söndag 26 februari 2012

Unlike Us - Alternatives in social media

I first heard about "Unlike Us: Understanding social media monopolies and their alternatives" in November by reading about it in this blog post. It sounded interesting, but I didn't really "get" what it was. The first event took place in Cyprus in November and the second event is coming up soon (Amsterdam, March 8-10). This one-minute video will leave you scratching your head, but will still give you hints about what it's about. "Unlike Us" is also listed as a "project" at the Institute of Network Cultures (INC) in Amsterdam.

Unlike Us is about "alternatives in social media" and it brings together artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who are discontent with today's social media regime - where we trade our privacy for convenience, and where distant, powerful "others" convert huge amounts of personal data into revenue streams.

The goal of the Unlike Us network is to 1) "analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms" and 2) "propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software".

The concrete activities through which this will happen is events, readers, workshops, online debates and campaigns. The "about" page is detailed, bombastic and very long-winded and reads partly like a manifesto for... something different than what we have today: "social media [...] call for a new understanding of classic dichotomies such as commercial/political, private/public, users/producers, artistic/standardised, original/copy, democratising/disempowering". It sounds idealistic and perhaps also unrealistic, but I'm all for it - even though it's a little bit unclear exactly what will/should happen and how this will come to pass. Read for yourselves. Unlike Us lists no less than 15 "Topics of Investigation":

1. Political economy: Social media monopolies
2. The private in the public
3. Visiting the belly of the beast
4. Artistic responses to social media
5. Designing culture: Representation and software
6. Software matters: Sociotechnical and algorithmic cultures
7. Genealogies of social networking sites
8. Is research doomed?
9. Researching unstable ontologies
10. Making dense of data: Visualization and critique
11. Pitfalls of building social media alternatives
12. Showcasing alternatives in social media
13. Social media activism and the critique of liberation technology
14. Social media in the Middle East and beyond
15. Data storage: Social media and legal cultures

I have a feeling that it is difficult to understand what Unlike Us really is about (apart from what it - in a slightly convoluted way - says it is about) without attending one of the events. Hopefully I will get a better idea by following Astrid's blog since she will attend the Amsterdam event less than two weeks from now.

PS (March 2012). Here is the Unlike Us blog. The quality of the blog posts are high!

onsdag 22 februari 2012

Beyond sports vs games - my take-home lessons

When I wrote my Games vs sports workshop proposal back in November, the short text/proposal was at the same time the blueprint for a (then-future) study. The call for papers for the workshop actually made the study come into being, and it it wouldn't have been for the workshop, the study might possibly not have happened (definitely not right now anyway).

I have since interviewed 10 persons (in average ≈1.5 hours each) and I have collected wonderful material. I would have wanted to come a lot further in terms of working on (analyzing) that material, but that didn't happen before the Sports vs games workshop I attended last week. I just don't know where time flies, but it does. Not that I didn't have a lot to present and talk about anyway, but I have to admit I hadn't come as far as I had expected before attending the workshop. But leaving that aside, what did I get out of the workshop, and what help was the workshop in understanding what I have and what I can do with my study and with the material I have collected?

Out of the 10 workshop participants, six were primarily interested in sports games, three (me and organizers T.L. Taylor and Emma Witkowski - see previous blog post) were interested in competitive computer gaming (e-sports) and one person had more general (non-digital) games interests. By reading the other participants' abstracts as well as some participant-selected academic papers, I could better orient myself and got a better understanding of what I am interested as well as what I am not interested in (pursuing) in the sports-vs-games-field.

My primary reason for attending the workshop was to gather suggestions for theories and academic papers that could help me understand and interpret my data, as well as concrete suggestions for conferences or academics journals that I could aim for. It's good to know the direction of your goal as early as possible (preferably already before you start to analyze and write long chunks of text).

