IDP2009: Political Participation

(This was a live report. It’s late, so I’ve tidied it a bit more than for other posts, but the same cautionary notes apply, please and thank you).

This session was very interesting, but unfortunately will be discussed in a fairly general way here: the last session suffers from my multitasking, preparing the slides for the end-of-day report in a race against time that I am bound to lose. However, there was excellent coverage by others, including a rapid series of Twitter updates (including from the panelists) – perhaps prompted by the status of some of them as prolific and informative users of the same services and other platforms. Again, idp2009 is the tag.

The theme, then, was political participation and social networking, and all three presenters expressed some optimism regarding the link between the two. Leading things off, Maarta Cantijoch of the Autonomous University of Barcelona referred to the distinction between the channels in which individuals choose to make their voices heard. One way of drawing that the established academic discussion of conventional (formal – voting in elections, activist in political party, active i.e. campaigning) and non-conventional participation (protest, boycott, etc). The latter is more recently referred to as extra-representative although that term provokes some controversy, and there are important questions about how much of it is in parallel to established citizens. There are three broad categories of citizens: disaffected, critical, institutionalised: illustrated in a useful diagram, but in short, the disaffected are dissatisfied and little involved, the critical are involved but dissatisfied (the key for unconventional participation!) and the institutionalised are both satisfied and involved. Web 2.0 can mean new exchanges, new exposure to information, more interactivity, more young people – this talk was particularly helpful in that it drew upon Spanish research into political activity, which shows that certain uses of the Internet can promote participation in non-conventional ways, meaning the distance between the individual and the institutional sphere is somewhat different.

Jose Antonio Donaire is a politician in the Catalan parliament, but has a particular interest in new forms of politics. He is intrigued by how it is becoming possible to hold different opinions on different subjects rather than the more simplified ideological line of a group that has characterised the status quo. However, there is more to it than that, with a series of options including the more limited politics 2.0 where you see encouraging developments such as transparency and interaction, but also possibly limited to established politicians using new tools with existing political language. Through intermediate stages like media politics 2.0 (including such projects as the use of wikis for drafting) and politicised media, the clearest paradigm shift would be political spaces 2.0, with shifting concepts of the party and with the construction of a radically decentralised political space in and around platforms such as social networks.

Ricard Espelt discussed what he suggested some saw as a ‘Very Peculiar Project’, that of the use of technology in the town of Copons – Copons 2.0. Through communication, discussion and interaction, specific local problems are solved (including very ‘small’ ones), where problems are built on in to possible solutions. It’s in parallel to traditional administration but causes us to think about the purpose of politics. His visually arresting presentation can be reconstructed here . The purpose is to use social networking sites (generally open, inexpensive tools and ‘free’ (in both senses) where possible) – an the successes have been quite remarkable, especially from the point of view of ensuring accountability on the part of political representatives.

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