Communication and Civil Society (VI). The incidence of the new social movements. Exploring new fields for political action

Notes from the Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age, organized by the Communication and Civil Society seminar of the IN3 in in Barcelona, Spain, in October 26-27, 2011. More notes on this event: comsc.

The incidence of the new social movements. Exploring new fields for political action
Joana Conill (UOC-IN3, chair), Mònica Oltra (Coalició Compromís), Joan Subirats (IGOP), Raúl Sanchez Cedillo (Nomad University)

Mònica Oltra

Increasingly, governments and political parties lie as if their citizens were uninformed idiots. The political discourse has reached astonishing levels of misery that thus keeps the citizen away from politics. And it is very difficult to articulate a political discourse out of the party system, out of partidism.

Added to that, we live in an information blackout, as mass media have been taken over by political parties and lobbies.

Did the 15M Spanish Indignants movement had any impact on political parties and governments? Partly yes, as minority parties were just making the very same demands on the democratic process that were made on the 15M protests. Thus, these minority parties have somewhat been legitimated in their demands by the movements and, vice-versa, the social movements have also somewhat been legitimated by a part of the formal political institutions that are represented by the minority political parties.

But social movements should not be capitalized and appropriated by political parties, even minority ones. Parties should take part and participate in the movements — preferably at an individual or personal level —, but not appropriate them.

What parties can do is to represent the rhetoric of the invisible ones, the ones that are not represented by anyone, any political party, the ones that do not appear in the political agenda.

And the way to make (new) politics should be reporting accompanied by making proposals: “destroying” accompanied by “building”.

Participation is not freedom of choice amongst some given options, but freedom to decide what has to be chosen.

Joan Subirats

Democracy has been emptied out of values, and only the rules, the procedures remain:

  • Representation: citizens do not believe that political parties represent them anymore.
  • Intermediation: political parties do not seem to be channelling the needs of the citizens to the places where decision-taking happens.
  • Function: political parties do not represent the citizens because they are no more their equals. Politicians are privileged ones and thus cannot understand nor share the needs of “normal” citizens.
  • Insiders: political parties have evolved from citizen tools to influence the institutions to tools of the institutions to influence on the citizens.

The 15M movement is stating that politics can happen outside of institutions; that the public sphere is not the monopoly of the public powers; and that representation do not compulsory has to take place by means of institutions.

We need not to improve, but to transform. And this transformation might be a shift back to the commons:

  Polity Policy
Improve Reform of the voting system e-Government
Open Government
Transform Commons

Raúl Sánchez

It is difficult to tell where the thresholds of a movement are when it is based on network architecture and collective intelligence.

The 15M movement is an open, autopoietic system that is constantly creating and reshaping itself. The 15M is a movement based on Spinozan affections and the estigmergies amongst its members.

The 15M movement proved that it is possible to take decisions without anyone taking them. The 15M is a actor in a non-place, a neuronal network without a central subject, challenging the current scenario of politics, contesting the statement that things cannot be different.


Q: does the 15M need to move from movement, and embody itself in an organization? Sánchez: most probably the network that the 15M is definitely in need of a “body”, a formal way to present itself before the others. And this can happen formalizing its members in an organization, or achieving some milestones that define the movement through specific actions.

Mayo Fuster: I sometimes have the feeling to be watching a 15M ad, in the sense that few people acknowledge that many things just happened, without much planning, and most of them difficult to foresee. How do you see the 15M in a 10 year horizon? Oltra: got plenty of hope with people camping on the streets, hope that the movement won’t be absorbed by other movements or institutions, that it will achieve something. Subirats: don’t think that the 15M is not a movement, but the expression of a change of era. Thus, in a 10 years future, what is likely to happen is that some structural changes if have not happen they will certainly be slowly happening. Sánchez: most probably there will be the very same sense of transition that we are now living in, only deeper.

More information


Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age (2011)

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (VIII). Towards citizenship 2.0?

Notes from the 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress.
Session VIII

Round Table
Towards citizenship 2.0?

Eduard Aibar, Vice President, Research, UOC.

So, the landscape has changed… but have citizens? has the concept of citizenship so much shifted as, supposedly, has the Web?