In preparation for the workshop, I tried to apply Guttman's criteria for "sportification" (i.e. the defining characteristics of modern sports - which also describe how an activity goes from a pre-modern pastime to a modern sport) to the practices I have studied (competitive programming). While I have read Guttman's book, I used an article by sports researchers Jonassson and Thiborg (available online) as a shortcut, because they have done the exact same thing but applied to e-sports instead of competitive programming (in a 2010 article that was published in the journal Sports in Society). I thought it would be a piece of cake, but as soon as I started to work on it I found (many) complications. Which could be seen as a problem, or as an opportunity (more work, but also more analytically fruitful if I can crack this nut). The difficulties I encountered was a surprise though, and I wonder if the application of Guttman to e-sports really was as clear-cut and simple as it looks like when you read Jonasson and Thiborg's article?

A large part of what I got out of the workshop happened already before the workshop, and in preparation for the workshop. Being forced to present your stuff forces you to think it through. My most important conclusion was that I could find no less than five different directions in which I could develop and write up my material:

1 Into games and game studies.

The best-case scenario would be to write five distinctly different papers (based on the same material) and send them out in five different directions. Since that isn't really realistic, the question instead becomes what I can do with less-rather-than-more effort, but even more importantly, in which direction(s) I would like to move from a strategical point of view (taking into account other, non-competitive programming interests of mine and the direction in which I would like to take my research "career"). I haven't really been this goal-directed before, but I just can't read up on a new area/discipline for each new study and for every new article I want to write...

I have thus decided to not put a lot of effort into developing this material in the games (1) or the sociology of sports (3) direction, nor into the education (5) direction either. At least not on my own. I think the sports direction is really really interesting, but the problem is that I don't have the background for writing such a paper (e.g. I just don't know enough about the area to be able to do a good job without spending a lot of time reading up). Worse, I don't really want to spend a lot of time reading up on that area because that is not the direction I am heading in. I have a limited amount of time and have to ask myself how to spend it wisely.

I would however love to team up with someone in each of those three areas and write something together - are there any takers out there reading this? I could even hand such a writing "project" over to another person and settle for a slightly withdrawn, second-author role. Especially if my partner had empirical material/case studies of his/her own that would be relevant and that would make the paper better and more interesting compared to "only" using my material. The alternative is to team up with someone who doesn't have material of his/her own, but who can still help "frame" the material (connect it to the discipline/area and relate it to current issues and discussions) and write up a great article. All of this would of course have to be preceded by lengthy discussions, but that's not "work" but rather just "fun". Lively intellectual discussions are a joy, but reading up and writing an actual article is hard work and a lot of effort.

As to the Internet/hacker culture and leisure studies directions, the first would be the easiest to figure out for me. I am considering submitting something to the Internet Research 13.0 conference (March 1 deadline for a 600-800 words abstract - not a piece of cake but totally do-able). Leisure studies would be tougher, I don't know enough about the area, but as apart from sociology of sports, it is a strategically more interesting area for me to read up on. I have been interested in leisure studies before, but didn't plunge into it at that time. I do have a "package" of ten or half a dozen interesting articles (somewhere) that is the result of searching for literature - but I never came around to reading it and would have to spend some time just finding where I put it (some five years ago or so...).

As to my study of competitive programming in itself, the world finals will be held in Warsaw, Poland in May. I am considering going there to collect more/different material - and to see a competition with my own eyes instead of just interviewing people who have been at numerous competitions (sounds like a good idea, doesn't it?). Now, after the Copenhagen ITU workshop, I have two different ideas about what what study I would like to conduct and what materials to collect in Warsaw (should I go there). I might get back to that later in a blog post later during the spring.

As to topics 1 and 3 above, T.L. Taylor has put together an online reading list with resources about e-sports.

This has been a pretty long blog post. I don't how interesting it is for the regular reader of this blog, but it was a good way for me to think through and work through the workshop. Here are some other more or less random thoughts that the workshop arose and that I don't want to loose:

- Advice from Emma: look a literature and studies of mountain climbers (about specialization within teams).

