Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - CIDA (Citizenship in a Digital Age)

The Citizenship in a Digital Age research project explores if and how digital technology impacts the way people experience citizenship. The project is based on in-depth ethnographic research (long-term participation and analysis) of citizen projects in the San Francisco Bay Area. By working closely with citizens who are trying to transform key aspects of the political structures that they encounter in their daily lives, the project assesses how important the role of digital technology is, and if and how these technologies might impact the way people understand and experience citizenship. The research is organized around four main research sub-questions: 1) Which mobile internet and/or networked forms of digital technology are being used by citizens involved in the selected citizen projects? 2) How often and for what purposes do they use these technologies? 3) Which claims of ‘substantive’ citizenship – rights, equality and participation – are emerging within these citizen projects? and 4) How do citizens use digital technology to pursue these claims? Because the methodology for this project is based on long-term participant-observation working closely with the selected citizen projects, the main work task has been to take on an active role within the citizen projects by participating in all of the groups’ activities and to analyse information from the social networking and online platforms used by the selected citizen projects. Legal documents, public records, archival materials, statistical reports, and news articles related to the work of the citizen projects were also collected and analysed. A final dimension of the project has been to participate in the co-design of an App for democratic assembly and collective action as part of the AppCivist research team based at the Social Apps Lab, The Center for Information Technology in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at University of California, Berkeley in collaboration with the institute national de recherche dédié au numérique in France.

The key analytical insights thus far relate to both digital technology and experiences of citizenship, though the link between the two proved less salient than anticipated. The key analytical development of the research project is the realisation that an unexpected 'value' is more central to the research participants' notion of citizenship than the researcher had originally proposed – this central value is that of 'property' and the role that property plays as a building block of democratic governance. Property is also a central theme in the literature on citizenship and democracy, however, the literature tends to view property as a positive and essential component of citizenship rights while the citizens at the heart of this research project view it as an obstacle to the attainment of full citizenship. Placing the notion of property central in the analysis of how citizenship is established through daily democratic practice, and exploring the contrast between how the literature views property relations and how citizens themselves view property, will significantly further our understanding of how citizenship functions, what ‘substantive citizenship’ is and ought to be, and how and why differentiated citizenship persists.

The second set of insights relate to the use of digital technology. Although the role that digital technology plays within the selected citizen projects was less dramatic than originally imagined, the research shows that when these technologies feature, they are useful for citizens as an important space to assert their own definitions and notions of citizenship in a way that expands the audience created through the use of physical space. Additionally, the research has traced the way citizens develop political strategies and media infrastructures that transform the power and meaning of digital tools. And finally, the research has shown that the different political aims and organizational structures of each group impacts both the selection of which technologies a group uses as well as how and for which purposes the chosen technologies are mobilized.

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Life Sciences
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