Tecnopolítica14 (I). Joan Subirats & Simona Levi. Political evolution of the 15M

Notes from the Network democracy and technopolitics. Transformations of the electoral space and new prototypes post-15M, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3, X.net and FCForum, in Barcelona, Spain, on November 4th, 2014. More notes on this event: tecnopolitica14.

Joan Subirats (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)
Political evolution from the 15M (2011) to the 25M (2014). A political science approach.

Traditional politics is not prepared for this upcoming change. There is no space for public affairs outside of the State. The approach is that of the homo economicus: politics as a market. Democracy is based on rules, not values: elections based on competitiveness, the winner takes it all, etc. Legitimacy is a mix of ideology and being functional in delivering services and welfare to the citizens.

And political science has a Fordist approach to this phenomenon, mainly based in an economicist approach or point of view.

On democracy: from the 15M to the 25M the frame upon which democracy is based has been broken. As this is the frame put into practice by the main political actors at the international levels, these actors have suffered a legitimacy shock. There is an attack to rules from the field of values.

A second major change is the confluence of new actors in the political arena. Constitutions had set who could participate in politics (i.e. institutions) and now new actors are vindicating taking part in politics. And taking part in politics from outside of institutions, which is, again, a dire change: there used to be no politics outside institutions, and now citizens are claiming public affairs as something which is theirs, and not the institutions’.

Participation is understood as doing, as acting. If institutions cannot deliver, citizens will organize, self-organize, and just do it. People won’t accept intermediation in politics, boosted by a powerful technological aspect.

There is the perception that the powers do not represent people because (1) they are not defending the interests of people, (2) because the political elites do not actually live like the people that they are supposed to represent and (3) because, all in all, the are actually taking no decisions. This is a triple breaking of the contract signed between representatives and citizens.

When institutions, the ones that are present in them, do not represent the ones that are absent, something is wrong. Especially when those who are absent, thanks to technology, could actually be present. The 15M makes it possible that the “nobodies” can take a leading role in politics, that they are relevant actors in the political arena, in the process of decision-making on public affairs. And this participation can take multiple shapes and be reshaped: we can change our identities, our networks, depending on our often changing interests.

From collective action to connective action. The 15M is not a movement, but a process of social connectivism (vs. the social constructivism that used to be). Processes are as important and results (or even more). And this is a new paradigm that separates the ones that do politics with the Internet and the ones that do politics on the Internet. Indeed, accepting the logic of the Internet means denying the logic of the party.

Simona Levi (X.net)
Political evolution of the 15M: the creation of 15MpaRato and the Partido X as examples. XXIst century democracy and myths about digital participation.

The 15M is completely alive and the first effects are already taking place, e.g. the end of bipartidism (the hegemony of the Socialist Party and the Popular Party).

The 15M is both a destitution and a constitution process, due to dis-intermediation of organization, information, etc. One can reach autonomy by practicing it, and this is what the 15M is doing: practicing new ways of political commitment and participation.

The 15M is a good remixing device. The 15MpaRato succeeds in remixing old existing things (e.g. fundrising) but in new ways (e.g. crowdfuding)

The Partido X places itself in the future and tries to bring to the present the view of what could be — and maybe should — and proposes a destituent process where institutions are emptied of content, and be filled with the civil society and their aspirations. It tries to make compatible a horizontal approach to participation and the need for a vertical structure that can challenge the established powers.

The frontal attack to corruption in Spain has become the flagship of the destituent part of Partido X: getting rid of old structures by getting rid of old practices (and old practitioners). While the constituent part is Democracy Period.

The Partido X believes that forking is not dividing strengths, but multiplying the fronts from which to attack a common enemy. Democracy is not agreeing on everything, but being able to live one with the other in disagreement.

This does not mean that we do not need professionals in politics: we do need them, we do want professionals in politics. The issue is not that they are “normal” people (i.e. not professionals, people like you and I) but how to control them, how to make their decisions transparent and accountable.

Transparency is not about telling absolutely everything, but opening up the “code”, the possibility to track decisions, to replicate them, to evaluate each and every step.