- Is my study really about games in the first place? Does the act of making a competition out of something automatically make it "games material" (potentially interesting for (computer) games conferences)?

- I have not really thought at all about the role of the body and of physicality, despite the inevitable comparisons between competitive programming with sports. Sports are usually physical, so what is the status of competitive programming in comparison to sports? Is competitive programming part of "science sports" (math olympics etc.) as one of my informants argue? Does the term "science sports" really make sense? What are the physical vs mental manifestations of the activities around the ICPC finals in Warsaw and what is the relative status of different (physical, mental) activities during that week?

- What is the role of gender and gender politics in competitive programming? This is something else I haven't spent much thought of at all. How are women programmers included or perhaps excluded through subtle and not-so-subtle hints (compare to e-sports).

- Are e-sports and competitive programming parts of a class of "digital sports" (or something)? Are there more/other members of such a class? Are these the new sports of an emerging post-modern information society - just as modern sports are intimately connected to the rise of modern industrial society?

- What's at stake during the ICPC world finals for different competitors (with different backgrounds, with different cultures and from different countries)?

- Pictures from ICPC looks a lot like a large computer conference (airy, light large conference rooms at hotels). E-sports events (can) instead look like a nightclub or a TV studio with "cool" light in a mostly dark, "edgy" spaces. E-sports looks like entertainment while programming competitions looks like (mimics?) an "adult", professional activity.

- The competition format at the ICPC finals is weird. You don't compete head-to-head against another team, but rather in parallel and against all other teams (in an abstract kind of way). You can't affect the performance of other teams directly. What can this be compared to? 100 meters sprinters running in parallel? A sailing competition where you can get cues about successful strategies from teams (boats) that are ahead of you?

- Back home, at KTH and at other academic institutions, is there a tension between being a good student (passing your courses and with good grades) and being a good (competitive) programmer? What do potential employers think, and what is most important for getting a good job? What is the role of a (technical) university; educating professionals to fulfill industry needs, or encouraging free-ranging programming virtuosos? Is there a conflict/tension between different goals of academic institutions that participate in the ICPC competition or do they all pull in the same direction?

- As apart from many other "sportsmen", ICPC competitors don't have problems "leveraging" their competition skills into rewarding jobs and concrete material success in mainstream society. There are no qualms about what to do after "retiring" from a (hopefully successful) career. This differs from many sportsmen (both successful and less so). What are the implications?

- What is the role of commercialization of ICPC/programming competitions? Are there inherent obstacles, i.e. ICPC as a (more) commercial enterprise would at the same time doom the competition? Would money and the promise of monetary gains destroy the competition?

lördag 18 februari 2012

Beyond sports vs games

I attended the "Beyond sports vs games" workshop at the IT University of Copenhagen this week. The workshop was an attempt to get (sociology of) sports and computer games researchers to meet and discuss, but the sports researchers didn't show up.

Knowing what I know about the organizer, T.L. Taylor (her new book is called "Raising the stakes: E-sports and the professionalization of computer gaming"), I thought the topic of the workshop would be competitive computer gaming and the "sportification" of computer games. My contribution was a "curveball" as it wasn't about competitive computer gaming, but about competitive programming (i.e. programming competitions) in relation to "electronic sports".

It turned out that my contribution was even more peripheral, as most of the participants were interested in sports computer games, i.e. for example (annually released - great for business!) football, american football and basketball computer games. The emphasis wasn't on "how computer games are turned into sports", but on "how sports are turned into videogames". Which is really really really big, but also situated straight in my dead angle. One of the papers we read in preparation for the workshop stated that:

"The sports gaming industry is the crown jewel of the video games world. It is a one billion dollar per year industry; sports games account for more than thirty percent of all video games sales."

