Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become an integral part of our daily life and correspondingly information technology finds a variety of applications in the planning, implementation and monitoring of several social development programs and projects. It is becoming among the most prevalent tools for international development and social change, including opening up new arenas for civic participation and protest in countries as diverse as Egypt (see chapter five), Spain (see chapter six), China (see chapter seven) and Russia (see chapter eight). It is to this development that the present volume speaks. In particular, we ask whether and what contextual circumstances are important for ICTs in promoting democracy and social change.
The background to this subject matter can be found in the phenomenal increase of ICTs worldwide, not only in the West. Nowadays, when citizens around the Globe want to voice their opinions, define their political identities and change their life situations, they increasingly do so by using online platforms, mobile telephones and other information technologies. To start, the rise and spread of the Internet has been remarkable. The number of users has increased from 40 million in 1995 to 2,7 billion in 2013 according to ITU (International Telecommunication Union). This represents approximately 40 per cent of the world population. However, the Internet is surpassed another ICT here, the mobile telephone. Mobile cellular subscriptions reached more than 95 per cent of the world population (as per ITU data from 2014). Important to notice here, the rate of increase in penetration of the mobile phones has been higher in so-called developing countries rather than in so-called developed counties (as highlighted in chapter two). While the Internet is yet to achieve the same reach as mobile telephony, it is worth to mention the very fast increase in the use of so-called smart handheld devises in countries like India during the last couple of years is making it increasingly difficult to separate the two (Internet and Mobile Phone Devices). Indeed, mobile phone adoption probably will pave the way for digital connectivity, both through smart phones as well as through broadband connection via the mobile phone. For example, even though Internet connectivity is rather low among the citizens in East Africa, the ones who do get connected to the World Wide Web mostly use mobile and wireless broadband. This suggests that developing regions probably will leapfrog the fixed (cable/ fiber) broadband phase countries in the West have been through. This increase and social integration of ICTs around the Globe serves as a point of departure for chapters in this volume.
It has been argued that the rise of ICTs is among the most important developments of the century, changing the ways societies function as well as its relations of power. The spread and diversity of ICTs together with their equally diverse applications in different domains of human life are posing a range of questions at every moment. Researchers around the Globe are working to take-up these questions and challenges. It is especially the raised expectations of democracy and social change that has accompanied this increase of ICTs worldwide that we want to address in this volume. The question on the potentials of ICTs to promote democracy and social change has sparked a debate between what is often labelled as techno-optimists and techno-pessimists. This debate is partly addressed in chapter three of the volume. But since this is perhaps the major dividing line of studies in ICTs, democracy and social change – it deserves a further mention here, as a background to the subject matter as well as to discern how the present volume relates to this debate.
As always, whenever a new media technology is introduced, hopes and expectations (as well as outrage) are raised and invested into practices of this new media technology. Surely the emerging communication landscapes exhibit exciting possibilities for political discussion, protest mobilization and organization, offering citizens new channels for voicing concerns, speaking and acting together (participation in other words). The popular uprisings in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region have provided us with examples of how information circulation using online platforms can induce processes of democratization and political developments (see chapter five in this volume). Hence, the more techno-optimist stand of researchers and practitioners has argued that the long-raging debate over the potential of the digital technology, so- called “new” or “social” media and mobile telephony to invigorate citizens’ participation in a democracy and promote social change, is not a matter of speculation anymore. In particular, they argue that these ICTs lower the threshold for political participation and social change all over the world.
Still there are many questions around the claim of ICTs as tools for democratic participation and social change. Most of the uprisings in the MENA region failed (in terms of that democracy has not yet been achieved, apart from Tunisia). Furthermore, it has been argued that labelling these uprisings as Twitter or Facebook revolutions is both uncritical and ignorant of the real dynamics behind theses uprisings. Indeed, even though we have access today to numerous examples of the use of the digital technology and mobile phones for democratic participation and social change, very few democratic movements and social change projects have succeed through ICTs alone.
Alongside with high-profile protests and so-called “social media revolutions”, research in the field has also revolved around less conspicuously, and perhaps more mundane, E-Government/ E-Services projects, offering access to asserted citizen centric services and improved processing of government-to-citizen transactions. Addressing the subject matter of ICTs democracy and social change these more mundane government uses of ICTs are also of interest to us in this book. Here, optimists argue that ICTs have emerged as powerful tools for reaching to the ever-increasing information demands of our contemporary societies. Indeed, governments across the Globe – from countries like India (see chapter nine) to countries like Australia (see chapter ten) –are increasingly focusing on such projects and many success stories have been accounted for in the academic literature of remarkable developments of E-Government services in the last five years. On the other hand, more pessimistic voices have been raised in regards to E-Government and E-Services in relation to issues of surveillance and data privacy in light of Edward Snowden’s revelation of United States NSA (National Security Agency) massive data collection of private citizens. In this volume, the issue of surveillance (video surveillance in particular) is addressed in chapter four. Here we also need to mention that consumerism and corporate ownership of information technologies and so-called social media platforms have also raised concerns of whether users communication practices are capitalized on by non-accountable commercial enterprises (to some extent addressed in chapter three).