Q: how these political revolutions relate with the commons? Joan Subirats: there are three different fields (1) environmental sustainability, (2) the collaborative economy and (3) the digital commons. The first one has been deeply analyzed by Elinor Ostrom; the second one is about to be discovered, but there are already very good initiatives about it. Concerning the digital commons, while Jeremy Riffkin’s idea of marginal cost zero can be discussed, it is a good approach. An even better approach is Harvey’s approach to scalability. All in all, the central idea is that we should not surrender everything that is public to what is institutional, the state-centrism.

Pablo Aragón: how to build things economically? is all about crowdfunding? Simona Levi: it is not as much about raising money, but about being responsible of one’s actions, about leading them, about making real feasible proposals.

Javier Toret: taking the power or distributing the power? Joan Subirats: the key is representation by action, entering politics by doing things, by delivering, by actually representing the citizen.

Q: what happened with the Partido X? Simona Levi: the Partido X is in the future and speaks from there. The Partido X has leapfrogged a phase, the institutional one, which is the one that other new parties like Podemos or Guanyem are now following, channelling new messages to set up the destituent phase.


Network democracy and technopolitics (2014)

VIII Forum on Education (VII). New landscapes and new requirements for Education and their professionals

Notes from the Forum on Education. Innovation and networking, organized by the Institute of Education Sciences (ICE-UAB) and the Institute of Government and Public Policies (IGOP), and held in Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain, in January 10 and 11, 2014. More notes on this event: forumedu2014.

Round table: New landscapes and new requirements for Education and their professionals.
Chairs: Jordi Collet, professor of the Departament of Pedagogy, Universitat de Vic.

Ismael Peña-López, professor of Public Policies for Development, UOC; Director of Open Innovation, Fundació Jaume Bofill.

Joan Subirats, professor of the Departament of Political Science and Public Law, UAB, and researcher at IGOP.

Fordism put us into massification, by standadizing many processes and outputs. Digitization puts us into individual needs and emotions.

Our present is a public national educational system, to educate masses, and fostered by the State. But the idea of nation is questioned, the idea of system is opposed to network, the idea of masses goes against personalization. Heterogeneity is here to stay.

If what is “public” is in crisis because of the crisis of the state (or the nation-states), how can we vindicate public education, what is public, from the individual point of view? or from the collective but non-governmental point of view?

The concept of expertise, of the expert, is also challenged.

Bauman: how to build intelligent missiles that change their trajectory as targets move or change. How do we maintain an educational structure that is notwithstanding able to adapt to the always changing targets and environment. Can we create cooperating universities? Or universities that are cooperatives?

How can we make up new methodologies and structures and, more important, how can we generate agreements and consensus on how to sustain these new methodologies and structures.


Jordi Collet: is innovation ideologically neutral? Subirats: surely not. Peña-López: as innovation is the application of technology, and technology is the realization of science, it is very difficult to avoid adding ideology in each step of application.

Jordi Collet: how to go from theory to practice? Peña-López: 1) creating spaces of conversation, of sharing, enabling platforms, networks; 2) accelerate conversation; 3) foster skills to learn how to learn. Subirats: combining self-learning and processes of collaborative building.

Ramon Grau: how do we spread the gospel of innovation? how do we tear down the ancient regime? Peña-López: it may be just to soon for many people to acknowledge changes. It will take time and pedagogy. Subirats: raising awareness on new practices, new ways of doing things.

Q: How do we foster critical thinking and critical use of technology and networks? Peña-López: we should apply technology to improve training of trainers so that those can improve learning methodologies that can act upon pre-existing inequalities, as the knowledge gap hypothesis has evidenced again and again.

Joan Badia: How do we educate for uncertainty? what happens with values? Peñ-López: same answer as before: the Internet multiplies inequalities and values. We should act on the substrate at least to change the sign from negative to positive, so that when we multiply we are multiplying in positive. But changing or transferring values with technology and methodologies may not be the best way to change them. Subirats: fostering the idea that education is a common good (not a “public” good), and that it is in the interest of everyone to take care of it, to make it possible, to build it.


IX Fòrum Educació (2014)

PostDem (II). Joan Subirats: Governance. The Third Axis

Notes from the Institutions of the Post-democracy: globalization, empowerment and governance conference, organized by the CUIMPB and the Communication and Civil Society program. Held in Barcelona, Spain, the 17th August 2013. More notes on this event: postdem.