I had no idea. To a large extent, we are talking about computer games for sports fans. I'm not a sports fan. Truth be told, I hardly play computer games anymore due to lack of time (except of course together with my children as a family activity).


There were a couple of presentations (Olli Sotamaa and Abe Stein) about sports fandom and fantasy sport games, i.e. putting together you football "dream team" (with players from many different real-world teams) and competing against other teams based on how well "your" players are doing in their real-life games. I thus learned that there is a massive group of people who spend a humongous amounts of time in the sports fandom-sports television-sports computer games nexus, speculating about future games and also simulating and replaying different imaginary pasts ("who would have won in a boxing match between Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson?"). I like the term "imaginative labor" which was used, it's such a charming combination (contradiction?) of work and play. Even sportsmen have apparently been known to do it, playing "themselves" in computer games and trying out things in the computer game that they later bring with them to the real-world sports games.

There were some interesting musings about how the "tribal" factor of sports is on the decline because of the ascent of fantasy sports games (which apparently is really big in the States). Your allegiance to your favorite team is weakened because you can also cheer for one (or several) players in the opposing team (because you've recruited them to your fantasy team). There were also plenty of references to the movie "Moneyball" (based on a book by one of my favorite journalists, Michael Lewis). To some sports fans, the focus has now shifted from the actual weekly games to the statistics that these games generate (and that is immediately inputted in to the fantasy league circus).


Another interesting talk (by Chris Paul) was about how sports game revenue is changing from the game (a physical disc) to charging (also) for online access. The world's largest publisher, Electronic Arts (EA) is leading the way with their sports games. It's in the nature of things that last year's sports game is less interesting than this year's, but when the focus shifts to online, new ways of decreasing the value of the game you bought last year appear; when others fans/gamers shift to the new game, you're not where the action is anymore unless you too buy the game, and EA can find ways to further decrease the value of your "old" game, for example by not updating or supporting it - thereby implicitly forcing you to move on and buy (also) the latest annual ($60) edition of the game.

My personal question was if/how the economic recession and youth unemployment has affected gaming revenues (youth - under 25 - unemployment in Greece and Spain is almost at 50% according to 3rd quarter 2011 Eurostat figures). Do people nowadays play more (since they have more time) or less (since they have less money)? More generally, is gaming (considered) expensive or inexpensive compared to other expenses? Is it recession-proof or does it suffer from harsh economic times? The answer was apparently that gaming has been perceived to be recession-proof - up until the most recent (2008-) recession. So, what would happen to the gaming industry if/when the economic cake doesn't grow anymore? How would a prolonged period of no/negative economic growth affect gaming and the gaming industry?


Ren Reynolds' "Sports law and digital play" started from a perspective of sports law before moving to games. Sports have become an arena where some (violent) behaviors are OK/permitted - even though the same behaviors aren't OK in the rest of society, i.e. it is permitted to hit each other hard (in boxing) and hitting others is tolerated (in American ice hockey). In-between play and non-play (ordinary life) is a zone where "shit that goes down" happens (fighting in ice-hockey) and that the law (lawyers, judges, courts) nowadays stay away from. The question becomes if this is what is happening in gaming right now - despite long and complicated End User License Agreements (EULAs) that supposedly or purportedly regulates gaming (but is increasingly dismissed by courts when game-related cases arrive there).


The two talks that were most interesting to me were two of the organizers' talks about pro-gaming and competitions, i.e. T.L. Taylor's talk about "institutional governance in e-sports" and Emma Witkowski's talk about "negotiations of hegemonic sporting masculinities at LANs".

T.L. talked about the sometimes-fraught relationship between two very powerful actors (institutions) in the e-sports space; the influential game developer Blizzard and the Korean e-Sports Professional Association (KeSPA). They have very different views of authorship and ownership of "digital playing fields", so what happens when a "property" (a computer game) becomes an important cultural phenomenon (as Blizzard's "Starcraft" game is in Korea)?

