The use of ICTS in the political process: citizen’s political participation relying on “new” technologies.
Political participation is generally viewed as a central requirement for democracy. While the extent to which citizens participate in the democratic process has to be evaluated by each political system, authors such as Teorell et al. (2007) believe that there is a general trend towards an increased involvement of individuals in the political process. The rise and adoption of ICTs, and mainly the internet, has triggered new forms of political action in domains such as information retrieval, discussion, deliberation and mobilisation. Indeed, technologies have become increasingly part of the political system as citizens, politicians and journalists rely increasingly on the internet and other technological devices to gather information, communicate and participate in political processes. If the 1990s have been overwhelmingly marked by a technological deterministic approach (cyber-enthusiasts vs. cyber-pessimists), literature seems to have become more down to earth since the turn of the century. Technology is indeed not inherently participatory. Its (non-)participative effects depend on cultural practices and political contestations that bring equally along opportunities and threats. However, by disrupting ‘elite dominance in the sphere of knowledge production and dissemination’ (Coleman, 2007), technologies such as the internet offer new possibilities for citizen engagement and political participation. The dialectical relationship between technology and society shapes ICT applications. Based on a pragmatic approach, Coleman (2007) argues that the political use of the internet has to be studied in a comparative way, focusing on the user and her/his interactions with technology. The objective of my research is to explore to what extent and in what way the internet transforms current political participation practices. In order to narrow down this question and understand the challenges rising on the internet, I am using qualitative research methods such as interviews with various political actors (citizens, activists, journalists, bloggers, politics, lobbyists) who use the internet to weight upon the political process. The first results lead me to consider that I might focus my further research on lobbyists in Brussels and the way they use ICTs for campaigning and exerting influence upon the political process at various levels (national, European). A comparison with case studies of protest groups seems for me the best way to contribute in a significant way to the emerging and growing field of e-participation.