Technologies of Citizenship: Power and the Transformation of Public Participation
Ultimately, this research is about power. It is not only about the power to include or exclude, but also about the power to enable or disable particular kinds of social action and cultural behaviours. Emerging technological initiatives, literatures and global practices are juxtaposing new technologies with citizenship, frequently suggesting that nations and ethnicities no longer solely determine who are or can become citizens; indeed, new technologies are often causally linked with the emergence of ‘new’ political subjectivities, processes and cultures. In these ways, new technologies are implicitly and explicitly attributed with enabling ‘new’ and deepened ways of being a citizen and new or transformed frameworks of (and for) citizenship. My research addresses this relationship, challenging the causal relationship so often assumed between new technologies and citizenship, asking: what is the relationship between the two? Are new media constructed to enable new and open citizenship frameworks or participatory mechanisms, and if they are, how do they do this? In order to answer such broad questions, I have developed a threefold project based on an extensive analysis of ‘new’ citizenship literatures (e.g. netizenship, cybercitizenship, e-citizenship etc.), a case study analysis of two UK based new media citizenship initiatives (BBC’s Action Network and Proboscis’ Urban Tapestries), and finally, a comparison of the literatures to the empirical data. Bringing social and citizenship theories together (Marshall, Bourdieu, Habermas) with literatures on ‘new’ technologically mediated citizenship, shows that the role of new technologies are often justified and positioned through emerging civic practices based on three primary areas of influence: enabling more democratic and expanded membership systems; introducing new publics and social territories; and establishing new de-territorialised citizen rights and obligations. This research aims to uncover the discursive construction of technologically mediated inclusion and connectivity in two ‘ideal’ contexts. Although still under analysis, my findings support arguments that new technologies are effective in ‘connecting the connected’ (Norris) and in deepening ‘citizenship’ for those whose communities of practice that already value community building, networking and more democratic political spheres. In my case studies, new technologies clearly enhance individualised forms of behaviour and a consumer-style of public interaction for users, yet for producers, the use of new technologies point to the construction of elite citizens and/or new media enabled kinds of citizenship. The question of the cultural importance of user generated public resources remains; its answer suggests that new technologies are a catalyst for shifting the locus of citizenship power from government to media institutions and elites.