Joan Subirats. Governance. The Third Axis.

(Subirats’s session begins at 47:00.)

The separation of powers is based on the idea that powers are not to be trusted, but that they can be controlled by the other powers. The role of the government, in this scenario, is to represent those who are absent when and where they are not present. The government had two main components:

  • Competence: finding the solution or person that most fits for a given issue.
  • Hierarchy: sorting, according to the values, the several issues to be solved, including the ones that will solve them. It is thus a hierarchy of problems and people/institutions.

Is that still so? There is a growing problem with the definition of competences. More than levels of governments we should be speaking of spheres of government. Things have become complex.

Complexity has grown:

  • The heterogeneity of the population has increased notably. There are no more two social classes but many more and more difficult to be defined or delimited. This has created a more fragmented society.
  • The action of government has much more externalities (e.g. NIMBY syndrome). And the problem is that speaking with the affected stakeholders may not solve the issue, as the fragmentation of the society means that these stakeholders may not be representing all their peers.
  • We have grown in knowledge, but only to have less certainties: we know have complex answers for complex problems, and not simple solutions for simple problems. Tame problems have become wicked problems. More knowledge often implies that decisions are harder to make… and can end up not being taken.
  • Authoritarianism is becoming less accepted. Hierarchy and power is not enough, and people ask for deliberation and founded arguments.

We used to see power as status, and related with occupying an institution: the one who was sitting on an institution was the powerful one. But now, power is being able to exercise influence over the ones who make decisions or over the ones that have an influence over the ones who make decisions.

Thus, old politics is very concerned in occupying positions of power, of occupying institutions. And they work for the preservation of institutions and institutionalism. Institutionalising institutionalism: insiders vs. outsiders, decision-makers vs. normal citizens.

When some citizens state that you do not represent us they mean that (1) you are not answering my needs and (2) you are too different to me, and thus sure have different interests than I do.

What is changing?

There is a growing acknowledgement that “Politics” does not only happen within institutions, but also outside of them, on the streets, all the time. Politics do not end at parliaments and political parties, but outside of them.

This spreading of politics in everyday life, means also that vertical or homogeneous ideologies are less useful to provide answers or even to provide a good diagnosis of the issues at stake. It is no more about synchronicity, but about convenience, about flexibility.

In a network, authority is granted by peers, and not given by occupying a certain position. The processes of intermediation that do not contribute to the solution are automatically circumvented.

Hierarchy and competence are no more useful functions. A good function can be coordinating stakeholders, articulate solutions, being a platform for collective government, but not any more a core of power.

A new axis appears confronting old politics with new politics, the traditional way to approach government, problem-solving and decision-making and new approaches to face these challenges.


Q: do we need different ethics or philosophy for the “new politicians”? Subirats: A good definition of the old politician is the one that always has an answer. We need new ethics based on acknowledging that the world is complex, that solutions are many (or none). On the other hand, the traditional (and necessary) lack of trust or modern democracies surely has to give way to more trust in the collective to produce answers.

Q: how should be the design of the new institutions? SUbirats: influencing democratic institutions from the outside; dissenting from the actual institutions (which are also part of the problem) and proposing new designs; and resisting the old ways of functioning.

Lourdes Muñoz-Santamaría: how do we go from making proposals to making actual decisions? Subirats: it is true that making decisions is not only about aggregating different opinions or options. But it is also true that governments should acknowledge that many problems are wicked and that solutions are not simple. And defining the problem and finding out the solution collectively implies different ways of running a government. Increasingly, participating is doing, not being informed.

Marc Esteve Del Valle: is there really a third axis? Is actually the left-right axis over? Subirats: maybe not, but what we surely find is that people are less and less identified with the left-right axis. And, actually, there is people that identify themselves with new ways of doing politics and participating. The left wing has still many difficulties in understanding freelancers, cooperativism, etc. Our coordinates are so mujch Fordist that they have serious difficulties when it comes to understanding the World and providing good and effective answers.


Institutions of the Post-democracy: globalization, empowerment and governance (2013)