Hence, on the one hand we are witnessing that increased access to ICTs has resulted in an array of new uses, innovative designs, practices and strategies often accompanied by success stories of democratic development and social change both in small and large scale. On the other hand, we are still groping in the dark when it comes to understanding the place of the ICTs in the shifting landscapes of democracy, government practices and social welfare around the Globe. We therefore invited scholarly research to shed light on these issues. In particular, we wanted to include two issues in relation to this long-raging debate between pessimists and optimist: 1) a focus on contextual matters and 2) research and researchers with a background in the global south. This is also how we situate this volume in the debate between techno-optimists and techno-pessimists. We contribute to the debate on how democracy and social change may be promoted through ICTs by 1) providing case studies in which contextual factors are highlighted and 2), by including studies and authors from four different continents (Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe). We are thus able to provide a broader perspective on the subject matter.
Hence, the chapters in this volume provide examples of more optimist as well as more pessimist discourses on the roles of ICTs for promoting democracy and social change. We as editors have not wanted to put our foot down in this debate; we leave it to the reader to evaluate the benefits and constraints of ICTs in the contexts within which these chapters are written. As such this volume will serve very well as material for discussion in class as well as in study-circles. Indeed, the picture is often more complicated than fervent techno-optimists or techno-pessimists claim. The very different contexts within which ICTs are used and appropriated today make it difficult to generalize on an overall positive or negative “effect” of a communication platform and a technological practice. Therefore, we have asked the authors to rather focus on the contexts within which their cases are set. We strongly believe it is out of the contexts and cultures that ICTs are used and appropriated that they are best evaluated.
We have also put explicit emphasis to include non-Western contexts and voices. As such, this volume taps into research in the field of ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development). Development agencies and governments have started to take interest in the use of ICTs to further democracy also in so-called developing regions. Indeed, the field of ICT4D has also been informed by the increase of ICTs around the Globe. Examples that stand out are successful developments of crowd-mapping platforms such as Ushahidi (meaning testimony in Swahili) and uses of banking services through the mobile phone (M-Pesa, Pesa being Swahili for money and M signifying the mobile phone), arguably bringing banking services in rural areas and to the poor (see chapter two). These platforms have caught the attention of an audience far beyond the global south, where they were initiated, highlighting how innovative design and applications occur in less wealthy parts of the world and spread from there. In this volume, chapter eleven presents an interesting case of Infomediaries in the Philippines.
While far from exhaustive and complete, the volume offers a smorgasbord of theories as well as examples of ICT uses around the Globe. This volume is divided the two sections. Section one is focused around theoretical chapters while section two is focused around empirical chapters. The first section covers theoretical approaches to social movements, mobile phones and development, techno-optimism vs. techno-pessimism as well as issues of privacy and surveillance. In the second section, we tour the Globe and visit well-known instances of ICTs uses in the so-called Arab Spring in Egypt, the 15M movement in Spain, Weibo in China, and the recent case of opposition politician Navalny in Russia. The section also offers more practitioner related studies of ICT uses in India, Australia and the Philippines. We are particularly happy to be able to present this range of cases and to include non-Western voices in these debates that arguably have an impact far beyond the globalized North.
This volume thus targets everyone who is interested in ICTs and their role in promoting democracy and social change, researcher, practitioners, policy makers, civil society organizations, students as well a general public. Given that we have not taken a firm stance in the debate between techno-optimists and techno-pessimists and given the rich contextual data these chapters provide, they are very well suited for further discussions about the roles of ICTs promoting democracy and social change (or not), discussions for example in class or in study-circles. Together with the first section, that provides a theoretical background, the volume is especially apt for courses in communication for social change, public administration, ICT4D, ICTs and participation as well as a complement to the more Western-oriented literature on the subject matter. We also believe that practitioners, policy-makers and ICT professionals, in the public as well private sector, in governmental as well as non-governmental organizations have a great interest in the focus on contextual circumstances these studies provide. We are not saying that practices and solutions discussed in these chapters can be copied uncritically. But given the rich contextual data, practitioners, policy-makers and ICT professionals will be in a position to better translate how practices and solutions can be implemented in the particular settings they work in.