Emma talked about what is and what isn't considered to be "real sporting skills" in e-sports, with plenty of references to non-gamer/athletic ideals and cultures. E-sports is a gendered space, rife with masculinity and sexism and where pro-gamers (and their fans) predominantly are young, white, straight, middle-class men. Emma's talked about a study of hers on how players from "the margins" (women, minorities, but primarily players of a marginalized game) navigate and rebel against these structures and practices.


I should also write something about my own contribution to the workshop, "Programming competitions as (e-)sports", as well as an analysis of what I personally got out of the workshop and in relation to my study. I won't do that in this particular blog post though (it is long enough already). I might write a follow-up blog post where I summarize my thoughts as well as implications and decision related to my ongoing study in a week or two.

tisdag 14 februari 2012

ICT in a sustainable future

My small department (Media Technology and Graphic Arts) is merging with our (small) neighboring department (Human-Computer Interaction), together forming the Media Technology and Interaction Design group (MID). Formally we became one group half a year ago, but the merging is an ongoing activity and we didn't even have a name at that time.

But we already sat in the same building and on the same floor, so it's not a huge trauma as mergers-and-acquisitions go. We officially merged half a year ago, but merging is also a matter of "jelling", of coming together, of activities and personal relationships, and that naturally takes longer. Personally I already knew quite a few persons over at HCI beforehand.

At MID, there will be "teams". There were already teams at HCI, and Media Technology for our part tried (some) a year ago, but then the merger thing came up and took all our time and energy. I have accepted the task of forming a team that will work in the intersection of 1) media technology, human-computer interaction, interaction design and information and communication technologies (ICT) and 2) sustainability (energy use, CO2 emissions etc.).

We haven't decided on a name for our group (team) yet and there are a few suggestions up in the air, but I'm becoming fond of "ICT in a sustainable future" (but a drawback is that it doesn't sound like the name of a research group). I have now even officially gotten some time/money (they are the same - you get money to buy time to do things) to think about our focus and start up the group during the spring.

Already as of earlier, there was a list of around 10 persons who have expressed interest in being part of such a group, and I will try to talk to all of them (during the coming month) about their hopes and expectations on such a group. There are also some ideas from "above" about what the purpose and activities of the teams will (should) be. That's actually a relief, since I already know that people have widely differing ideas and preferences and it's an unthankful job to railroad through an agenda. It's much easier if there already are (some) guidelines from "management" that we should adhere to or at least take into account (it takes the burden of my shoulder to reinvent the wheel/purpose of the group).

Anyway, the purpose of this blog post wasn't really to tell y'all about the stuff above, but rather to remind myself of a task that needs to be done during the spring, and that is to perform some intelligence work, i.e. to find out what other related groups there are out there and check out what they have done and are doing. As part of this work, I plan to have a closer look at:

- Eli Blevis and his Sustainable Interaction Design Research Group (SIDRG) at Indiana University. ("The focus of this group is to research the connection between interaction design and sustainable design, particularly but not exclusively environmentally sustainable design.")

- Samuel Mann's blog "Computing for sustainability: Saving the Earth one byte at the time". His blog has been up and running for over four years and has 300 (!) blog posts. He also has a list with links to "Green computing places" that should be checked out.

Having a closer look at Blevis and Mann would merit a blog post each, and I hope to be able to write those blog posts later this spring. Talking to and polling my colleagues also merits a blog post of its own.

More importantly though; what other research groups, or persons, or blogs/homepages, or books (or other sources) should our group be aware of and have a closer look at in preparing for our quest to understand the role of ICT in a sustainable future? Please leave a comment below if you have a suggestion!

Addition (April 2012): There is a "Sustainable CHI" Google group. I haven't joined it but do subscribe to the posts.

söndag 12 februari 2012

Books I've read lately

"Books I've read recently" is a recurring topic and here is the previous blog post (same topic, different books). I'm still months behind in writing about the books I have read "lately", but I promise to catch up later this spring. In other words, I read the book below last year (primarily on October and November) and they all relate to online games.

