many times just happens, unconsciously, on the run. This creates several different profiles according to how people approach creation of content: the amateur, the professional, the final user, the white hat and black hat hacker, etc. In this scenario, the amateur plays a key role and constitutes a new “class” as they become the new controllers of the means of production. New economies are created: sharing and aggregation economies, crowdsourcing economies, commons-based economies… What are the consequences of the emergence of these new economies? Is that a good or a bad thing?
Commons-based economies have ways of organization that are different from traditional for-profits, as they foster social dynamics that play a very important role producing value for the public domain. This value is created through peer-production.
If peer-production can create value in the field of information and knowledge, peer-governance can do the same in the field of politics. Unlike centralized power, on peer-production authority is the currency and ‘benevolent dictators’ have arisen to their positions by contributing with their work.
Abundance of intellect + resources + tools = unpredictable outcome. This is a difficult to handle outcome, by the way.
Cooperation + abundance + desktop manufacturing: another way of “manufacturing” an open source democracy.
Alberto Lumbreras: how can we enable that representatives can be an option in parallel with direct democracy? How can we avoid that someone votes everything while others do not even notice? Francisco Jurado: the idea is not to create an total substitute, but an alternative to a one and only way to do things. The problem is not the system’s, but how we communicate and deliberate about issues.
Alberto Lumbreras: how can we avoid a commons-based economy from being stopped? Vasilis Kostakis: Commons-based economics is an alternative, but based on capitalism. Thus, it is much constrained by its legal framework. The idea is to go beyond this framework by entering the new mindset taht a digital economy is not based on scarcity or transaction costs.
Joan Coscubiela: it should be possible to “use” the insiders of the system to change it from within, but fostering change from the outside. Joan Coscubiela disagrees that unions are as centralized and hierarchical as political parties, but that the problem of unions is that they were created in the industrial society, vertical, corporate, not horizontal and networked. For unions the problem is creating critical mass around common axes. Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí: it is interesting to see representative democracy as an “administered sovereignty”. In an industrial society, parties and unions worked very well; but what happens in a digital society? How are parties and unions administering our sovereignties? Do political parties and governments really understand the people they are serving?
Ismael Peña-López: in a direct democracy, in a binary world, how do we take into account minorities that will never be able to be represented by a majority? Francisco Jurado: we can design participatory processes that take into account weightings for different opinions, so that the outcome is not a yes or a no, but a shade of grays. Arnau Monterde: indeed, it is not only about voting, but if the whole deliberative process is open and participatory, all these shades of gray can be taken into account in the final outcome. Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí: agreed, but it is very difficult to carry on a complex debate without polarization and simplification, without echo chambers that do nothing but resonate.
Q: these improvements are ok for parliaments, but what happens with governments? Francisco Jurado: if the government is loyal to the parliament, then there is no problem. Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí: regarding governments, new ways of democracy can play a major role in accountability.
Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet (2012)