Monthly Archives: November 2012

Thinking through politics, democracy and technology

In the spirit of Loader and Mercea’s  claim that “testimony, story telling, greetings and rhetoric can all be employed as discursive forms of democratic engagement” (2011, 761), I was inspired to write a weekly response piece for one of my seminars in a slightly more narrative form.[1]

The acquisition of an iPhone or access to a social networking site does not determine the engagement of citizens (Loader and Mercea 2011, 761).


“What’s on your mind?”

Habermas’ public sphere has not materialized. Web 1.0 never even had a chance. A sphere free of social difference and politics? That would and will not come to pass, regardless of the digital space and technology. Web 2.0 – does it necessarily lead to ‘politics’ and ‘democracy’? What do these terms even mean or look like in practice?

what do I mean when I talk of ‘the political’ anyway?

…a more open conception of democratic citizenship…open instead to a more personalized and self-actualizing notion of citizenship… that recognizes the multiplicity of identity positions that citizens are required to grapple with in contemporary societies, where the spheres for democratic engagement reach into the private spaces to enable the personal to become political (Loader and Mercea, 761).

The personal becoming political. Reaching into private spaces. I retreat to my screen, a safe place to write. Yet I don’t have the courage to speak up in a crowd. To stand up as a worker, for labor, for my own politics. My politics is by making my home public. I bring people to my table to build community, compassion, relationships. My personal becomes… political? these politics. what do they look like .  what work do they do? through small actions, I activate changes, make small challenges to larger systems. even in  questioning the larger structure and system, I grapple.  I become political.

Although various modes of communication, institutional structures, or technological systems may appear to remain stable over time, in fact mediation is a continuous process of countless small adaptations – interrelated reconfigurations and remediations that gradually produce new practices, artifacts, and social arrangements, and thus whole infrastructures, like the changes that occur when small parts of a building or machine are replaced over time (Lievrouw 2011, 234).

Ok. So I enact the political through small change over time. Technology, society, institutions, individuals, collectives… we reconfigure and remediate our systems and content in a dialectic process of mediation. Constantly adapting, constantly reworking, constantly producing new knowledge and ways of knowing; we create new frameworks and technologies and simultaneously construct new epistemologies. This is the making of knowledge politics. Again, the political.

New spatial media knowledge politics… [are] deeply intertwined in the political-economic and institutional contexts of the types of organizations [profiled here]. The hardware, software and other digital capabilities of new spatial media are of course part of the story, but also deeply implicated are the material and discursive contexts in which NGOs, community based organizations and civic engagement groups operate (Elwood and Leszczynski 2012, 13).

Purchasing an iPhone does not make an activist an activist. A reconfiguration of that technology to help make sense and remediate the artifacts, encounters, interactions, practices and relationships of our current time, current material/discursive context… this can activate the activist. This can open up private spaces for political expression. This can enable narrative to tell a political story. Multiple forms of rhetoric, multiple forms of democratic engagement.

Access to sites of citizen(ship) does not determine the engagement of social networks or the acquisition of an iPhone.

[1] Credit to Magie Ramirez for inspiring this type of writing.