Monday, 11 January 2010
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
Monday, 9 November 2009
One stop will be in Bangalore, in this wonderful institute that combines research and advocacy re: the Internet: CIS.
In search for some possible research partners for the future, I compiled this short abstract that was meant to outline my interest in the question of participation:
The early and mid 1990s witnessed a surge of academic thinking and public debates around the democratizing power of the Internet. The most hopeful utopias of deliberative online communication and formation of active ‘subaltern counter-publics’ (Fraser 1992/1997) were countered with fears ranging from trivialization, fragmentation, even disappearance of widely and commonly shared issues, to viral distribution of non-democratic, ‘harmful’ content. Now the same debates are re-emerging once again in era that is witnessing the explosion of ‘social production’ in a multitude of digital platforms.The recent examples of the elections in two very different societies, the United States and Iran, provide just two cases where information production by non-professional individuals and loose associations, distributed via informal networks including social networking sites and microblogging, has played a major role in democratic processes.
A question remains: do social networks facilitate platforms for democratic debate and participation in our ‘post-broadcast’ democracies characterized by ‘a networked information economy’? And further, is or can there exist such a phenomenon as a ‘Citizen 2.0’ who actively participates in democratic processes (issue driven and/or local, regional, national, transnational) via digital media? So far academic scholarship has focused on theorization rather than empirical analyses, has tended to emphasise activities of social justice movements that are by default networked and proactive, and thus have ‘romanticised’ the participatory and democratizing nature of the Internet, web 2.0 and mobile communications (while most quantitative indicators tend to point towards concentrated and elite communication, and while digital divide still clearly exists). Needless to say, much of the hopeful theorization is European / Anglo-American, and there seems to be relatively little cultural sensitivity in grand visions of global public spheres.
My talk will not claim to provide answers to these paramount questions. Instead, I wish to raise more questions about (1) what should be researched about mediated democracy and citizenry in our time; what should we know? (2) How could we frame that research theoretically and conceptually? And (3) what kinds of methodological solutions might be useful in this context. Rather than presenting a comprehensive research agenda, I will suggest some ideas that would broadly connect to macro, meso and micro-level view of media, power and citizenship (c.f. Clegg 1989), and I will illustrate those ideas with some empirical examples of my current pilot work for a planned multi-country study on the theme. I hope to provoke a lively discussion, or, rather, a brainstorming session amongst us who care about the possibility of Citizen 2.0.
Ouch. I should have been more specific, articulate, all that. Some magazine from Bangalore contacted me with a blunt question: You'll lecture here but are you seriously advocating the concept of "Citizen 2.0" in a country where 3.7% of the population uses the Internet?
So I restate my research aim and interest here: I dislike utopias and big slogans (some described above). I'm interested in re-introducing the concept of citizenship in these debates, and the idea that it embeds the notion of participation. I'm interested in the totally different structural, socio-economic as well as policy contexts of the US, India and Finland that have to do with people, emdia and participation vis-a-vis people's experiences of participation.
Crazy or what, but I want policy studies to meet media ethnography, in a comparative context.
I love policy studies but we know many of the (quantitative) constraints. At the same time, as convincingly argued in this online essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, pol economy scholars look down on cult studies, often for a reason (every CS analysis seems to conclude that everything is a consequence of neo-liberal regime, as the sarcastic comment by, author of the essay Michael Bérubé, reads.) And we surely need to descriptively document practices of both "people" and different kinds of media organisations, to see the choices, and to reflect what might work and in which contexts.
I believe we need a multi-method, multi-theory approach if we want to theorise as well as impact the way we all see ourselves, and are seen, as citizens. When I've presented my research manifesto @CIS, in a few hours, I'll share the actual lecture & reactions.
Sunday, 25 October 2009
Thursday, 15 October 2009
Starting next July, every person in Finland will have the right to a one-megabit broadband connection, says the Ministry of Transport and Communications. Finland is the world's first country to create laws guaranteeing broadband access.
The government had already decided to make a 100 Mb broadband connection a legal right by the end of 2015. On Wednesday, the Ministry announced the new goal as an intermediary step.
Some variation will be allowed, if connectivity can be arranged through mobile phone networks.
This is a radical step, at least as in: the first in the world. However, to put things in context:
According to a recent poll by Statistics Finland, 82% of all Finns had used the Internet in the researched 3 month period last Spring. In that tiny country of 5.3 inhabitants 70% of Finnish households have already a broadband access.