As I have written earlier, only half of the books I read turn up here on the blog, as the other half concerns my "private" (nonwork-related) interests concerning sustainability, ecology, resource issues (peak oil), economy etc. But with the two research applications I handed in earlier this week, my future reading list seems to consist of a higher proportion of books where these two areas overlap in different ways (using IT to meet sustainability challenges for example). From now on, I will thus write about all (non-fiction) book that I read, not just the books that I have (up until now) considered to be "work-related", i.e. relating to social media, virtual communities, internet culture etc.

I started to read Julian Dibbell's book "Play money: Or, how I quit my day job and made millions trading virtual loot" (2006) five years ago but then, for some unknown reason, put it aside. I picked it up again and finished it in a week this time around. Julian is a journalist and a storyteller, I have read his previous book, and he's really good at spinning strange and wonderful tales from cyberspace (have a look at his homepage). I very much recommend his Wired text "The unreal estate boom" (2003) which could also be seen as an great introduction to this book. No-one is better than Julian at teasing out the strangeness of virtual commerce, and at the same time normalizing it and making it (also) seem perfectly normal by describing strange phenomena and interviewing the people who make it happen, explaining how they think and what their motivations are (money, status, friendship etc.). This book is the story of a journalist (Julian) who - framed as an experiment - takes a leave from his day-time job for a year and tries not just to survive, but to make more money buying and selling virtual objects from an online game (Ultima Online) than he ever has as a journalist. Which is stressful as the experiment easily could demands all his time - something his young daughter, and especially his wife is not totally content with (understatement) at times.... My one complaint is that the actual stories he tells (about "chinese gold diggers", "server farms", skullduggery and slightly-shady business ideas) are a better read than the experiment/challenge and his statistics-infused updates on how much money he made this week compared to last week and how the clock is ticking down and his fiscal year is coming to an end. The end of the book is hilarious; he calls the IRS to find out if he has to pay taxes and how to go about finding out (to say nothing of actually paying them). A great read and very entertaining - everything I have read by Julian has in fact been great.

Peter Zackariasson's "Cyberk@pitalism: Om konsten att tjäna pengar på att döda drakar, stjäla vapen och dansa naken i virtuella världar" (2009) ["Cyberc@pitalsim: On the art of earning money by killing dragons, stealing weapons and dancing naked in virtual worlds"] suffers greatly from a comparison with Julian's book. This pains me since I know Peter, but the truth is that his book is shoddily put together and has plenty of spelling errors and poor language (there is basically something to be irritated on on every page). There are unfortunately even greater problem with the book and I'm sure there is an interesting history behind it of (perhaps) hurried deadlines, lax on non-existing editing from the publisher etc. The book has much going for it, since the area it covers is exciting and full of amazing stories, but this unfortunately isn't the book to read to find out about real-money trade of virtual objects - I'm sorry to have to say that Julian's book (above) together with the references at the Wikipedia page on virtual economy are a better starting point for exploring this area.

Another take on unveiling the same kind of weird and thought-provoking things, i.e. social phenomena in online worlds, is journalist Tim Guest's book "Second lives: A journey through virtual worlds" (2008). Tim, having grown up with his British mother in a religious sect led by a Guru, has some interesting experiences and insights about escaping into fantasy (virtual) worlds. Lots of quirky, interesting reflections and strange stories - a tall traveller's tale from that mythical country called Online. While Tim writes about several games/worlds, his focus is on Second Life. One chapter treats the Second Life Mafia (previously the Sims Online Mafia) that steps in when a weak state (the game publisher) doesn't do enough to uphold "law and order" in the virtual world. He also describes the cyber-anarchists (or terrorists?) who work from the inside to bring down the Second Life servers (as a protest? - it's difficult to know even though Tim has interviewed the actors themselves). Just as Julian and Peter (above), Tim also writes about money and commerces, but as apart from the other two books, this is just one of several, rather than the main topic of the book. At one point the book gets a little too personal. I'm not sure I want to know that the author, whose book I'm reading, had a sort-of nervous breakdown on a trip where everything went wrong, and "switched on the porn channel [and] bought some non-existent company". Still, Tim spins some great stories and has some great insights when analyzing these stories and his own experiences. Recommended.