Ana Sofía Cardenal, Professor of Political Science, UOC

We’re putting all our eggs in the Web 2.0 basket, but data seem to bring evidence that all the promises of the web do not seem to apply:

  • The demand for political information has not increased despite the supposition that it would be cheaper (in money, in time) to be informed on a digital socielty
  • The supposition that costs of information have decreased is at stake too
  • The participation does not seem to have changed either
  • Few sites collect most links: so information might be cheaper to diffuse… but only in specific sites

What’s the political blogosphere like in Spain? Hypotheses

  • Balcanization: atomization, decentralization
  • Few blogs get most audience, the rest remain invisible. But who are they? Are they influential?

David Osimo, e-Government researcher and activities coordinator, European Commission’s Institute for Prospective Technological Studies

Web 2.0 is an opportunity, but it’s not taking up. So, where or what are the limits?

  • Limited take-up: how to reach the second wave of adopters (after the digerati)?
  • not so important
  • invisible because pervasive
  • not sustainable financially
  • no time for this
  • exclusion
  • social fragmentation
  • intellectual property rights
  • steered by vested interests
  • lack of trust
  • lack of accountability
  • etc.

Different kind of participation, of citizens’ involvement

  • Producing content (3%)
  • Providing ratings, reviews (10%)
  • Using user-generated content (40%)
  • Providing attention, taste data (100%)
  • … of all Internet users (50% of EU population)

It’s not about mass collaboration, it’s about involving specific users, the most relevant ones.

  • There’s a gap from what the Government expected from the Web 2.0 (mass collaboration) with the reality of it (qualitative, relevant collaboration)
  • It’s a new way of doing the traditional “find-contact-ask the expert”: it’s not representative, but highly qualitative
Eduard Aibar, Ana Sofía Cardenal, Joan Subirats, Helen Margetts, David Osimo
Eduard Aibar, Ana Sofía Cardenal, Joan Subirats, Helen Margetts, David Osimo

Helen Margetts, Director of Research, Professor of Society and the Internet, Oxford Internet Institute

Skepticism is about ignorance of the online world.

Evidence shows that people rely on the Internet to find all the information they do not want to force themselves to remember. And the shift towards this attitude has been huge. For instance, if we ask people for politicians’ names, they might not remember them, but this is not political disengage, but optimization of their (memory) resources.

Smallest actions just like using YouTube to upload presumably stupid political videos might not be a lot, but it definitely is something, and it was not there before the Web 2.0.

The Internet has the possibility to reconfigure the dynamics and logic of collective action: allows geographically disperse groups to gather; increases the visibility/exposure of free riders; etc.

Joan Subirats, Professor of Political Science, Autonomous University of Barcelona

Have we adopted a new concept of participation 2.0? Have the new tools or way of behaving?

More individualization, higher presence, constant flow of information that challenges the concept of representativeness. And, indeed, if the majority is more heterogenous, the minority can still represent that majority? And, with such an intense presence and changing scenarios, do the results of the elections (happened 3 or 4 years ago) still apply?

The Web 2.0 challenges the concept of a Government and an Administration designed as benevolent omniscient institutions, that know what’s better for the citizenry… but that now is informed and can have their voice heard.

On the other hand, voting is cheap in effort for the voter. It actually is the cheapest way of participation. So, do we want to increase the burden/costs on the voter? Does he want so?

The web 2.0 leaves plenty of room for autonomy, equality (being aware of the digital divide, of course) and diversity. Does poor in the reaching of consensus and the collective creation of a common, stable project.


Me: Have we to redefine what participation is? is uploading a video to YouTube participation? is forwarding it to my contacts list participation? What’s the blogosphere? A blog? A blog aggregator? A blog + youtube + Flickr + Slideshare +… +…? Is the blogoshpere an unmeasurable hydra? Isn’t it as important as the aggregate the non-aggregate, personal approach of the emitter that can now send the message, more efficiently, with more efficacy. HM: Indeed, the reasons why people participate are many and very different. Thus, it is important to take into account any kind of participation, despite its aggregate impact, as it is a gate to participation itself and to political engagement.

Marc López: how can we use the Web 2.0 to operate smallest changes (e.g. to decide the menu of my children at their school with the other parents) without having to focus on big impacts? What’s the role of the Government in enabling and fostering this? DO: From Fix my Street to Fix my School. HM, JS: there’s plenty of room for policy making in these issues.


4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (2008)