The first chapter “The Pamphlet Meets API: An Overview of Social Movements in the Age of Digital Media” by Emily Stacey presents an overview of the various traditional theories involved in the social movements and then how these theories are mapped to the present day digital tools. A comprehensive approach has been taken to explain the contemporary movements with integration of the digital tools being utilized by citizens on the ground. The chapter focuses upon Social Movement Theory and Networked Mobilization, particularly with respect to the political protest from the perspective of tactics, mobilization and participation. Stacey explores the scholarly work in social media in relation to claims that political and social dynamics have shifted with the introduction of new modes of communication. She uses the specific instances from the Arab Spring movements in Egypt and Tunisia to exemplify her theoretical account. The chapter asserts the effectiveness of social networking technologies in grassroots political movements and discusses the advocacy for normative and institutional change in society. This infusion has led to a detachment of movement networks from hierarchical forms of power toward increasingly bottom-up, people-oriented and coordinated protest organizations.
The second chapter of the volume “Approaches to Development in M4D Studies: An overview of major approaches” focuses upon the development approaches in studies of mobile communication. The chapter is of the utmost importance as mobile communication technology has the highest penetration in the societies across the Globe. Jakob Svensson and Caroline Wamala-Larsson have reviewed the most prominent journals and conference series to discuss how development has been approached by different researchers across the Globe. The main areas in which mobile communication have discussed as vital tools of the development the authors argue are livelihood, health and participation. These are also the important pillars for any democracy and therefore have direct and significant impact also on democratic development. The authors nicely depict the integration of cultural and social aspects, while studying the approaches to development, considering that individuals, communities and societies have different understandings of development. The authors end the chapter by suggesting a dialectical approach to the study of mobile communication in development.
While, moving ahead of the basic mobile phone device, Marco Briziarelli tries to explore the role of social media in the promotion of social change in the third chapter “Utopia, Labor and Informational Capitalism: Lights and Shadows of Social Media”. The chapter provides a strong theoretical base towards the capability of social media to “mediate” multiple messages, to concurrently generate social transformation and social reproduction. The author takes into account both the aspects of participation and commercial exploitation of social media in order to discuss the roles of social media for social change. Furthermore, the author uses a case study of Facebook to illustrate his framework and concludes that Facebook indeed is capable of producing social change but such a change is limited by the social (and market) relations in which it works.
Considering the large-scale penetration of ICTs, the privacy and surveillance aspects become important for a volume discussing the promotion of social change and democracy through ICTs. Surveillance becomes very important and common for security measures in our age of fast moving technologies. This however may lead to breaches of privacy that in turns limits claims of ICTs in the service of democracy. Chapter four “Video Surveillance: Privacy Issues and Legal Compliance” by Qasim Mahmood Rajpoot and Christian Damsgaard Jensen discusses privacy issues in video surveillance and provides a model to help identify privacy requirements in a video surveillance system. Advancements within ICTs with capacities to collect and analyze information about individuals increase the importance to protect the right users’ privacy. Presently, most of the countries in the world recognize the rights of privacy in their legislation, still a number of counties have very little in their legislations to ensure privacy. The authors critically examine present day legal infrastructure available in a number of different countries to support their claim to protect citizens’ right to privacy. The authors nicely depict the need for the deployment of video surveillance systems that strikes a balance between security and privacy.
The second section of the volume presents more practical perspective to the theme of the book. This contains the interesting cases from different parts of the world. These cases present a range of different examples of ICTs and its application for democracy and social change. The case studies also give ample of insight into a variety of societies around the Globe. Every society has its own style of working and responds to the ICTs in different ways. Correspondingly ICTs work at a different pace and levels in different societies and come-up with different results concerning democracy and social change. The case studies presented in the volume provide us very specific examples to consider this.
In chapter five “ICT, Media and the Egyptian Revolution: Building Networks of Democracy” Ahmed El Gody explores the role of ICT based media in the Egyptian revolution. The chapter is highly relevant to the volume not the least since the Egyptian Revolution was among the most media-exposed event in the Arab world. Citizens used Facebook, Twitter, and mobile telephones to make their voices heard, whereas the Government tried to stop media coverage by all possible means. The author argues that a multiplicity of ICT based social networks led to what he labels “a network journalism” and in this way individuals contributed to the so-called revolution. Furthermore the author argues the ICT-based social networks matured after the revolution and transformed into something the author labels political, social change and religious networks. The convergence and fusion of ICTs not only performed as a mediator in information transactions within the Egyptian society, but also served as a catalyst to the democracy according to the author.