Finally, I have read Maria Bäcke's Ph.D. thesis, "Power games: Rules and roles in Second Life" (2011) - (pdf file available here). I met Maria at a workshop I attended 18 months ago and despite not having met since, it feels like we know each other a lot better than we actually do. She has since then finished here Ph.D. thesis and presented it at the Department of Technology and Aesthetics at Blekinge Institute of Technology. Maria has studies four roleplaying communities inside Second Life, of which the most weird is an enactment of John Norman's trashy male-power-fantasy book series about a parallel world called Gor. Fans of Gor have elaborated a quasi-philosphy and a lifestyle around the dominance-submission (master-slave) theme of the books, so the Second Life Goreans are a kind of, well, weird BSDM community. The thesis is a monograph, and even though I liked it, I can't say I understood all aspects having to do with performance studies nor the post-structuralist analysis (Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari). I am on the other hand familiar with sociologist Erwin Goffman's theories about "performances" in our everyday lives and found her analysis of the balance and tension between make-believe (role-playing) and make-belief (everyday life performances) very interesting.

onsdag 8 februari 2012

Networking through crises

Surprise, surprise. Not only did I hand in an application to Riksbankens Jubileumsfond yesterday, but I handed in another one today, with 6 whole minutes to spare before the deadline. I was co-applicant for yesterday's application, but today I'm the main applicant (responsible for the project).

Today's research application is written together with Jörgen Skågeby and the title is "Networking through crises: Growing real-world resilience through digital networks" ("Nätverka för att möta kriser: Att bygga resiliens genom digitala nätverk"). Below is the summary in English as well as the "background" part of the application (written in Swedish).

Do note that I have also added the "background" part of the other application (which is written in English) to the previous blog post!


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.

The purpose of this project is to examine the intimate interplay between the use of ICT and the practical transition to “crisis-proof” or “resilient” lifestyles. Such a move can be difficult as it involves 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.

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

A growing body of literature study social movements’ use of ICT, but mainly for political activism within the current political and economic system. We will study the more radical agenda of disassociating oneself from mainstream society and developing alternative lifestyles. We will conduct ethnographically inspired and digital ethnographic studies (interviews, participatory observations in Sweden and the UK, document analyses).



Den så kallade “trippelkrisen” (ekonomi, ekologi och energi) skapar oro inför framtiden och i efterdyningarna av den globala finanskrisen 2008 tilltar kritiken mot det rådande politiska och ekonomiska systemet. I många fall framförs denna kritik endast i form av protester mot strandade klimatförhandlingar, övernationella påtryckningar, sociala nedskärningar och ojämn inkomstfördelning, och mera sällan för något konstruktivt alternativ.

Det existerar dock frön till ideologiskt, praktiskt och konkret utforskande av alternativ i form av engagerade individer, lokala initiativ och nätverk på Internet. Många av dessa förutspår en framtid som är fylld av utmaningar och vedermödor. Ett sätt att förbereda sig är att försöka leva som om det man fruktar redan har inträffat. Att odla sin resiliens för att kunna möta tänkta framtida kriser kallar vi här att man utformar en “krissäkrad livsstil”. Detta kan inbegripa att man läser på och förkovrar sig (böcker, alternativa informationskanaler på Internet), bygger upp sociala nätverk och hittar nya vänner (genom lokala aktiviteter, diskussionsforum på Internet) och tillägnar sig nya färdigheter (odling, matförädling, hantverk).