[A comparison to my other home country: According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, in Spring 2009 63% of adult Americans had broadband access at home. This means a 15% increase from 2008. ]
But it should be noted that the Finns have had their visions about Internet connectivity long before one could even dream about something like the Obama administration & FCC's national plan that is in the making. Finland has been busy since mid 1990s with creating national strategies to ensure it position as a leading 'Information Society'. The first action plan was envisioned in 1995, followed by one in 1998, and another in 2007. The latest plan exceeds until 2015 and had initially included the 100 Mb vision cited above.
A great research topic: How did the 2015/100Mb plan -- and now the speeded-up version of 2010/1 Mb law -- come about; how did the argumentation pro/con manifest and the policy-making process unfold? Prof. Phil Napoli, a colleague and mentor from Fordham University, and I will look into that in the near future.
However, the topic has spinoffs: when online, searching information in English about the novel landmark law, I encountered quite interesting approaches to this piece of news. Alone the pictures used in some of the news items would make a fun cultural analysis of the Brand Finland and free image banks (a medieval castle in Turku in winter; a lake and red wooden cottages on a summer's day).
But it was fascinating to read how different sources commented this act of Finnish radicalism. Here are some samples:
CNN had made a story out of it and interviewed a legislative counsellor of the Ministry of Communication, a certain Ms. Laura Vilkkonen. Bless her soul for saying this, plain and simple: "Universal service is every citizen's subjective right." CNN also noted how Finnish are in accordance to the UN view of Internet access as human rights.
The story in the Guardian started with a slightly negative tone (the Ministry 'pushed' through the law that will 'force' telecoms to offer high speed access) but really focused on the reasons for such decision (sparsely populated country, business opportunities) as compared to the UK where the issue is a very concrete digital divide between those who're ITC savvy and those who never go online.
It was not so much the short news item but the related heated comments that, admittedly, startled me when reading Business Week's take on the matter. How about these world views:
Rainer: (...) It's just like needing a car to get to work. If you don't have one, you move to a place that's close to work, or has access to public transportation. Would you have the government of Finland also state that everyone has a right to a car? (...)
Mike J: (...) Welcome to "Robin Hood" socialism where we steal from the rich (who pay the majority of taxes) and give to the poor (who don't pay taxes or pay much less of a percentage). Then when the rich have no money left, their employees will get laid off and the government will have not have a money source. (...)
Dave: (...) There are only three ways that the Finnish government can guarantee this right to all of its people. They can:
A)Use the threat of force to mandate ISPs to provide service to all of its people without being paid (aka slavery)
B)Use the threat of force to mandate that all Finn's must pay some type of tax to subsidize internet service to all people whether they want to or not (aka slavery)
C)A mix of the two via some type of scheme of forcing people into plans, price capping and subsidies (aka slavery)
Whichever of these three paths they take, the Finn's are putting a gun to the head's of innocent vicitms in their own citizenry and forcing them to provide this service to its people. (...)
OK. We all know how online commentaries may sometimes be in style and way of argumentation. And the thread included positive feedback to the Finnish policy-makers, as well.
Still... perhaps most interesting observation for me, as a Finn, was how relatively little attention the law received in Finnish online media. One way to look at it is that we are too jaded with our Info Soc and other social/cultural/industrial policies that characterise a social welfare state, so we don't see what kind of radicalism this decision signifies to some audiences, countries... To be sure, there exist claims and increasing evidence of dismantling several aspects of that welfare society -- as we've known it in the past.
But the Finnish decision on broadband access is radical in its 'old-fashioned' approach: it views Finnish citizens as, well, citizens, even in the context of the new networked information economy.
Friday, 2 October 2009
Monday, 28 September 2009
“There is a real window of interest when people want to know something,” (...) “And that window slams shut pretty quickly in the media cycle.”
I wonder whether fast-paced book publishing can produce thorough, quality, well-written accounts of current affairs, simply because the author has to produce plenty of words to fill the pages. And is the book format the best one to serve audiences who want in-depth, contextual information about a current, newsworthy topic? Is this mode of publishing to non-fiction what Metro is to conventional nation-wide or regional newspapers?
I also think there's a certain parallel to academic publishing, too. I would really like my work to be current and relevant. I think it is the responsibility of scholars to take part in ongoing public debates. I salute online journals like the International Journal of Communication for being platforms for timely analyses. Yet, sometimes time (and lots of it) is needed for an article -- or a book -- to develop into a many-sided, wise, reflective, useful commentary or vision.
My prediction is that there will be a 'slow-publishing' and 'slow-journalism' movement, parallel to slow-food movement. The race for 'real time' and short Twitter-style commentaries in all media will make well-researched, well-written, well-edited essays and reportage delightful delicacies that more and more audience members will want to savour as special treats. And hopefully the movement will be embraced beyond few elite gourmands, especially via new forms of public media and new non-profit journalism efforts (as this current article by the Nieman Journalism Lab @Harvard may lead to expect).