In chapter six “Internetworked Social Movements and the Promise of Politics: A case study of the 15M movement” Julen Figueras presents a specific example of ICT led civic engagement. In a matter of hour, Twitter triggered anonymous citizens to gather in demand of real democracy. This is a significant example of blurring the classical divides between the public and the private, as well as the one between the individual and the collective, all with the help of ICT based platforms according to the author. Figueras makes use of the notion “Internet-worked Social Movements” to refer to new hybrid movements that are created and developed both online and offline. The author uses this notion to address the tension between liberal and republican citizenship, and between limited or expanded ways of citizen participation.
Chapter seven “Microblogs, Jasmine Revolution, and Civil Unrests: Reassessing the Emergence of Public Sphere and Civil Society in People’s Republic of China” by Kenneth Yang and Yowei Kang is a nice presentation on the use of microblogs (Weibo) in the so-called Jasmine revolution in China. The authors provide a detailed description of the dynamic interactions between institutional constraints and technological empowerment. The authors use the concept of public sphere to examine the behavior of Chinese micro bloggers to contest the omnipresent Chinese state. According to the authors, microblogs helped citizens to enjoy freedom of expression and to get by Government censorship. This further led to the use of the microblogs for democratic mobilizing and empowerment. On the other hand, microblogs also served as a buffer to allow government officials to channel the opinions of angry Internet users, to avoid widespread protests around the country and hence they could be conceived of as a controlling device.
The case study from Russia “Grassroots Political Campaign in Russia: Alexey Navalny and Transmedia Strategies for Democratic Development” in chapter eight discusses the role of ICTs in the grass root political campaign of Alexey Navalny in the 2013 mayoral elections. Renira Rampazzo Gambarato andSergei Medvedev provide a good insight into the Russian electoral system and the role of transmedia applications in the 2013 Moscow mayor elections. The authors mainly focus upon the campaign of Alexey Navalny, who harnessed the potential of ICTs in these elections. These applications led to a participatory culture and democratic inﬂuence according to the authors even though Navalny, as we know, was later put into jail by the regime. Authors have used the concept of transmedia storytelling in their analysis to refer to the integrated media experiences that occur in a variety of media platforms to attract audience engagement.
Shefali Virkar in chapter nine “Designing and Implementing e-Government Projects for Democracy and Social Change in India: Actors, Behaviours, Influences, and Fields of Play“ connects the ICT to the social dynamics of the biggest democracy of the world, India. The chapter not only discusses the design and implementation issues of the e-governance projects, but also connects to various actors and their behavior. The author strategically analyses ICT-based applications and their potential to “revolutionize” the patterns of communication between the Government and the citizens, and also to render governance effective by making systems more integrated, transparent, and efficient. The author also highlights the limitations of budgetary constraints to the success of e-Governance projects. The conceptual framework contributed by the chapter is relevant to the policy discussions of e-government software platform design and maintenance from a global context.
The case study from Australia in chapter ten “Developer Challenges as a Platform for Citizen Engagement with Open Government Data: The Australian Case ” talks about the relevance of Open Data in the development paradigm. The approach is significant as a large number of Open Data initiatives have been started around the Globe. Raul Alberto Caceres and Kelly Royds argue that open government data is based on the idea that national governments have a moral and political obligation to release this to the public. Therefore a number of governments have come up with specific legislations to support this. According to the authors, the proliferation of ICTs leads new opportunities and ideas for citizens to manipulate, use and disseminate data in innovative ways. The authors also take a critical perspective to investigate into development potential of open data, more specifically the ways to create effective platforms for civic engagement and transform public data into socially and politically relevant applications.
Jaime Albarillo Manalo, Katherine Balmeo, Jayson Berto and Fredierick Saludez present an interesting case of engaging young people in informing agriculture in the Philippines through the use of ICTs in chapter eleven “The Infomediary Campaign in the Philippines as a strategy to address information poverty”. In particular, the authors argue that timely information can play a significant role in improving rice farming. There are many examples, where so-called Infomediaries have played a vital role in improving information access to farmers by creating alternate means of information access. In the present case, school students are used as mediators of information for their parents as well as other farmers. The schools themselves provide the necessary guidance and infrastructure for this information mediation. This information mediation has not only helped in getting timely information to the farmers, but at the same time also has improved the interests of youngsters in farming activities. This infomediary practice may, according to the authors, help in reducing information poverty and hence also lead to reduction of economic poverty and thus create social change.
We sincerely hope that this edited book shall provide insight to different aspects and perspectives of ICT, democracy and social change to researchers, students, practitioners, policy makers and other interested in this field. We hope that the chapters will serve as material for discussing, criticizing and thus developing our understandings of the relationships between ICTs, democracy and social change.
Vikas Kumar Jakob Svensson
Hershey: IGI Global, 2015. , 326 p.