Vi kan idag skönja en konflikt mellan två olika världsåskådningar. Den konventionella utgår från att de senaste årens bekymmer utgör “ett hack i kurvan” och att världsekonomin kommer att repa sig inom några år. Den alternativa utgår istället från att vi befinner oss vid en brytpunkt, att vi står inför flera samverkande kriser (klimat, miljö, ekonomi, energi, råvaror, vatten, mat), och att detta kräver helt nya sätt att tänka (Meadows, Randers and Meadows 2004, Jackson 2009, Rubin 2009, Heinberg & Lerch 2010, Fallon & Douthwaite 2011).

I detta projekt är vi intresserade av 1) de personer som praktiskt förbereder sig för och som lever sina liv utifrån en övertygelse om att vi går samverkande kriser till mötes samt 2) den roll som informations- och kommunikationsteknologier (IKT) spelar för att utforma och upprätthålla krissäkrade livsstilar.


Cities of Sharing

Me and Karin Bradley handed in our application for research funds to Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation) yesterday - with one whole day to spare (the deadline is today 16.00).

The application is called "Cities of sharing and the growth of postconsumerist cultures" ("Att dela på resurser - framväxten av urbana postkonsumeristiska kulturer").

The application is very "tight" - there is not one single sentence that hasn't passed our eyes upwards to a dozen times. We will get to know if our application will pass on to the second (and final) stage two months from now. If so we will have another month to extend and "beef up" the extended application. Here is the 1500-character summary of our application (with 13 character to spare) as well as the "background" part of the application (further below):

Recent studies have shown that technological change is not enough to meet the targets of emission reductions and resource use - behavioral changes are also needed in terms of less energy intensive consuption. Agains a backdrop of fatigue of consumerist culture and privatized public spaces, couples with the recent economical crises, different forms of citizen-initiated sharing schemes have appeared. Rather than just mass-consuming goods, citizens here create common-pool resources and systems of sharing tools, vehicles, gardens, working space, clothing, books etc.

The aim of this project is to understand how, where and why sharing and co-creation schemes appear and function, as well as their wider implications for social, economic and spatial (re)organization. Case studies will be conducted in three cities where sharing schemes have spread during the last few years - Athens, Totnes and Stockholm - including analysis of a) sharing of goods and vehicles, tools and clothing and b) sharing and co-creation of spaces such as gardens, workspaces, home and open space. The method comprises analysis of documents, on-site observations and interviews with initiators, users and local government officials. The theoretical perspectives that will be used are drawn from 1) governing the commons, 2) peer economies and 3) political econoly. The intention is to make empirical and theoretical contributions to the research on governing and place-making in contemporary urban commons.


This project is situated at the intersection of urban studies, information technology and sustainability studies. Recent studies have shown that technological change is not enough to meet the international targets of emission reductions and resource use – behavioral changes are also needed in terms of less energy intensive consumption (Worldwatch institute 2010). There is a vivid public debate and research on consumerist culture, its socioecological impacts and on how more sustainable consumption patterns can be promoted (Mont & Plepys 2005, Naish 2009). In contrast to this, within other fields such as urban development, practices are orientated towards increasing consumption levels (Cha et al, 2001) by expanding commercial spaces etc. It is however possible to discern a growing fatigue among urbanites of the commercialization and privatization of public spaces (Zukin 2010, Hou, 2010).

Against this backdrop and coupled with the recent economic crisis, different forms of citizen-initiated sharing schemes and Do-It-Yourself cultures have emerged (Carlsson 2008, Botsman & Rogers 2011). Rather than just mass-consuming goods, citizens create common-pool resources and systems of sharing tools, vehicles, gardens, work spaces, clothing, books etc. These schemes can be organized in a variety of ways, sometimes appropriating and changing the use of private/public space. Reasons for engaging in such schemes may vary and can be ideologically, ecologically, socially and/or economically motivated.