torsdag 15 mars 2012

Articulating alternatives

Today was the deadline for submitting an abstract (250-words) to the one-day workshop "Articulating alternatives: Agents, spaces and communication in/of a time of crisis". The workshop will be held in London in the beginning of May and I will get to know if my submission has been accepted in just a week from now. In fact, I am the (co-)author of two different workshop submissions, and they both build on the two applications to Riksbankens Jubileumsfond that I (we) handed in last month. The workshop submissions actually have exactly the same names as the applications for research funding had.

Despite the fact that these short submissions are very similar to (but not the same as) the research application abstracts that I published here on the blog only five weeks ago (here and here), I still go ahead and publish them both below. This blog is partly for my readers, but partly also a handy way for me to keep track of what I did and when I did it. It is thus great for me to later be able to look up and have access to these abstracts here on the blog (even though they are slightly redundant to read for the hard-core regular reader - if I have any such readers).

As to the workshop, it seems to be really interesting and the topic overlaps a lot with both of my research applications. I thus hope to be able to attend the workshop and meet great people with similar interests. To have an "instant network" of people with similar interests would be a great way to start a research project...

The workshop call (invitation) starts against a backdrop of a bunch of terms which sounds "fun" (or rather "interesting" or "pertinent"); intensification of neoliberal logic ... crisis of capitalism ... de-legitimisation of political institutions ... citizens lose trust in the political process and confidence in the capacity of political elites to protect their interests ... emergence of actors which challenge the neoliberal hegemony and seeks to construct alternatives.

Is is just a coincidence that one of the workshop organizers, Eleftheria Lekakis, just has to be of Greek origin? I don't think so! Should I get to attend the workshop, I will also have a closer look at the "Center for the study of Global Media and Democracy" to which the organizers belong. There are links and references to some resources there that sound very interesting, for example the "Urban Food Futures: ICTs and Opportunities" event.

The call itself could easily have been cut down by a third to become leaner and tighter. It veers between many (too many?) different disciplines and concepts:

"We welcome submissions [...] from diverse disciplinary backgrounds including (but not limited to): media and communications, sociology, politics, anthropology, cultural studies, geography, and information studies."

The call is also a little "overloaded" and partly repeats or states similar or overlapping concepts and ideas several times and/or in different places. Stuff that I can find and that is (at least partly) covered by the call include:

- Crisis, resistance, counter-capitalist voices
- Mediated communication
- Conventional/mainstream media (commercialization, concentrated ownership, crisis)
- New information and communication technologies, social media
- Politics (democracy, citizenship, confidence in politicians and the political process)
- Public spheres
- The physical (the city, squares, streets) and the virtual
- Agents/actors
- Organization, mobilization (social movements)
- The nation-state (and transnational/global communication and social movements)
- Global economic actors (not specified further which those are - only corporations or also NGOs and institutions?)
- Knowledge production and the articulation of alternatives

... and how everything above relates to everything else above.

That's a hefty bunch of concepts - a bit of this and a bit of that. The risk is that many feel called to attend by a superficial agreement about the purpose of the workshop, but that this nominal agreement will later crumble as it turns out different participants have (widely) differing interests. If the workshop becomes too broad in its scope, I worry that I will not get that much out if it, much like I felt after I attended the "Culture of ubiquitous information" workshop one and a half years ago. This was the core of my analysis/criticism at the time:

"This is the inherent problem in gathering a very interdisciplinary crowd, in this case "integrating researchers from cultural studies, science and technology studies, computer science, interaction design, media studies, art history and digital aesthetics". I guess it's possible to have a fruitful conversation together, but with very diverse participants, a more strict form/format is called for. Participants should perhaps (in some way) be forced to engage and analyze a common theme or problem. I think we were supposed to have done that, but I would say that the organizers of this event should probably have worked harder to nudge/make sure/force people to focus on the same thing (but still, fruitfully, drawing on their different backgrounds and perspectives)."

I think the main schtick of the Articulating alternatives workshop is "to explore some of the complexities of the relationship between mediated communication and politics in a time of crisis" (but it's a little difficult to discern if that is it, or what the actual emphasis of the workshop might otherwise be). Perhaps the organizers themselves were not 100% sure before they sent out their call for participation? If so, I hope they themselves become clearer about it and with a gentle but firm hand will "steer" the workshop in a specific direction, instead of allowing the participants to pull it in many different directions. And finally, here are the submitted abstracts:


Cities of sharing and the growth of postconsumerist cultures

Against a backdrop of fatigue of consumerist culture, privatized public spaces, coupled with the economical and ecological crises, different forms of citizen-initiated sharing schemes have appeared. Rather than just mass-consuming goods, citizens create common-pool resources and systems of sharing tools, vehicles, gardens, working spaces, clothing, books etc. These schemes can be organized in a variety of ways, sometimes appropriating and changing the use of private/public space and creating new hybrid spaces. Reasons for engaging in such schemes may vary and can be politically, ecologically, socially and/or economically motivated.

Our aim is to explore how and why sharing and co-creation schemes appear and function, and reflect on their wider implications for social, economic and spatial (re)organization. We suggest that sharing schemes can be theorized in terms of commons-based peer economy (Benkler, 2006) and as urban commons (Ostrom, 1990, Blomley, 2004). According to Benkler, commons-based peer production (in the digital realm) is the harbinger of a larger societal transformation, away from twentieth-century industrial and proprietary forms of production towards collaborative and commons-based forms of production. Benkler argues that this mode of production – now operating on non-rival (endlessly reproducible) digital goods such as text, music and film – is potentially applicable also to rival goods such as food and other basic utilities. We explore to what extent theories of peer economies and Ostromian notions of self-organized forms of governing can be used or developed for understanding contemporary sharing schemes of food, spaces, means of transport and other utilities.


Networking through crises

The “triple crisis” (economy, ecology, energy) creates anxiety about the future. For some, this triggers a decision to change and “crisis-proof” their lifestyle. The initial step is nowadays to use the Internet to search for information and seek out and associate oneself with topical social networks - online and offline.

In articulating alternatives in a time of crisis, most political activism is conducted against, but still within the framework of the current political and economic system, i.e. most activism aims at (more or less radically) reforming the current system. We are however mainly interested in persons who don’t bother (any longer) to articulate their critique by protesting against, but who instead explore alternatives by practical action.

We are specifically interested in the intimate interplay between the use of ICT and the practical transition to “crisis-proof” or “resilient” lifestyles. Such a move is difficult as it can involve disassociating oneself from mainstream values and mainstream society both mentally – creating a revised world view - and practically – creating a new life. Online and offline networks are crucial in supporting this process.

Our focus is on two social movements that represent different responses, but that both engage in practical preparations for facing current and future crises: 1) the collectively oriented “inclusive” Transition Town movement and 2) the more individually oriented “exclusive” network of “neosurvivalists”.

Our theoretical starting points are 1) “alternative computing” (Stallman 2002, Lievrouw 2011), i.e. using technological infrastructures for social change, 2) Social movements theory (Tilly 2009, della Porta and Diani 2006), especially concerning the role of ICT in social change (Diani 2001, Bennett and Segerberg 2011, Earl & Kimport 2011) and 3) literature about social capital (Putnam 1993, Putnam 2000) and (online and offline) communities (Nisbet 1953, Asplund 1991, Rheingold 1994, Oldenburg 1997, Pargman 2000, Bauman 2001).


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